My Lords, first, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. It is worth making clear right at the start: there is no blanket ban. There is nothing here suggesting that people who commit anti-social behaviour, domestic violence or other illegal activity cannot be evicted today—absolutely nothing. It is important to recognise that this SI is about no-fault evictions: you have decent, hard-working people whose only crime is the fact that they have not been able to work since March in the entertainment industry or the hospitality industry and they do not have the money to pay their rent. I want judges to have discretion to consider the impact of Covid-19 on renters and/or their dependants.
I have several questions for the noble Earl. Some points have been raised across the House, but I am sure that, in the time he has, the noble Earl cannot answer all the points put to him, so I should like a commitment from him to write to me and other noble Lords on the points raised.
The first is on lockdowns. If lockdown conditions are resumed for England and Wales, will the evictions ban be put back in place? As regards local lockdowns, will the noble Earl confirm that bailiffs will not be able to perform evictions where there are restrictions on members of other households entering your home?
The second is on benefits. It is a fact that rent payments cannot be covered by benefits, and the caps on housing benefit and local housing allowance limit the amount you can have to pay your rent. Can we temporarily lift the caps and increase benefits to cover average rents? This will immediately ensure that thousands are not up for eviction and will help landlords and tenants alike.
Thirdly, it is clear that we need to get money into the hands of renters and landlords to help rent debt and avoid homelessness. I welcome what the Government have done, but the scale of the economic shock and the effect on jobs and incomes is now huge—so, sadly, it is not enough. Renters cannot pay to landlords what they have not got. Many landlords have been accommodating, but of course, as money gets tighter, more landlords will get more anxious about their own situation and more eviction notices will be issued, leaving homelessness as the only option for renters. So does the noble Earl agree that the Government must step in to stop this increase in homelessness and introduce a system of grants and benefit increases to stop thousands of renters being made homeless?
The fourth point is on data. Will the Government commit to collecting and publishing data on Section 21 notices served, and how often different grounds of eviction are used? The fifth is on discretion for judges. Landlords and tenants have been asked to provide information on Covid-19, but the judge cannot use that information to pause or change the terms of an eviction under Section 21 or Section 8, ground 8. Can this be changed? Will the Government bring forward emergency legislation to give judges discretionary powers to take Covid-19 into account?
The final point is on discrimination. The Government’s guidance published last Thursday states:
“In some circumstances, it may be possible to prevent the eviction if you feel the landlord has discriminated against you based on who you are”.
Can the Minister confirm that it is possible to stop an eviction under Section 21 if the landlord is seeking it based on the tenant’s gender, disability or other protected characteristics?
In conclusion, as I said earlier, the noble Earl cannot give a commitment on all the issues raised here, but I hope that he can respond to us all in writing. For me, this is about decent, law-abiding people whose only crime is that they cannot pay their rent because of the pandemic.