Council plea to extend moratorium on evictions

By Emma Harwood

Hundreds of families and residents across the town will face pain, crisis and homelessness unless the government extends its ban on evictions, the Portfolio Holder for Housing and Homelessness has warned.

High rents, the end of the furlough scheme in October, a predicted economic downturn and subsequent job losses, will combine to create a ‘tsunami’ of people in real trouble if the current ban, set to be lifted on 23rd August, is not extended further, said Cllr. Andy Batsford this week.

Hastings Borough Council – like many other councils across the country – is already footing enormous bills to keep homeless families in emergency and temporary accommodation. 

In the last financial year, it paid just short of £1 million towards emergency accommodation – to make up a shortfall in government funding – for around 200 households. 

And these costs will continue to rise due to an acute shortage of affordable homes in the area if more families are made homeless this autumn and winter.

During the lockdown period HBC has been approached by an average of 16 people or households a week, at risk of being made homeless or struggling financially. This figure has increased to 25 as lockdown restrictions were eased.

But if the moratorium on evictions is lifted in August, councillors fear that the situation will escalate into a much bigger crisis.

Moratorium on evictions

The government first introduced emergency legislation to protect tenants likely to lose income due to coronavirus from eviction, in March. This was extended in June for another three months following pressure from the Local Government Association and charities such as Shelter. 

Alongside this was an extension of mortgage holidays for homeowners until 31st October but with the options of either further extending their mortgage holiday, paying just a proportion of their monthly payment or switching to an interest-only mortgage temporarily. 

“Coronavirus has seen this Government being very generous with those who own their homes, with mortgage holidays, allowing those families who were struggling to make ends meet not have to worry about putting their homes at risk – and of course we all welcomed that,” said the Labour councillor for St Helens ward. 

“But this important gift was not afforded to those renting their homes. 

“When you think that most families who rent pay a much higher monthly amount than those who own their own homes, you can start to understand the strain being put unnecessarily on our residents across the town.” 

A ‘Band-Aid’ for housing rough sleepers

At the start of the crisis the Government provided funding to help councils place all rough sleepers into temporary accommodation. HBC received £85,000 but this has already been spent on providing emergency accommodations for 51 rough sleepers, and now predicts a shortfall of £643,000 to keep them in safe accommodation until the end of this financial year.

MP for Hastings and Rye, Sally-Ann Hart, cites eradicating homelessness and rough sleeping in the town as one of her ‘key pledges’. 

“As we look to winter, it will not be possible to build enough social housing within the timeframe required to ensure that people are able to stay off the streets, and many options will need to be considered: for example, social lettings agencies could be established to deal with private rental procurement for vulnerable people and homeless people to access accommodation,” she noted in the Commons on Monday 20th July.

In response, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick told her that £105m would be made available for local areas across the country to tackle the issues she’d raised. 

It is not clear, however, how much of this figure will reach Hastings and any sum is unlikely to cover the council’s full costs for emergency accommodation this financial year.

A further ‘un-ring-fenced’ capital grant of £500m has also been announced for councils to invest in housing and infrastructure and HBC is hopeful the town will be in line for around £1m. 

Every-Day Families

It is not just the entrenched homeless with complex issues who will place pressure on council services come the autumn, however.

“Whilst all the headline-grabbing announcements of cash injections to address rough sleeping are welcome, they will be eclipsed by those every-day families crashing out of the rental and housing market,” said Cllr. Batsford.

“This I fear will be the true tragedy of Covid-19 on Hastings, we have been incredibly fortunate with the numbers of deaths and infections during lockdown, but the loss of jobs and huge pressures on family budgets will be the real crisis that will hit our town.” 

“We must demand the Government reverse their decision to lift the suspensions of household evictions in August, otherwise I fear the pressure on the councils services will be like a tsunami, causing pain, crisis and homelessness for hundreds of local families and residents.”

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