Private Renting and Homelessness This Winter

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 29th November 2021.

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Photo of Sem Moema Sem Moema Labour

Londoners are in for a difficult winter due to the increase in cost of living, flatlining wages and removal of the Universal Credit uplift safety net. With the recent increase of London’s rents, how can you support Londoners at risk of homelessness this winter?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Chair, I am sorry those who came here and heckled are not here to listen to this answer and this question. I hope the Tory Members who were articulating and playing to the gallery do listen to the answer to this question.

I am very concerned that many Londoners are facing a tough winter. The Government is choosing to make a difficult situation even harder by adding the Universal Credit cut and the end of the eviction ban to the ongoing economic uncertainty, all while rents are continuing to rise in London. Throughout the pandemic I lobbied the Government to provide grants to help renters clear rent arrears caused by the pandemic so that they could stay in their homes, and I have welcomed the £65 million additional homelessness prevention grant announced last month to help renters. It will not be enough to protect many of London’s renters from eviction, but it is an important step and an acknowledgement of the Government’s responsibility to act. An increasing proportion of Londoners rely on benefits to pay their rent, now around two in five private-renting households. For many Londoners, the benefits they are entitled to do not cover their full rent. I fear the Government’s removal of £20 a week from Universal Credit on top of the precarious situation many renters already find themselves in will be leaving many Londoners unable to pay their rent. I was hugely disappointed to see in the CSR detailed plans for Local Housing Allowance rates to remain at April 2020 levels into 2022 and 2023. Benefit levels need to recognise the cost of renting.

As things stand, I have limited powers to act directly, but I am lobbying for these immediate actions from the Government. I will continue to make sure we build genuinely affordable homes in London where they are needed. I will continue to help rough sleepers and to increase supply of affordable housing, the ultimate solution to homelessness.

Photo of Sem Moema Sem Moema Labour

Thank you, Mayor Khan.  It is really important to demonstrate the complexity of homelessness. As you rightly touched on, there is street homelessness. There are also those in the private-rented sector who have been forced into statutory homelessness. The Universal Credit cut in the last few months has only exacerbated that situation with a significant number of boroughs that are not able to afford private housing in their own boroughs.

I want to ask you about the Everyone In scheme, which during the pandemic did have some significant success with providing accommodation to about 90% of street homeless people through that period. I am just wondering what conversations or additional funding you might expect to make sure that that programme can be continued, and to make sure that the rising numbers of street homelessness and statutory homelessness as a result of the pandemic and people losing their jobs can be addressed and does not continue to go up.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

These are particularly pertinent questions bearing in mind the weather is getting colder outside. Tom Copley [Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development] has done a really good job coordinating with councils across our city, housing charities, experts, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and so forth in advance of this winter, which is really important.

You will be aware the Everyone In policy arose from the In For Good policy we have had since I became Mayor, which means when somebody is seen by one of our severe weather emergency shelters or one of our partners and we get them in, we try to keep them in for good so that they do not go back out on the streets, with the wraparound care that they need. As you said, 90% of those whom we saw stayed in for good.

The issue is a pipeline of new people who become rough sleepers, and so the work we are doing this winter will repeat the good lessons we have learned in previous years. For example, I changed the protocols around the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) and when the severe weather accommodation opens so that they open far more speedily even when it is only zero degrees or approaching zero degrees on one day rather than three days, and all across London rather than just in some boroughs.

However, we need support from the Government. Councils are really struggling with the cuts they have had over the last 11 years. The CSR did not give them the monies that they had hoped for. Tom [Copley] and my team are speaking to the Government. I welcome [the Rt Hon] Michael Gove [MP] being the new Secretary of State [for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities]. He gets it, and so we are going to talk to him about what support we can give this winter.

I just remind colleagues who may not realise this, but I suspect there will be more people being made homeless, rough sleepers as well as social homelessness, as a direct consequence of some of the policies from the Government. That is why it is really important we stop people from being homeless in the first place as well as giving them support to get them off the streets if they are.

Photo of Sem Moema Sem Moema Labour

Thank you. I was going to ask you about Deputy Mayor Copley’s work but you have covered that.

I just wanted to say that I have asked you on a few occasions about the progress that we have made with the Private Rent Commission and other work that we are doing to try to encourage the Government to devolve some of those powers to London so that we can provide protections for people. I just want to extend my ongoing support and advocacy for that particular position for Londoners, so that we can make sure that we have some controls over the market here in London and that we are able to protect people in their homes.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Chair, the truth is the good news there - because there is lots of bad news - is that some of our colleagues in the build-to-rent sector are providing rent freezes for a period going forward, which is really encouraging. The bad news is we still have not persuaded the Government to give us the powers that we need for a Private Rent Commission, or to have a rent freeze in those properties not under some of our good friends in the build-to-rent sector. It is really important. You have seen the inflation figures. You have seen that the wages are not going up by the inflation figures. Something has got to give.

Photo of Sem Moema Sem Moema Labour

OK. Thank you. Thank you, Chair.