New data provided by local councils in the UK suggests tens of thousands of people have become homeless during COVID-19, despite policies intended to protect people from losing their homes.
An investigation by the Guardian, using freedom of information requests responded to by 204 councils, shows that 90,063 people have been threatened with homelessness since April and more than half of that number have already lost their accommodation.
The data from the councils revealed that 36,359 people have been threatened with homelessness since the pandemic started; 6,184 have been served section 21 notices (eviction notices); and 46,894 had told the council they had already been made homeless.
This is despite new laws that were put in place to try to prevent an increase in homelessness during the pandemic, with so many people facing loss of employment and income. During the first UK COVID-19 lockdown, which started on March 23, a temporary ban on landlords being able to evict tenants was put in place until Sept. 21.
Since then, the rules have allowed evictions but courts are only considering the most serious of cases. In addition, a six-month notice period has been placed on any evictions that have been requested since then — a rule that is in place until March 2021.
Charities say this new cohort of people becoming homeless have slipped through the cracks in some cases because their living situation was already precarious — or linked specifically to their job in hospitality, for example — and so not necessarily protected by the eviction ban.
“Through our helpline, we have been hearing about lots of people losing their homes despite a ban on evictions,” Paul Noblet, head of public affairs for the homeless charity Centrepoint, said. “Some of the calls are from young people who work in the hospitality industry whose home may have been linked to their job, so someone living at a hotel or a pub,” he added.
Noblet added people might have received eviction notices and now have that hanging over them to be processed as soon as the courts reopen.
Lucy Abraham, chief executive of the homeless charity Glass Door, said the COVID-19 pandemic was also impacting people living in precarious shared housing situations and they had since become homeless as a result.
“Workers who were sharing overcrowded houses found these situations untenable because everyone was suddenly supposed to be home the whole time rather than just sleeping there,” she said.
Campaigners had praised the UK’s government’s action on homelessness earlier this year — but now say that action needs to be continued. In October, 18 charities signed a letter to the government saying that the “Everyone in” scheme, that saw almost 15,000 rough sleepers housed in temporary hotels during the height of the pandemic in April, needs to be renewed this winter.
Since those efforts, there is evidence that progress has faltered, and indeed people are going back to rough sleeping or are experiencing other forms of “hidden homelessness” like staying in temporary hostels or sofa surfing.
Global Citizen reported last week that with protections ending for hard-pressed renters and the newly jobless, about 230,000 people are at risk of becoming homeless, according to recent research by national homelessness charity Shelter.
Jonny Webb, a researcher on housing and homelessness, told the Guardian that data backs up these concerns, saying that despite a 69% fall in people being evicted this year compared to last year, people were still being evicted either because they don’t know their rights or because bailiffs are still being called on people in defiance of the notice period policy.
He added: “This idea early on that [the government] said they had eradicated rough sleeping, that is definitely an overreaction especially when you look at reports showing those taken off the streets are now starting to slowly trickle back.”
A Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government spokesperson said in response to the investigation: “This week we confirmed that bailiff enforcement action will not be permitted during the national restrictions or over the Christmas period — except in the most serious eviction cases such as those involving anti-social behaviour. This builds on existing protections, including six-month notice periods and new court rules meaning judges will prioritise the most serious of cases."
They added: “We have also taken action to prevent people getting into financial hardship by helping businesses to pay salaries, extending the furlough scheme, and boosting the welfare safety net by over £9 billion.”
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