I congratulate the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) on securing this urgent question. The Government have taken unprecedented action to support renters by banning evictions for six months, preventing people from getting into financial hardship and helping businesses to pay salaries. We have boosted the welfare safety net and increased the local housing allowance rates to cover the lowest 30% of market rents. We have made available £180 million for the discretionary housing payments this year, for local councils to distribute to support those renters who require additional support. We have now introduced comprehensive measures to ensure that renters continue to be protected over the autumn and winter, following the resumption of possession proceedings on Monday.
However, we must strike a balance so that landlords are able to access justice alongside measures to protect the vulnerable. That is vital to the long-term health of the private rented sector. We have worked with the judiciary to put in place new court arrangements that seek to ensure appropriate support for all parties within the current statutory framework. The judiciary will look to prioritise the most serious cases, including antisocial behaviour, fraud and egregious rent arrears. New court rules also require landlords to reactivate any claim they have made before 3 August, and to provide information to the court on the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on the tenant and their dependants. A court would be likely to take a very dim view of any landlord who tried to circumvent this requirement or mislead the court by not disclosing relevant information where known.
To help to keep people in their homes over the winter, we have changed the law, increasing notice periods to six months in all but the most serious cases. Tenants now served notice will not be required to move over the winter, while landlords will be empowered to take action where necessary—for example, when a tenant’s antisocial behaviour severely affects their neighbours’ quality of life. To further support renters, guidance has been issued to bailiffs by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor to ensure that possession orders are not enforced in areas where lockdown restrictions are in place or over the Christmas period, except in the most serious circumstances.
Our package strikes a fair balance, supporting landlords to act in the most serious cases while keeping the public, including renters, safe. Comprehensive guidance has been published for landlords and tenants to explain these new arrangements and the possession process in courts. The Government are clear that all these measures are to protect renters over this period. They are kept under constant review in the light of evidence on public health, and we are prepared to take further measures as they are needed to protect landlords and tenants alike.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.
The ban on possession proceedings has given many private renters protection against the economic impact of coronavirus; at least the roof over their heads could not be taken away. That protection ended on Sunday, and now 55,000 households are in immediate danger of losing their homes. They are the 55,000 served with eviction notices between March and August. Their landlords were not required to give six months’ notice, so courts could be processing their eviction orders as I speak. In addition, by the way, asylum seekers who fled to Britain for sanctuary will receive eviction notices with immediate effect. For context, in the same period last year, just 21,000 eviction notices were served. The scale of the hardship that is now being unleashed is unprecedented and no one is ready for it. Shelter estimates that a colossal 322,000 private renters are newly in arrears since the pandemic began, so things will get worse even more quickly. Unless he acts now, the Secretary of State will break his promise made to this place on 18 March that
“no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home”.
The Minister insists there are new measures to provide protection. That is not so. The new civil procedure rules require landlords seeking possession to describe the effect of the pandemic on their tenants’ circumstances, but judges have zero authority to take those circumstances into account. In practice, it provides no protection. We recognise, too, that some small landlords will be unable to pay their mortgages or put food on their tables, so I remind the Minister of his promise to landlords that none should face unmanageable debt. The Minister believed the eviction moratorium was justified as the pandemic took hold in spring, but as we battle a second wave in the harsh depths of winter, are not such measures justified still?
I do not ask the Minister to kick the can down the road. Instead, I ask for an extension to the eviction moratorium, so that the underlying problems can be solved. The 55,000 at risk of homelessness today cannot afford to pay their rent now, they are not likely to have the money in a few months’ time, and they are not going to have enough money for a deposit on a new place if they are evicted; so, very briefly, my four suggestions are these.
First, let us enact a further six-month moratorium on the bulk of evictions starting today, but this time do not waste the six months. Secondly, let us amend section 8 evictions to give judges discretion over tenants who are in need. Thirdly, the Minister should, as his manifesto promised, fast-track legislation to repeal the section 21 provisions for no-fault evictions. Throughout the crisis, the Government have swiftly moved through legislation when they have needed to and there is nothing more urgent than preventing avoidable homelessness. Finally, the Minister should provide a comprehensive package of financial support for those in arrears, so that when the moratorium does end, we do not see the appalling misery of mass homelessness, whether that is in the Lakes or in London.
