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‘Protecting renters’ shouldn’t mean that renters pay more

Green Councillor Carla Denyer has responded with alarm to Labour’s ‘five-point plan to protect renters’, which would require struggling tenants to take an economic hit, rather than landlords.

Green councillor Carla Denyer has said that Labour’s new plans do not go far enough to help people struggling to pay their rent during the coronavirus crisis, leaving the economic burden of lockdown on renters. Instead, she calls for rent arrears during the crisis to be forgiven, and an increase in benefits to help struggling tenants pay their rent in coming months. She says the onus should be on landlords to claim government relief rather than placing the burden on tenants.

Green councillor Carla Denyer asks,

“Why should tenants on low incomes, many of whom will have seen a huge drop in their income during the coronavirus crisis, be forced to prop up landlord’s businesses out of their own pocket? The crisis affects us all, but it does not affect us all equally, and the burden is already falling heaviest on those who are least able to bear it.”

The Greens are calling for rent arrears to be forgiven, increased benefits to help tenants cover rent, extending the current ban on eviction proceedings, and an immediate end to no-fault evictions. In the longer term, the Green Party wants to bring in rent controls and more affordable housing.

Councillor Denyer, who has been supporting residents with financial issues since the crisis began, has called on the Government to do all it can to support renters, and has made a particular plea to local Labour MP and Shadow Housing Secretary Thangam Debbonaire to reconsider her party’s proposals [1] and heed the calls of tenants’ rights groups including ACORN [2] and London Renters Union.

Councillor Denyer continued:

“Some of these proposals from the Labour Party are exactly right – the Green Party, along with many housing campaigners and unions, share their calls for extending the temporary ban on evictions, permanently scrapping Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, and adjusting benefits to cover rent more fully. We hope that the Government will adopt these changes as soon as possible.”

“But we are concerned that the new Labour policy does not go far enough, as it just postpones rent arrears. Renters ultimately still take the economic hit. Those who have been unable to pay their rent because of lost earnings during lockdown are still made to pay it back, which will lead to a spiral of debt for many of the poorest in our country.”

Point 4 of the Labour plan puts the onus for dealing with any arrears onto tenants rather than landlords, and would result in renters having to pay off any arrears over the next 2 years. For example, if a tenant missed 3 months of rent payments (March, April and May) at £800 per month, they would owe £2400.

Councillor Denyer said:

“Under the Labour plan, renters would be required to pay 100% of this back over 2 years. For someone whose rent is £800 a month for example, this would amount to an extra £100 per month, which will be unaffordable for many.”

Pressure to change the policy has also come from inside the Labour Party, with Momentum campaigners openly admitting that the Greens’ policy “outflanks” Labour [3].

Sian Berry, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, outlined her party’s proposals in the Independent last month [4], saying:

“Increasing housing benefit rates and income support to levels that cover rents is necessary, but the early stages of the crisis have seen many renters building up arrears as debt to their landlords.

“Under the government’s plans, landlords are expected to put in place repayment plans once lockdown ends, and at the worst possible time. Without security for their jobs and incomes, renters cannot be expected to agree to service debts they have built up unfairly, and rent repayment schemes risk driving even more into poverty. The right way to approach this is to put the onus on landlords by cancelling all arrears built up so far and requiring landlords to claim back from the government for arrears accrued during the crisis, while also increasing benefit levels to cover rents in full for those who have lost incomes.”

ENDS

Notes:

1. Labour’s five-point plan: https://labour.org.uk/press/emergency-action-needed-to-protect-renters, covered in Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/may/08/labour-extension-emergency-rent-protections-housing

2. ACORN’s demands: https://twitter.com/ACORN_tweets/status/1259110150876680192

3. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/may/10/keir-starmer-failing-renters-coronavirus-labour-momentum-says

4. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/coronavirus-uk-renters-rent-evictions-homeless-landlord-poverty-a9477936.html

Photo: Carla and Sian being interviewed for Channel 4 in Bristol last year.

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