Coronavirus: Eviction protections watered down, says Labour

Media caption,
Jeremy Corbyn asks if the PM is "going back on his word" to stop to the eviction of private renters.

Labour has accused the government of breaking its promise to protect renters hit by the coronavirus crisis.

Shadow housing secretary John Healey said ministers had last week promised a "complete ban" on evictions.

Instead, the measures contained in emergency coronavirus legislation extend the notice period that a landlord is required to serve before starting eviction proceedings.

This period will now be three months, up from two months in most cases.

This has no effect on proceedings currently in court, so some renters could still be evicted during the three month period.

Mr Healy said the new law "just gives them some extra time to pack their bags".

The government insisted the legislation meant there could be no evictions as a result of coronavirus for three months.

Announcing the plan in the Commons last week, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: "No renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home, nor will any landlord face unmanageable debts."

The new law, likely to come into force by the end of the week, extends all eviction notice periods from two to three months. The law also allows the government to extend the three month notice period to six months if it chooses.

'Not good enough'

The government's own explanatory notes on the bill say it "does not prevent a landlord from serving a notice of intention" to evict a tenant, "nor does it end a tenant's liability for rental payments".

In Tuesday's House of Commons debate, Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the party was "extremely disappointed" with the measures which he described as "just not good enough".

Earlier, Mr Healey tweeted: "This is not an evictions ban, as Labour argued for, and renters were eventually promised by Boris Johnson.

"This legislation does not stop people losing their homes as a result of coronavirus, just gives them some extra time to pack their bags."

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing said claims it was "rowing back" on its promises to renters were "absolute nonsense".

"As soon as legislation is passed, no new possession proceedings will begin - in either the social sector or the private rented sector - for at least the next 3 months. We have the power to extend this notice period if necessary," she said.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said in a tweet that "very clear guidance" had been given to judges and bailiffs meaning it was "extremely unlikely" that any possession proceedings would continue during this period.

"If there is evidence that this is not the case, we will of course review," he added.

The measures in the bill aimed at protecting renters from eviction apply to England and Wales.

Scottish Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said Scotland's own emergency legislation would include a provision to prevent evictions for up to six months by increasing the period of notice which the landlord must provide before taking steps to repossess the property.

And in Northern Ireland, the department for communities said officials were "urgently" reviewing the issue "to ensure vital housing support is provided to those who need it".

'Homelessness risk'

Labour's criticisms were echoed by the housing charity Shelter, which called for a "wholesale and complete halt" to all evictions to prevent people losing their homes during the crisis.

Chief executive, Polly Neate, said: "Today's watered-down measures risk homelessness and uncertainty at this worrying time.

"For the next three months, as many as 20,000 eviction proceedings already in progress will go ahead and eviction notices will continue to land on renters' doormats."

She said the wording of the government amendment meant that renters in self-isolation could lose their homes by June, and she warned this could add to the risk to people's health.

She said: "It defies belief that while so much effort is going into a co-ordinated medical response to this pandemic, the government is prepared to allow so many evictions to continue - putting at risk not just those losing their homes, but also the people they are forced into contact with."