The British people are united in their decency and in their belief that the virus should not bring families to their knees and dump them on the street. The Minister has the power to prevent a pandemic of homelessness. I beg him to use that power, and take the actions I have outlined.
I am grateful, again, to the hon. Gentleman for securing his urgent question. I remind him of the unprecedented series of measures we have undertaken to protect renters during this very difficult time. Court actions have been stayed on eviction for six months, the longest period of intervention in our history. I remind him that it is the courts themselves that wish to reopen and begin to hear cases again, because the Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherington, and Mr Justice Knowles have made it quite clear that they believe that landlords and tenants alike should have access to justice and so the courts should not remain closed. The courts are able to prioritise cases and, of course, that is a matter for them. They will prioritise the most egregious cases first.
The hon. Gentleman quoted some figures. I can tell him that the most recent figures suggest that 3,022 applications have been made to the courts for evictions. That is 89% down on the same period last year. The fact of the matter is that landlords are acting responsibly and talking to their tenants to avoid such actions. Such a low figure for notices made is also due to the unprecedented measures we have introduced. We will continue to keep our policies under review. We will act fairly to landlords and tenants alike.
I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is about achieving an appropriate balance between the unprecedented protection that was rightly provided by this Government and supported by many landlords and the right of landlords, many of whom rely on rents for their livelihood, to protect their properties in the face of egregious behaviour?
I quite agree: it is about striking a fair balance. There are many landlords in this country, with the private rented sector accounting for about 21% of all houses available to live in, and many of those houses are owned by smaller landlords who need the rental income to pay their bills and survive. That is why, while extending the period of notice of eviction under section 21, we have reduced the period of notice to four weeks for the most serious matters, such as antisocial behaviour, domestic abuse and violence, fraud, and egregious rent arrears, which means arrears that predate the covid emergency. I think that is a fair balance, and I suggest the House should support it.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) on securing this urgent question, because it is scandalous that this Government are lifting the ban just as we are heading into a second wave of coronavirus. The chief medical officer gave a stark warning, but 16 public health bodies and charities also warned of a rise in covid infections if the Government force people into homelessness or overcrowding.
In March, as we all know, the Secretary of State promised that
“no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home, nor will any landlord face unmanageable debts.”
The Government have reneged on that promise. They have failed to change the law to prevent automatic evictions. The courts might take a dim view, but with section 21 still on the statute book despite the Government saying they would get rid of it, the courts will have no choice. The Government have failed to prevent financial hardship—whatever the Minister says, many people are struggling with rent—and failed to deal with arrears, with the number of people in arrears having built up since the start of the crisis to over 300,000.
The Welsh Labour Government have a plan to prevent evictions and homelessness, but as with testing, this Government had summer to develop their plan and wasted it. They now choose to withdraw the protection of the evictions ban exactly when it is most needed. There have been last-minute chaotic announcements, creating a complex and confusing situation. Will the Minister confirm that the extension of notice periods will not help those who were served notice before 29 August? What steps are the Government taking to help tenants and landlords to navigate this complex situation? Why do lockdown regulations for Newcastle and Gateshead have no rules barring bailiffs from enforcing evictions? What are the Government doing to prevent illegal evictions, which are reportedly up by 50%? Why will they not stick to their commitment to remove section 21 and automatic evictions? Are they trying to collect any data that gives an accurate picture of the problem?
We are likely to see a rise in evictions and homelessness because of this Government’s incompetence. The Government must act now to prevent a wave of evictions just as covid rises this winter, and honour their promise to landlords and renters.
The Government have honoured their promise to landlords and renters. That is why we introduced the most significant package of support in our history for people suffering from the emergency: £35 billion has helped over 9 million people on the furlough scheme. We have introduced the local housing allowance and increased it to the 30th percentile of local market rents, which will increase the annual income of those in receipt of it by some £600. The next steps accommodation programme is providing 3,000 new homes for those who have found themselves homeless, to make sure that they receive long-term help.
