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Coronavirus Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:31 pm on 23rd March 2020.

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Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing) 7:31 pm, 23rd March 2020

First, I pay tribute to civil servants across Government, who have worked incredibly hard to put this legislation together. I welcome the content of the Bill and the work that the Government are undertaking. But I want to focus my remarks on housing, because there are massive holes in today’s proposed legislation when it comes to protections for the millions of people who rent, not own, their home. I am basing my remarks on the amendments that have, in the last 15 minutes, been published by the Government. We have absolutely no time properly to scrutinise them.

These are very difficult times for all of us in this country, but the risk of losing one’s home is surely too much to ask anyone to bear at this time, on top of everything else. The Government themselves have acknowledged that with their action on mortgage holidays. The Labour party, and my right hon. Friend John Healey in particular, published draft legislation last week to protect renters, which would have gone much further than the Government have gone today. There is an overwhelming case for action: 20 million people in England rent, 6 million of whom have no savings whatsoever.

Last week, Shelter estimated that 50,000 households could face eviction through the courts in the next six months, and those evictions do not include large numbers of section 21 no-fault evictions. We have heard of landlords threatening to evict health workers because of the risk of their exposing others to the virus. More alarmingly, some of the 1.5 million people the Government have written to and told to stay at home for 12 weeks could face eviction notices over the coming weeks.

Astonishingly, today’s amendments do not get us to what the Government promised last week, which is a three-month ban. They simply extend the notice period for evictions by one month. That means that, over this entire period, eviction notices will still be landing on people’s doormats. They simply will not be evicted until June instead of May. It is really clear what we need. We need three things: a real ban on evictions for six months; suspension of rents to defer rental payments and allow repayment over a further manageable period; and a substantial increase in support for rental costs through the social security system.

Although I broadly welcome the work that the Government are doing, it would be frankly disgraceful for Ministers to have promised one thing last week and to have misled renters with a promise to ban evictions, when the reality is nothing like that. Will the Minister please tell us what he will do for the thousands of families who could be evicted in the middle of this lockdown? Will we see an immediate suspension of all possession cases? Shelter has draft legislation in place. Will the Minister also protect those families in temporary accommodation and bed and breakfasts and listen to the Children’s Commissioner’s call and pay attention—