I’ve called on the government to introduce new support measures for private tenants during the coronavirus pandemic.
The housing charity Shelter recently published alarming new research which reveals that nearly one in five private renters in England – an estimated 1.7 million adults – say they are likely to lose their job in the next three months because of the coronavirus crisis.
Rising unemployment will see more people claiming Universal Credit. In fact, there have already been 1.4 million claims for Universal Credit in the four-week period since 16 March, when the government first urged people to stay at home to combat the pandemic. Weekly claims peaked at an unprecedented 540,000 in the week of 23 March, more than double the number that the Department for Work and Pensions would normally receive in a month.
One of the most high-profile issues faced by Universal Credit claimants is the five-week wait for the first payment, while the two-child limit bars benefits for third and subsequent children born after 2017. The limit has hit more than 592,000 kids in 157,000 families since it was implemented in 2017. Across the UK, 46% of families lose money from the switch from legacy benefits to Universal Credit.
Families in an average two-bedroom home would see a gap of more than £50 a month between their rent and housing benefit in almost half of local authorities, and more than £100 a month in one in six areas.
People’s incomes are falling or disappearing completely because of the coronavirus crisis and Universal Credit is not providing a good enough safety net. A lack of support is pushing people into debt, destitution and even homelessness.
With more than a million extra people claiming Universal Credit in the past month, Boris Johnson must put measures in place to support renters and prevent more homelessness. The government should immediately scrap the cruel two-child limit and the five-week wait period.
To further protect renters, I’m also calling on the government to accept Labour’s proposals to extend the current three-month ban on evictions to six months, and give tenants the right to pay back any rent owed over a period of up to two years. Labour has also proposed raising benefit rates for private renters to at least cover average rents in each area, and relaxing the current cap on benefit payments, which hits families facing high housing costs.
Only once these measures have been introduced will renters have security and peace of mind.