The hon. Lady says the Welsh Government have a plan. Well, we would all like to know what it is. They have announced some form of help, but not told us when it starts or what the amount is. We have made the rules in lockdown areas very clear. The Lord Chancellor has written to the association of bailiffs to make the position clear, and further guidance will be issued. We will continue to keep our measures under review, but we will also continue to support landlords and renters alike through this crisis.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
There are 2.5 million landlords in this country. Most have just one property, often indebted, and for retired landlords it can form the backbone of their retirement income. Good landlords repair properties, get them back into use and provide millions of properties that would otherwise fall to the public and quasi sectors. Sadly, however, landlords are too often demonised. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right and fair that we allow courts to exercise due discretion and sensitivity, as they always do, to decide on the correct pathways from now on?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Landlords in our country provide a valuable and important service to the many people who rent. Demonising landlords, forcing the good ones out of business, will result only in fewer properties available to rent, and it may result in more of those properties being rented out for Airbnb or by less scrupulous landlords, so he is absolutely right. We have tried to be fair to renters and to landlords; the package of measures that we introduced on 29 August is fair to both. It is important that those landlords who need access to justice are able to get it, and that those landlords who are facing egregious rent arrears, antisocial behaviour and issues of domestic abuse are able to repossess their properties, while at the same time those people who through no fault of their own have got into difficulties because of the covid-19 epidemic are helped.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) on securing the urgent question.
We have heard from colleagues about the urgency of the situation in England, which I can see, as an observer in these proceedings, clearly needs urgent action. I urge the Minister to reflect on that.
As a result of SNP Government action, in Scotland there is a ban on eviction until March 2021. The Scottish Government have also introduced a £10 million tenant hardship loan fund, as well as a further £3 million in additional funding for discretionary housing payments. I therefore urge the Minister, once again, to look north to Scotland to see what protecting tenants looks like.
I also want to raise some issues with the Minister about support for asylum seekers on accommodation. Will he agree that no one refused asylum or those with insecure status should be made street homeless, given the public health emergency? Will he further commit that the Government will not follow through on their decision to subject vulnerable asylum seekers to evictions and street homelessness without the explicit consent of the affected local authority and public health director?
The Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday is a sage reminder of the precarious situation we find ourselves in as we head into a second wave. The last thing that people need is for the Government to pull the rug from under their feet. I very much urge the Minister to act now to protect people when they need our help most.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. As he knows, the Scottish legal system is different from the system in England. He knows that tenancy arrangements are different in Scotland from those here in England. He also knows that the Scottish courts began their actions some several weeks ago, whereas we maintained our stay until 21 September. I note what he said about discretionary housing payments; I am sure he noted what I said about the £180 million that we made available to local authorities in England to help people who have difficulty with their housing needs. He mentioned asylum seekers—I am sure that Her Majesty’s Government will always do their duty by asylum seekers, and so will the courts.
I have two simple asks of the Minister. First, does he recognise that there will be people in dire financial hardship who struggle and cannot pay their rent? I heard what he said about help for discretionary housing payments. Will he continue to monitor that, and if local authorities say they do not have sufficient to help people in real need, will he look at expanding the amount of money?
Secondly, with regard to the issue of discretion, will the Minister confirm that, as long as landlords have talked to their tenants and presented their financial information to the courts, when applying for a section 21 notice or possession on ground 8, of rent arrears, the courts have no discretion at all to reject those applications? Will he further consider those points, do what the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has asked and strengthen the pre-action protocol to give the courts more discretion?
We always listen with great care to the Chairman of the Select Committee. I can confirm that we will keep all our arrangements, including our financial provisions, under review as the situation develops; it probably has some time to go before things begin to get better. He mentions section 21. He knows that the Government are committed to repealing section 21 in our renters’ reform Bill, and we will do that at the appropriate time, when there is a sensible and stable economic and social terrain on which to do it.
