London Housing Panel requests urgent response to COVID-19, 28 May 2020

Secure, good quality housing is essential in preventing the spread of coronavirus, and no one should face homelessness in the midst of a public health crisis. Today the London Housing Panel asks the Government to prioritise five actions to protect vulnerable Londoners.

We recognise the very welcome steps the Government has taken to support those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness through reforming Universal Credit, and the importance of these in preventing a much worse situation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, we are extremely concerned that without further action from the Government, we will face a tsunami of evictions and homelessness from 24 June, once the moratorium on evictions comes to an end. 

We urge the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to ensure that no one is made homeless during the pandemic, and those that are homeless receive suitable accommodation. 

We are asking the government to:

Ensure Local Housing Allowance (LHA) covers housing costs.

We welcome the Government’s decision to raise LHA to cover the lower 30% of market rents. However, due to benefit caps, many low-income Londoners are still facing significant shortfalls. Research by Shelter suggests residents in some London boroughs face shortfalls of up to £1200, and are forced to cut back on essentials such as food or heating as a result. We urge the Government to raise LHA levels to cover the median local rent, and to remove the benefit cap to ensure housing costs are covered. Long waits for a first payment push many into rent arrears and put them at risk of eviction once the moratorium ends. Replacing the Universal Credit Advance payment loan with a grant would address this.

Immediately bring forward from 2023 the change in Local LHA rates for under-25s,

to which the Government had already committed to in its Budget. This will help especially more vulnerable young people to access and maintain PRS accommodation. Vulnerable young people, including care leavers, should not be evicted from any form of housing unless their local authority can guarantee them safe and suitable alternative accommodation.

Extend the suspension of possession proceedings.

Housing services, legal specialists and local authorities are bracing themselves for a tsunami of evictions once the Government’s 90-day suspension is lifted. The effect of the pandemic on household incomes is ongoing, with new Universal Credit claims being made at three times the normal rate. Jamie Carswell, Co-Chair of the London Councils London Housing Directors’ Network stated this month that insecurity in the private rented sector is the ‘number one strategic driver’ of homelessness in London. The suspension of possession proceedings should be extended until private and social renters’ incomes and ability to make rent payments has recovered. Homeless families living in temporary accommodation, including households with no recourse to public funds, must also be protected against eviction and have access to suitable self-contained accommodation. We urge the Government to extend the suspension until at least September 2020.

Prevent ground 8 evictions for rent arrears built up during the pandemic.

The Conservative Party committed to abolishing section 21 in April 2019, in its 2019 Manifesto, and again in the Queen’s Speech as part of the Renters’ Reform Bill. MHCLG has consulted on this and analysed the results. However, no fault evictions continue to take place and account for around 10% of homelessness cases as recorded by MHCLG. As long as section 21 remains a valid route for landlords in the private sector to evict a tenant, all other efforts to ensure security for this group will be undermined. We urge the Government to fast track this legislation.

The London Housing Panel will be monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on Londoners. Documents related to the London Housing Panel, including the latest minutes, can be found here.