A Tidal Wave of Homelessness Is Coming
A Tidal Wave of Homelessness Is Coming this winter.
This winter, we risk experiencing a catastrophic surge of homelessness unless the government takes immediate action to outlaw evictions and freeze or cap rents.
The number of private tenants contacting authorities after receiving a Section 21 notice—a “no fault eviction”—has climbed by 121% in the past year.
The government pledged that “no tenant who has lost income owing to coronavirus [would] be thrown out of their home, nor [would] any landlord face insurmountable obligations” amid the historically unique circumstances of Covid.
Three unprecedented measures were put into place: a ban on evictions, longer notice periods once evictions resumed, and housing for everyone who was rough sleeping (a program known as “Everyone In”).
These actions had definite advantages. The Everyone In project led to the long-term housing of almost 37,000 people in England while also preventing illnesses, hospital admissions, and fatalities among the homeless population.
Additionally, benefit payments were increased by £20 per week, saving many people’s lives, and the furlough program offered redundancy protection.
These urgent measures have been in effect for 2.5 years. Perhaps the current public health concern is the fast rising rate of homelessness alone.
Landlord requests for possession orders have increased by 160% and possession orders have increased by 164% since 2021. According to Shelter, one in seven private renters saw their rent increased in the previous month, despite the fact that a third of private tenants—roughly 2.5 million renters—are either behind on or frequently struggling to pay their rent. 2.6 million persons who rent privately report spending at least half of their household income on rent.
In England, councils determined that 278,110 families were homeless or at risk of becoming so between April 2021 and March 2022.
This total is marginally lower than pre-Covid levels, but the long-term trends are concerning: in the past year, there have been 121% more private tenants approaching councils after receiving a Section 21 notice (a “no fault eviction”), and there has been a 16% increase in the number of people in employment who have done so.
As the cost of living problem worsens, these figures will only worsen. The risk to privately held homes will grow as mortgage payments rise. And any increase in the price of food or utilities makes it even harder to juggle your finances if you’re already paying more than a third of your household income for rent.
Both the government and Labour have put forth some long-term fixes. According to the government, it plans to stop no-fault evictions (a manifesto promise reaffirmed in its white paper, “A Fairer Private Rented Sector”), outlaw discriminatory “no DSS” lettings by private landlords, and establish a Property Portal to oversee landlords. ‘No fault’ evictions are to be replaced with mandatory (or ‘no fault’) grounds when a landlord wants to sell or move into the property, which obviously creates chances for abuse despite how welcome these pledges are.
More crucially, there hasn’t been any thought given to regulating or limiting private rents. Tenants who are behind on their rent will be subject to both the old (Ground 8) and new mandatory grounds, which means the court cannot consider the tenant’s situation, the cause of the arrears, or any repayment alternatives.
Despite the exclusions, the proposed measures nonetheless capture the growing anxiety among voters, including Tories, over pricey and unstable housing. The key question is whether Liz Truss’ administration and the incoming secretary of state will keep the commitments made by their predecessors.
The government has stated that it is committed to eliminating the issue of rough sleeping by 2024. A new strategy called “Ending Rough Sleeping for Good” was released two days prior to Liz Truss’s election as prime minister and included a £2 billion budget pledge to make rough sleeping “rare, brief, and non-recurring.” If the plan survives Truss’s expenditure cuts, Labour will undoubtedly support it.
The Welsh Labour administration is passing legislation that will classify rough sleepers as having a “priority need,” entitling them to temporary housing as well as assistance in finding long-term housing. Since Scotland did away with the priority need criteria in 2012, anyone who contacts a council claiming to be homeless will be given housing. The English authorities ought to take similar action, or at the very least, bring outside rough sleepers inside.
Of course, council housing is the government’s biggest omission to date. It’s an oversight that Labour has rightfully drawn attention to.
At the Labour Party Conference last month, Lisa Nandy, the shadow secretary of state for levelling up and other issues, pledged to “fix the deliberate vandalism of our social housing stock,” “restore social housing to the second largest form of tenure” (after owner-occupation, thus eclipsing the private rented sector), and “rebuild our social housing stock and bring homes back into the ownership of local council and communities.”
Compared to the private rental sector, social housing—and particularly council housing—is more affordable, safer, and in better shape. It can be constructed in accordance with environmentally friendly standards, which will lower utility costs.
Building additional council homes and repealing Right to Buy (as has happened in Scotland and Wales) will ensure that council homes remain in public hands in the long run, which will put an end to the crisis of homelessness and the instability of private renting. Additionally, council housing expenses and rental income should be segregated in order to avoid rent increases to cover more construction.
All of these actions are essential and must be taken. But what should be done right away to stop a public health catastrophe brought on by a wave of evictions this winter as the cost of living crisis worsens?
Increases in housing benefits and Universal Credit are suggested by Shelter in order to ensure that rent is fully covered by allowances. Crisis has a Plan to End Homelessness that addresses both rough sleeping and hidden homelessness. The government’s recovery of the £20 per week benefit boost from the previous year was denounced by all housing and homelessness groups, and payments were increased in response. For its part, the government has threatened to implement the largest real-terms reduction in the basic rate of benefits ever made in a single year, which would have even more disastrous effects on housing.
Additionally, the tenants’ union, ACORN, is urging a reinstatement to the restriction on evictions as well as an emergency rent freeze. It’s a huge demand, and the lobby for private landlords would fiercely oppose it. Without significant action on the private rented sector, we’ll see a lot more people sleeping on the streets or in makeshift hostels this winter. But if tenant campaigners in Scotland recently won a rent freeze, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to do it in England too.
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