The hon. Gentleman will know that the courts do have discretion to prioritise the cases before them. He will also know that, if landlords do not provide the right information to the courts in pursuit of their section 21 application, the courts have the discretion to adjourn the case and push it to the end of the queue. I am quite sure that Sir Terence Etherton and Mr Justice Knowles will look carefully at landlords who fail to comply with their duties. Our approach has always been to be fair—fair to those who have lost out as a result of the epidemic, and also fair to landlords, particularly smaller landlords, who need their incomes.
The “Everybody In” programme has had unprecedented success in bringing rough sleepers off the streets. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will do everything they can to build on that success, to engage with rough sleepers and to get them into long-term, stable accommodation, with support for them to grapple with the problems—substance addiction, mental health issues and others—that contribute to the causes of rough sleeping in the first place?
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend, who is a doughty campaigner for her constituents in Chipping Barnet. I agree that we need to build upon the programme that she mentions. That is why, on 18 July, we announced the next steps accommodation programme, which I referred to earlier. At that point, it had spent about £263 million on 3,000 homes to help the long-term homeless. Dame Louise Casey is tasked with ensuring that we get people off the streets and keep them off the streets. As a result of the measures that we have undertaken, about 90% of those who were homeless at the start of the epidemic are now housed. We will continue to discharge our obligations. That is why, on 17 September, we announced further funds to the tune of £93 million to support the sorts of programme to which my right hon. Friend referred.
York has one of the highest levels of private rent in the country. So many people are falling into rent arrears, and we do not have any capacity in our social housing provision. In fact, the waiting list has gone up by 300—over 20%—over the last six months. How will the Minister ensure that local authorities such as mine have sufficient resources in their discretionary grant to support constituents and stop them becoming homeless?
As I have already described, we have disbursed £180 million in discretionary housing payments to local authorities to help them to support those in difficulty. We have spent several billion pounds on supporting local authorities through this pandemic, and we will keep our proposals under review, to ensure that we help everybody who is affected by this crisis, including the hon. Lady’s constituents in York. The measures put in place by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—described by the shadow Chancellor as a “lifeline”—and by the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), which to date have injected a further £9.3 billion into our welfare safety net, are designed to do exactly what we want to do: keep people off the street, keep them in their homes and keep them in their jobs as we move through this crisis.
The Government took really excellent, strong steps to get rough sleepers off the streets during the first wave of the pandemic. My right hon. Friend might recall that, together with the noble Lord Bird from the other place—the founder of The Big Issue—I wrote to the Government with some suggestions for how we could continue to ensure that rough sleeping becomes a thing of the past. Now, of course, with the end of the moratorium on evictions fast approaching, the risk of people losing their work and then their home is increasing, so will my right hon. Friend agree to look at some of the excellent and practical proposals of the Ride Out Recession Alliance, started by the founders of The Big Issue, and consider taking some of them up to prevent joblessness from becoming homelessness yet again?
I have already described the package of measures that we have introduced: we have extended to six months the notice period that landlords are required to give their tenants, which means that tenants will not have to leave their homes over Christmas, and we have made it clear that over the Christmas period and in areas of lockdown there will be no evictions—between 11 December and 11 January there will be no evictions. I think, therefore, that we have taken some steps that my right hon. Friend has described. I am always prepared to look at ideas, particularly if they are supplied by my right hon. Friend.
I find it incomprehensible that the Minister has not taken the opportunity to cut the Gordian knot and deal with section 21 and the need to protect decent, honest tenants who are facing the loss of not only their job but their home. There is another, smaller group of antisocial tenants who are ruining the lives of their neighbours with their behaviour and seem to think that at the moment they are untouchable. Will the Minister ensure that councils and the courts have the power and capacity—and are fully aware of that—to take action against antisocial tenants, and fast?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the points he has made, which are apposite. It is for the courts to determine the priority of their cases, but I am sure the House will be reassured to know that they will do so on the basis of matters such as antisocial behaviour, fraud, domestic violence and the like. As a result of the statutory instrument that we laid on 29 August, landlords seeking possession of property because of the antisocial behaviour of their tenants will be able to move much more quickly than the former rules allowed: they will be able to seek possession of their properties in four weeks. I think that is the right balance of fairness between those tenants who fall into difficulty because of no fault of their own, and those tenants who abuse their rights and privileges and against whom the courts should act.
