The pandemic-related ban on most evictions was due to end on 21st February, but we’re pleased to hear it has been extended until 31st March.
This gives an extra six weeks of protection for many renters who are facing difficulties paying rent and keeping their home. A number of our clients will be relieved at the news as it means our advocacy team should have more time to work on some of the complex cases they’re helping with.
And while this is good news, we learned this week that the number of households in rent arrears has more than doubled since January 2020.
So, clearly, we’re going to need to think a bit bigger.
In a ‘normal’ year, tens of thousands of evictions would happen; these could be for a variety of reasons including landlords planning to sell or re-develop their properties, or tenants accruing rent arrears.
The eviction ban and other measures have afforded most renters some stability and protection during the pandemic. However, the backlog of evictions and resulting potential homelessness is massively in excess of what we are used to seeing and is a cause for great concern. And, of course there is no way of knowing how many people may also be waiting to flee their home where they are suffering violence.
It’s been difficult to predict when the time will be right for the government to safely lift many of the coronavirus restrictions.
However, the question is will it ever be safe to lift the eviction ban until a strategy is in place to avoid the massive wave of homelessness which threatens to be unleashed?
Homelessness leads to families breaking down, lost jobs, missed school, mental health issues, worsening substance misuse and more. These are extra blows for thousands of people in Buckinghamshire who have already struggled through the pandemic.
It’s time for a national strategy that identifies and acts on the link with providing decent and secure housing for all with improved public health and access to healthcare. And it needs to be part of our plan to recover from covid-19.
The government and organisations like WHC must work together, using the extra time being bought by extending the eviction ban for thinking much bigger than just delaying the impact on homelessness until covid infection rates are lower.
We would like to see more grants made available to those people who have built up rent arrears connected with the pandemic; a new focus on building social housing; an end to ‘legal aid deserts’ for housing issue and the beginning of the long awaited national roll out of Housing First.
We are working with Buckinghamshire Council and other charities in the area and planning to do all that is within our power to mitigate the potential impact of this on households across the whole county.
Our Housing Legal Clinics were created to bring free, independent legal advice to people facing homelessness in our county, where otherwise it is nearly impossible for people to get legal aid to fight housing crises.
We’ve been running the clinics virtually since the pandemic began, and in person if needed, and have recently teamed up with Aylesbury Homeless Action Group who are helping us promote the clinics in the north of the county and bringing their clients to the clinic to get specialist help.
And we have been working with partners and our funders to enable our clients to apply for and access grants that do exist to tackle rental debt.
How you can help:
If you know of someone who needs advice on their housing situation, is worried about building up rental debt, or feels unsafe at home, tell them to contact us as soon as they can.
Do let your MP know if you agree that housing and support for renters needs to be addresses in any covid-recovery plan.