I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.
The ban on possession proceedings has given many private renters protection against the economic impact of coronavirus; at least the roof over their heads could not be taken away. That protection ended on Sunday and now 55,000 households are in immediate danger of losing their homes. They are the 55,000 served with eviction notices between March and August. Their landlords were not required to give six months’ notice, so courts could be processing their eviction orders as I speak. In addition, by the way, asylum seekers who fled to Britain for sanctuary will receive eviction notices with immediate effect. For context, in the same period last year, just 21,000 eviction notices were served. The scale of the hardship that is now being unleashed is unprecedented and no one is ready for it. Shelter estimates that a colossal 322,000 private renters are newly in arrears since the pandemic began, so things will get worse even more quickly. Unless he acts now, the Secretary of State will break his promise made in this place on
“no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home”.
The Minister insists there are new measures to provide protection. That is not so. The new civil procedure rules require the landlord seeking possession to describe the effect of the pandemic on their tenants’ circumstances, but judges have zero authority to take those circumstances into account. In practice, it provides no protection. We recognise, too, that some small landlords will be unable to pay their mortgages or put food on their tables, so I remind the Minister of his promise to landlords that none should face unmanageable debt. The Minister believed the eviction moratorium was justified as the pandemic took hold in spring, but as we battle a second wave in the harsh depths of winters are not such measures justified still?
I do not ask the Minister to kick the can down the road. Instead, I ask for an extension to the eviction moratorium, so that the underlying problems can be solved. The 55,000 at risk of homelessness today cannot afford to pay their rent now, they are not likely to have the money in a few months’ time, and they are not going to have enough money for a deposit for a new place if they are evicted, so, very briefly, my four suggestions are these.
First, let us enact a further six-month moratorium on the bulk of evictions starting today, but this time do not waste the six months. Secondly, let us amend section 8 evictions to give judges discretion over tenants who are in need. Thirdly, the Minister should, as his manifesto promised, fast-track legislation to repeal section 21 no-fault evictions. Throughout the crisis, the Government have swiftly moved through legislation when they have needed to and there is nothing more urgent than preventing avoidable homelessness. Finally, the Minister should provide a comprehensive package of financial support for those in arrears, so that when the moratorium does end, we do not see the appalling misery of mass homelessness, whether that is in the Lakes or in London.
The British people are united in their decency and in their belief that the virus should not bring families to their knees and dump them on the street. The Minister has the power to prevent a pandemic of homelessness. I beg him to use that power and take the actions I have outlined.