London Housing Panel statement on urgent response to COVID-19, 18 March 2020

The London Housing Panel calls for more protection for those who are already homeless or vulnerably housed and to ensure frontline services are strengthened as part of the government’s emergency response.

Our remit is London but we believe these emergency measures require a national government response in the first instance that will give power and resources to local authorities and others, including voluntary and community organisations, to take action.

We are especially concerned about the impact of this crisis on people with multiple vulnerabilities and complex needs, those with limited resources and in need of support to maintain tenancies, access housing help and protect their health. This includes vulnerable adults and older people, low-income families, disabled people, homeless families, children and young people, those with no recourse to public funds, Gypsy and Traveller communities, women fleeing domestic violence and trapped with abusive partners and people struggling with ill-health. Those living in overcrowded and cramped conditions and who are sharing facilities with strangers, with limited or no means of self-isolating and protecting themselves face particular risks. We agree with statements issued by Crisis and others that the government’s response must urgently address their needs and provide the additional resources necessary to protect them in this outbreak.

We are asking the government to:

Resource local authorities to identify people in temporary accommodation who have underlying health conditions or are vulnerable due to old age

and provide them with alternative suitable self-contained accommodation.

Remove legal barriers

so that anyone who is at risk of becoming homeless, or is already homeless, can access suitable self-contained accommodation. This needs to cover households with no recourse to public funds. Specific measures should include: Anyone with even mild to moderate medical conditions should automatically be treated as having a priority need for housing; In terms of temporary/emergency accommodation, there should be a default position that local authorities automatically have reason to believe that a person may be vulnerable, so as to trigger the interim duty under s.188(1) Housing Act 1996; Where they are already in shared accommodation, they should be moved urgently without the need for a formal suitability review, as the accommodation will be prima facie unsuitable.

Introduce measures to protect social and private tenants and home owners from eviction or repossession

by requiring councils and housing associations to postpone eviction actions, temporarily suspend the use of Section 21 and Section 8 evictions. Where people have been unable to work, or unable to sign on at their Jobcentre, in connection with the coronavirus, the rent/service charges for temporary accommodation should be waived. Local authorities should consider negotiated stopping (instead of evictions and injunctions) for Gypsy and Traveller communities, and ensure water provision for families stopping in their areas.

Scrap the five-week wait for housing benefit and Universal Credit

and suspend all benefit sanctions.

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

Signed by members of the London Housing Panel:

  • Raji Hunjan, Chair (Chief Executive, Z2K)
  • Action on Empty Homes
  • Camden Community Law Centre
  • Disability Advice Service Lambeth
  • Generation Rent
  • Homeless Link
  • Just for Kids Law (JfKL) / Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE)
  • Kineara
  • Leasehold Knowledge Partnership
  • London Federation of Housing Co-operatives
  • London Gypsies and Travellers
  • London Tenants Federation
  • New Horizon Youth Centre
  • Solace Women’s Aid
  • The Connection at St. Martin-in-the-Fields
  • Tonic Living