Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 4) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020 - Motion for an humble Address

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:39 pm on 23rd September 2020.

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Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 1:39 pm, 23rd September 2020

My Lords, Ministers promised that no one would lose their home because of coronavirus. The rules before this House today will see this promise broken. Tenants across the UK are struggling to make ends meet right now, and just as the furlough scheme ends, redundancies begin, and lockdowns start again. This Government’s response is to bring the evictions moratorium to a halt.

I remind the House of some of the figures that we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Grender. Shelter estimates that close to 250,000 renters are now at risk of a Covid-19 eviction as a result of the ban being lifted. Already, 174,000 private tenants have been threatened with eviction by their landlord or letting agent. Even before this crisis, more than half of private renters aged between 25 and 34 had no savings. On top of this, 45% of renters have lost their income since March, according to Generation Rent.

The Government are well aware of this and rightly avoided the cliff edge back in August, when they chose to extend the evictions ban. However, less than a month later, they have driven off that very same cliff edge. I understand that the Minister will tell the House that the evictions ban cannot go on for ever—I accept that—but it is not what we, or anyone else, are asking for. We are asking the Government to stick to their word that no one will lose their home because of coronavirus.

In the months that have passed since the announcement of the moratorium, the Ministry could have put in place the right measures to ensure this promise is honoured. It could have brought in the right to support for tenants who are struggling, changes to the universal credit system and an uplift in local housing allowance. It could have also announced a credible plan to deal with rent arrears. Instead, it has leapt from crisis to crisis, wasted the summer months, and now tenants are facing the same predicament they faced at the beginning of the pandemic.

Yesterday, all Peers received a letter from the Minister in which he outlined the support the Government have brought forward to help with people’s living costs, including rent. These measures are mitigation, but they are hedged around with discretionary payments and different eviction rules in different parts of the country, depending on whether there is a local lockdown. The central point for today’s statutory instrument is that the eviction process will restart, and Government will break their promise to some of the most vulnerable people in our country.

The Government should feel compelled to extend the evictions ban because of the misery which will be caused to those who will lose their homes. They should also recognise that if they do not act, there will be wider implications for us all.

Sixteen health bodies, including the British Medical Association, have warned of a potential rise in Covid infections if the Government force people into homelessness or overcrowded accommodation. The consequences of these measures extend far beyond those who will be directly evicted.

The National Residential Landlords Association is also calling for more support for tenants. In other parts of the UK there has been recognition of the looming crisis. I draw attention to what the Welsh Government are doing, for example. They have extended minimum notice periods, launched an early alert scheme, introduced tenancy saver loans and begun a housing advice campaign. Through their local authorities, they have supported people in the private rented sector.

The Liberal Democrats’ Motion is a fatal Motion; ours is a regret Motion. I believe that a fatal Motion would go against the express view of the House of Commons, but above that, it would be a diversion from the seriousness of this issue and quickly degenerate into a constitutional row, which would take the focus off the central importance of this issue.

The Labour Benches have repeatedly warned that the Government should not lift the evictions ban until they have a credible plan which ensures that people who have lost income due to coronavirus do not lose their homes. Regrettably, that has not happened. The ban will be lifted, and the plan to be put in place is insufficient for the Government to say they have kept their promise. I hope that today, the Minister can unveil a better plan.