News | Published May 09 2020

Covid-19: Local authorities warn government over risks to private renters

The District Councils Network, which represents 187 local authorities across England, has warned the government that around half a million people are at “high risk” of becoming homeless, with thousands of private renters who have been made redundant faced with the prospect of eviction after the UK lockdown ends.

The government has inflated housing benefits and placed a ban on evictions to help with Covid-19 related difficulties, but the Network says that 486,242 households are spending over half their income on private rented housing and could be at risk once the ban is lifted.

Single parents with children, young people and households on low incomes are among the most at risk.

For first time benefit claimants who are renting privately, support from Universal Credit is often being found to be insufficient to cover rent, and due to the lockdown it is currently impossible for them to move into cheaper accommodation or return to employment, and so they are at risk of falling into debt.

The Network has called for the government to permanently increase benefits for individuals renting privately, and more funding for councils to tackle homelessness, build new homes and generate employment.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said this week the government would ensure councils are provided with adequate resources "to carry out the absolutely critical functions that they are playing in our national response to coronavirus".

A government spokesperson added: "We're committed to supporting all those affected by Covid-19 through these unprecedented times and we've implemented an enormous package of measures to do so.

"We've injected more than £6.5 billion into the welfare system, including helping over one million households by raising Local Housing Allowance rates for universal credit and housing benefit claimants.

"And we've increased protections for renters to prevent evictions due to difficulties caused by Covid-19.

"We've also provided £180 million in Discretionary Housing Payments to local authorities this year to further support those most in need."

Homelessness charity Shelter has echoed the District Councils Network's calls for the government to increase housing benefits under Universal Credit, suggesting that it be temporarily raised to match 50 per cent of the average rent in a given area.

At present, Universal Credit payments for housing are based on the bottom 30 per cent of prices.

According to Shelter, renters relying on Universal Credit are having to find an additional £13 million a week combined to keep up with rent payments.

Shelter’s chief executive Polly Neate has said that she hopes the government will step in.

She said: "With just a bit of help, they can ride out this crisis, they get can get a new job, and move somewhere cheaper. Without that help, we are just going to see a tsunami of evictions once the lockdown ends."

Neate delivered a 140,000 signature petition to Downing Street this week, urging chancellor Rishi Sunak to intervene.

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
May 09 2020

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