It is right that the Government brought about a moratorium on evictions, but it is also right that landlords’ legal rights can once again be enforced. Will my right hon. Friend share with the House details of the level of unpaid rent in the private sector and what support he is giving to those individuals who rely on rental income as their only income?
I understand from my discussions with the National Residential Landlords Association that about 89% of tenants are paying their full rent; about 4% of tenants have agreed either rent holidays or rent reductions with their landlords; and about 7% are in arrears. My hon. Friend is right to point out that smaller landlords rely on their rents, which is why we have made it plain, through our introduction of the SI on 29 August, that when there are egregious rent arrears, landlords should be able to move quickly to repossess their properties and rent them out again. If they do not, the likelihood is that the number of properties available to rent will fall away as landlords leave the sector. As I said, 21% of homes are in the private rented sector; it is an important part of our economy and we will support it.
Newcastle citizens advice bureau reports a massive jump in housing queries, and no wonder: for most people, after their family’s health and wellbeing, their home is what is most important to them, and the two are often related because, as we know, covid-19 feeds off bad housing, overcrowding and the respiratory conditions associated with that. The Minister is giving a lot of general reassurances, but can he say to me specifically that no one in Newcastle will face eviction, court action or bailiff action as a consequence of arrears due to covid-19?
The hon. Lady has heard clearly the measures that I have laid out to support tenants who find themselves in difficulty. Tenants who have not paid their rents for more than six months, which predates the covid emergency, may well find themselves in receipt of a notice from their landlords, and that notice to move will be much quicker. That seems to me to be a fair balance between protecting people who have got into difficulty through no fault of their own—which is why we have extended the notice period that landlords have to give other tenants—and protecting landlords and the neighbours of antisocial tenants, or tenants who are not paying their rents and have not been paying them for some time, so that we protect people who are doing the right thing as well as landlords who also want to do the right thing.
I welcome the confirmation that as eviction hearings resume, cases of antisocial behaviour will be prioritised. However, to follow on from the question from the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar), will the Minister confirm that my constituents who are suffering from this blight will now have to wait only four weeks before being put out of their misery?
I can confirm to my hon. Friend that neighbours of antisocial tenants will find that their landlords are able to move much more quickly now to seek justice and to seek repossession of their properties and ensure that that sort of behaviour is stymied.
Housing advisers are reporting a surge in illegal evictions, and, indeed, I have had experience of this myself. Do the Government recognise those figures? Do the Government collect data on illegal evictions? Are the Government expecting illegal evictions to continue to rise during the coming months? When was the last time that guidance was issued to police forces across the country on what their duties are to intervene in these cases?
The law is quite clear, and I advise and encourage all landlords to adhere to it. Those who do not may find themselves in receipt of a very dim view from the courts. Of the 7% of tenants who are in arrears, I am told that about 1% have received notices to evict, so landlords, on the whole, are doing the right thing. Those who are not will, I hope, be pursued by the law, because we need to make sure that landlords do the right thing and that illegal evictions of the sort that the hon. Lady notes are not tolerated in any way.
I know that the Government are desperately trying to be fair, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and this is an absolutely clear example. My casework is full of landlords complaining about tenants who are working but have refused to pay their rent, and who are behaving antisocially—but is not antisocial behaviour rather a broad catch-all? What guidance will the Minister ensure that landlords and tenants receive so that when they go to court, justice is done, as he wishes?
Urgent action is needed to strengthen support for tenants struggling to pay their rent, and many have joined us in calling for the UK Government to lift local housing allowance rates further to cover average rents. Has the Minister discussed that call with Department for Work and Pensions and Treasury Ministers, and if not, why not?
