Public health bodies and housing charities have warned of a potential rise in coronavirus infections if the government refuses to extend a ban on residential evictions in England, which is set to be lifted on Sunday.
In a letter to housing secretary Robert Jenrick, 16 health bodies — including the British Medical Association, Faculty of Public Health and the Royal College of Physicians — and three housing charities said kicking people out of their homes and forcing them into overcrowded accommodation or homelessness “could significantly contribute to an increase of Covid-19 infections”.
The group called for the government to extend the ban and to “ensure that no one who has lost income due to Covid-19 is made homeless as a result”.
Landlords in England and Wales were banned in March from evicting tenants and repossessing properties following the outbreak of coronavirus in the UK. The ban is due to end on August 23.
According to the housing charity Shelter, 227,000 people, 3 per cent of all private renters in England, have fallen into rent arrears since the start of the pandemic and are at risk of eviction when the ban is lifted.
“It’s going to be chaos, and it’s going to be really tragic for families who are facing eviction because of the government’s negligence,” said Amina Gichinga, who organises tenants in Newham for the London Renters Union, a campaign group that signed the letter.
The lifting of the ban would hit marginalised communities hardest, with black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in precarious work at particularly high risk, she added.
“Be prepared for many people being moved out of their local areas and much more street homelessness. It’s not going to happen straight away but it will build, especially once furlough comes to an end,” she said, referring to the government job protection scheme which finishes in October.
When the ban is lifted, tenants in England will be afforded less protection than those in Scotland or Wales. The Welsh government has extended the notice landlords are required to give tenants before evicting them from three to six months. Scotland has proposed extending the ban until March 2021.
As well as the public health bodies, a range of charities and campaign groups, along with the Labour party, have criticised the government for its plans to end the ban. Thangam Debbonaire, shadow housing secretary, wrote to Mr Jenrick on Tuesday, urging him to reconsider.
“Veering from crisis to crisis is no way to run a country. After the incompetent handling of the exams fiasco, the government must act now to avoid more chaos of its own making,” she said.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said it had “taken unprecedented action to support renters, preventing people getting into financial hardship and helping businesses to pay salaries — meaning no tenants have been forced from their home during the height of the pandemic”.
MHCLG is providing more than £500m to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in 2020 and 2021, it said.
The National Landlords Association said it was important to avoid “unnecessary scaremongering”, adding that many landlords were reliant on rental income to earn a living.
According to the association, 44 per cent of landlords use rent to contribute to their pension and 39 per cent receive a gross non-rental income of less than £20,000 a year.
Chris Norris, policy director for the National Residential Landlords Association, said the courts were needed “to deal with cases where tenants are committing antisocial behaviour or where there are longstanding rent arrears that have nothing to do with the pandemic”.
“Over the past five months landlords have been powerless to take any action against those who cause misery for fellow tenants and neighbours,” he added.