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I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the private rented sector.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I declare my interest as a landlady to private renters and I refer everyone here to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I know the whole House is focused on the coronavirus—rightfully so—and I think I speak on behalf of everyone here when I say that our thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones and those suffering the symptoms and having to self-isolate. I give a nod to everyone here, including our civil servants who have made the effort to come in. Things are quite scary, and I have just found out that my daughter’s nursery is closing, which is the scariest prospect for the children. I want to talk about how coronavirus will impact those who privately rent, especially those on a low income.
The crisis poses a serious threat to private renters. I wanted to bring this topic up because I do not want people to have to choose between whether they pay rent or self-isolate should they be faced with the symptoms in the months and weeks ahead. I am sure the Minister understands that we need to act now to protect tenants. A large number could be unfairly evicted, which could lead to homelessness if people start to fall behind in paying rent in one of the scariest and most dangerous periods of our history in this country. It is vital that we protect people in the private rented sector from homelessness and vital to insulate them financially to ensure that security of tenure is available to them if they feel they need to self-isolate and cannot go to work. I hope the Minister will seriously consider Labour’s Front Bench proposals on rent deferrals and a ban on evicting those who fall behind in their rent because of coronavirus.
A lot has been talked about coronavirus in terms of what happens if we get it, what we should do, and how we should self-isolate, but one thing missing, perhaps rightly, is what happens when we actually get the symptoms. The godmother of my children—Members need not worry; I have not been near her in weeks—got it and she told me the breath was taken away out of her. She was lying in bed and could not get up. She felt like a shadow of her former self. There was absolutely no way she could go to work, but she is in a situation where, even if she does not go to work, she will still get paid. She is one of the lucky ones because she can continue to live in her house, but that is not the case for all of us, which is why this debate is so important today.
It is not only working-age renters that coronavirus will impact. I have looked at the Office for National Statistics and found a few facts and figures that surprised me. The private rented sector is gradually becoming older as fewer families can afford to buy a home. According to Age UK, more than 700,000 over-60s privately rent in England, and the proportion of households headed by older renters has doubled in the past 15 years. In my constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn, an estimated 937 over-60s are on housing benefit alone. Older renters are more likely than homeowners to have long-term health problems. I am sure other Members are aware from their advice surgeries that problems in the private rented sector are rife. We have probably all dealt with damp walls and other conditions that people live in. We have to ensure that older and more vulnerable renters are protected, which is why this debate is so important today.
We know that poorly maintained housing is rife in the private rented sector. As a democracy, as a Government and as a country, we need to start looking at it more and more, especially as we have been warned over and again that we are more likely to get the virus if we have an underlying health condition.