We keep our policies under constant review, as I say, and I will certainly talk to my ministerial colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions. We have increased the local housing allowance to the 30th percentile of local market rents. That was called for last year by Crisis and by Shelter, so we have been listening to stakeholders who are concerned about the effect on tenants. As a result of that intervention, we have increased tenants’ incomes by some £600 a year to help them through this crisis.
Yes, I can. My hon. Friend is a hardy campaigner for her constituents. When I came to the House before the recess to answer a similar urgent question, I told the House that we had injected into the welfare system some £6.5 billion of further investment to help people in difficulty. I can now report to the House that, as she has pointed out, we have now spent £9.3 billion on the welfare system. That is a very tangible example of the investment that we are putting in to help people out during this crisis.
Young people have been hit hardest by the coronavirus jobs crisis and receive less local housing allowance. As a consequence, 100,000 young people are now at risk of eviction. What discussions has the Minister had with youth organisations working with young people who are homeless, at risk of homelessness or perhaps sofa-surfing, to ensure that they do not face an evictions crisis?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. My Department and my officials are in regular contact with a large number of stakeholders and groups concerned with those affected by this crisis. I myself have taken part in a large number of roundtables with various interlocutors. As I say, we will keep our policies under review to deal with the challenges that people face. I simply point her again to the interventions that we have already made, including the job retention scheme, the help with local housing allowance and the discretionary housing payments that have been disbursed to local authorities to help people in difficulty, including young people.
The Minister will know that a large number of homeless people and those facing eviction are veterans. Although there are many good charities out there working to help homeless veterans, such as Help 4 Homeless Veterans, led by Steven Bentham-Bates and operating in South Yorkshire, what support can the Minister and his Department give those men and women—our heroes—who are facing evictions?
My hon. Friend will know that anybody who has been a regular member of Her Majesty’s armed forces will receive priority treatment from local authorities with regard to housing and housing need. I certainly commend the work of Help 4 Homeless Veterans, led by its chief executive officer, Mr Steven Bentham-Bates, in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I wish them, and him, more power to their elbow.
In my constituency, the number of universal credit and jobseekers allowance claimants has more than doubled since the lockdown. Almost a third of employees have been furloughed and a third of households in Putney are rented privately. With the evictions ban ending last weekend, the ending of furlough coming up very soon, and yesterday’s announcement of six months’ more restrictions, does the Minister agree that this is the perfect storm? Will he now end section 21 no-fault evictions?
The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), has, with his Department, increased welfare spending by £9.3 billion since this crisis began. That is helping millions of people who, through no fault of their own, are in need of universal credit. The Chancellor has introduced the job retention scheme and the furlough scheme, which has resulted in our spending something like £35 billion to help 9 million people, so we have taken very tangible steps to help people through this difficulty. We will continue to keep all our policies under review as the epidemic develops. It has some way to go yet, and we shall be watching and reacting as appropriate.
Forty-two per cent. of my constituents are in the rented sector and they have appreciated the moratorium over the past six months, but can I just bring my right hon. Friend back to an answer that he gave some moments ago? Can he confirm that in areas in my constituency such as Sandwell, which is currently under local restrictions, there will not be any evictions during those local restriction periods?
My hon. Friend is correct. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor wrote to the bailiffs’ association to give it clear direction as to its duties and responsibilities in lockdown areas in this crisis. While there is a lockdown where movements are restricted, no evictions will take place.
I would be more than happy to meet the Minister to discuss the forward plan in Wales, which has been in the public domain since last week, so if he wants to take me up on that offer, please do. Hundreds of thousands of people are already in rent arrears and millions more are at risk in the coming months. It is imperative that we prevent evictions and ensure that people are safe and secure in their homes. Does the Minister agree that increasing the local housing allowance, as my Welsh colleagues have asked, to the 50th percentile is the most effective way to achieve this outcome?
As I said in answer to an earlier question, we have increased the LHA and we did so in response to a call from Crisis and from Shelter. We are listening. As I said, that will result in £600 of additional income for people in difficulty. The best thing that we can do is to help people to pay their rents. That helps, and also means keeping people in jobs. Our primary focus as we work through this public health crisis is to keep the economy moving and keep people in jobs, ensuring that they can pay their bills.
The Government were absolutely right to protect renters over the last six months, but, unfortunately, some people have misused that protection by causing unnecessary levels of antisocial behaviour in streets, and law-abiding citizens have had to put up with that. Does the Minister agree that now is the right time to lift the ban so that people can go back to a good quality of life in their streets and not have to put up with antisocial behaviour?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. The police have powers under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to deal with egregious antisocial behaviour, but he is absolutely right: when tenants are behaving irresponsibly, abusing their privileges and abusing their neighbours, not just the police but landlords and the courts should have the right to act swiftly, and that is the power that we have given them.
I know that many of my constituents have warmly welcomed the evictions ban because they have faced severe financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic. So can my right hon. Friend confirm that landlords will still be required to take into account coronavirus issues when starting eviction proceedings?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. If a landlord wishes to pursue an action through the courts, that landlord will have to give the courts clear and defined information about the status of the tenants and the way in which the covid-19 emergency has affected them. If any landlord fails to do so, or attempts to circumvent those rules, the courts can adjourn the case, pushing it to the end of the queue, which will cost the landlord, if nothing else, probably quite a bit of money. So we have made sure there are tenant protections in place as we move through this crisis.
As of yesterday, Warrington North is subject to local lockdown. The Government have announced that bailiffs will not evict in areas under local lockdown, but the eviction ban has been lifted and the guidance for bailiffs remains unpublished. Given that local lockdown guidance does not clearly rule out bailiff actions, what assurances can the Minister give constituents of mine in the private rented sector, anxious about losing their homes as we stand on the precipice of a second wave of this pandemic?
As I said in a previous answer, the Lord Chancellor has written to the bailiffs’ association to make absolutely clear what its responsibilities are. Further guidance will be published in due course, but we are absolutely clear that, where there is a lockdown where movement restrictions are in place, evictions should not take place. The Lord Chancellor has made it clear in his letter and I have made it clear from the Dispatch Box.
In Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, I have a constituent who lives with her disabled son in private rented accommodation. She has recently been served a section 21 notice and has until 9 November to find alternative specialist accommodation in a competitive marketplace. Can my right hon. Friend advise me on how we can best assist those who need such specialist accommodation?
I have made clear in my previous answers the work that we are doing through the next steps accommodation programme to the tune of £263 million. I am not aware of the exact circumstances of my hon. Friend’s constituents, so it is probably better if he writes to me with more detail; I will be sure to follow it up.
Ministers will know from my interventions and interests in this place that I am not an enemy of the landlord, but it seems to me that the balance here is totally wrong. Landlords and homeowners have been able to have mortgage deferrals, and their homes cannot be repossessed without the court looking at circumstances and the mortgage company discussing payment options. Why on earth does the Minister think it is acceptable for courts to have no discretion on section 8 notices on the grounds of rent arrears, and when will he fulfil his manifesto pledge to get rid of section 21 and introduce the renters’ reform Bill?
Given what the hon. Gentleman sometimes says in this place and on social media, one might be forgiven for thinking that he is the enemy of everybody some of the time. We will reform section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 when we bring forward the renters’ reform Bill, which we will do in due course.
It is crucial that we ensure that the most vulnerable in society are supported, especially throughout this pandemic. Is it not also the case that we should recognise that not every tenant is unable to pay their rent? Where necessary, should we not be supporting the landlords who rely on the income from their rental properties to live on or who have mortgages of their own to pay?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Tenants should continue to pay their rent where they can. Where they can but will not, we have changed the Coronavirus Act 2020 to make it easier for landlords to act. We think we have struck a fair balance between the rights of tenants and the rights of landlords, and I ask the House to support it.
The end of the moratorium on eviction strikes fear in my heart, and it should strike fear in most Members’ hearts, because we know what is coming for so many families with children in our constituencies who have done nothing wrong, but are at the end of section 21 evictions. My local authority, the London Borough of Merton, has had 24 two-bedroom properties available since 1 April; that is less than one a week. It has had six three-bedroom properties available; that is one a month. The families who are going to be evicted over the next few months face years in temporary accommodation. What support is the Minister giving local councils to ensure that the temporary accommodation that these families find, which will be long term in anybody’s imagination, is fit for them and allows them to remain in their jobs, in their schools and close to their support networks?
We have invested a great deal of money in local authorities throughout this crisis, as the hon. Lady knows. I have described to her the accommodation programme, which invests £263 million in 3,000 units to house the long-term homeless. We have just announced an affordable homes programme, which will result in the building of some 180,000 affordable homes being built over the next cycle, about half of which will be for a discounted rent. I encourage her to take up her concerns with the Mayor of London to ensure that he is building out the right number of homes, which he has pledged—and has thus far failed—to do.
As the Minister will know, a number of new restrictions were introduced in my constituency earlier this week to try to bring down the spread of covid. I have received a number of emails from constituents concerned that they may be at risk of eviction. Can my right hon. Friend give assurances that no evictions will take place in areas such as Warrington where local restrictions are in force?
The Government are reintroducing evictions at the same time as scrapping employment support for millions of people, making it highly likely that we will see a very bleak rise in homelessness. Is the Minister aware that, due to covid regulations, many hostels and shelters cannot open to support homeless people this winter? Is it his intention to resource alternative provision or revise those regulations?
We have provided a great deal of resources for local authorities and charities to support people through this emergency. We will continue to keep those policies and programmes under review. If the hon. Gentleman has specific ideas that he wishes to suggest, I am happy to hear them.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
It is absolutely right that we should be fair to tenants affected by the covid crisis, and the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), who secured the urgent question, is right to say that we might consider giving the courts discretion over the nature of arrears. But it also has to be right that we should be fair to the neighbours of those guilty of antisocial behaviour, fair to those affected by domestic abuse and fair to landlords who were affected by arrears pre-covid, and that should be the immediate focus of the courts’ attentions.
My constituent Nichola is a key worker. In May, her landlord served her with a section 21 no-fault eviction notice, giving her three months to move out. Housing benefit will cover only a one-bed flat for Nichola and her two teenage daughters. Letting agents demand an above-average income and the details of someone who earns more than £50,000 to guarantee the rent. What does the Minister suggest that people in Nichola’s position should do to provide a suitable home for their families during the pandemic?
I have outlined to the House the range of measures that the Government have undertaken to support renters during this crisis. I do not know the specific circumstances that Nichola finds herself in, although the hon. Lady outlined some of them. If she cares to write to me with further information, I will give her a full and considered response.
Many renters in my constituency work in the leisure, hospitality and creative sectors. With the new restrictions coming in, they will continue to see a big shock to their income. The Prime Minister announced that the new restrictions might be in place for another six months, but they have not been matched by any support for renters. Will the Minister reintroduce the evictions memorandum while those restrictions are still in place, and scrap the benefit cap, which is impacting on tenants and those who are falling into rent arrears?
Even with the benefit cap, from which there are right and proper exemptions, I think that in London there is an equivalent income of £28,000 for a person in receipt of benefits. We keep our policies under constant review—the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, is here listening to the points that the House is making—and of course if we do choose to make future changes, we will bring those to the House.
I have information on dozens and dozens of small-scale landlords—not property tycoons—who are now owed several thousand pounds in rent arrears, some due to genuine hardship, some as a result of tenants’ taking advantage of the current situation. This situation is now causing some landlords, particularly those with mortgages, severe hardship. I know that my right hon. Friend has said that the best option is to give the tenant as many options as possible to pay their rent, so will he look at the development of interest-free Government-guaranteed hardship loans for tenants to pay off their covid arrears?
As I said, we will keep our policies under review, to ensure that they take account of the state of the emergency at any given time. The steps that we have already taken, including mortgage holidays and the right to extend those mortgage holidays, also apply to landlords. I am happy to stay in touch with my hon. Friend as we continue to keep our policies under review, to make sure that he is apprised of the steps that we are taking to support landlords and tenants alike.