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England Could See a Surge in Homelessness When Ban on Evictions Ends

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Homelessness is a crisis in the UK and around the world, and the United Nations' Global Goal 11 for sustainable cities and communities includes a call for safe and affordable housing for everyone. The COVID-19 pandemic further highlights the need to protect people in vulnerable situations. Join us and take action to protect communities from COVID-19 here.

A group of UK MPs have warned that homelessness could start to rise imminently when a temporary ban on landlords evicting their tenants  in England and Wales comes to an end on Aug. 23.

The ban was introduced through emergency legislation at the start of the nationwide lockdown on March 23, in order to protect renters impacted by the financial fallout of COVID-19. In June, after three months of lockdown, it was extended by a further two months.

The MPs have written to Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing Luke Hall and asked him to guarantee local council funding for accommodating people who experience homelessness for "at least a year," the BBC reports.

"Some local authorities are in the process of confirming and funding accommodation for rough sleepers for another year," the letter states. "However it is so important that all councils are able to provide this."

It was signed by nine Labour MPs, one Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP, and 10 Liberal Democrat MPs, including the acting leader of the party Ed Davey, and Layla Moran, who organised the letter.

The group also put forward a number of other demands that would help minimize the increase in homelessness, the Mirror reported.

The recommendations include a call to action from homelessness charity Crisis that asks government to draw up new legislation to make safe accomodation for people experiencing homelessness a legal requirement for the next 12 months.

In addition, the group argued for the restrictions on migrants accessing universal credit benefits to be suspended, in order to make that group less vulnerable. They also said that the 196-year-old Vagrancy Act — which technically makes rough sleeping illegal — should be scrapped, because it deters people who are sleeping rough from seeking help.

John McDonnell, a Labour MP and former shadow chancellor of the exchequer, went further, saying on Sunday that the moratorium on evictions should be extended by a year to give people security while the threat of a second wave of coronavirus looms.

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"Many people are becoming desperately worried that they will now face evictions," McDonnell said. "Many cannot rely upon the goodwill of their landlords to prevent them losing their homes."

Scotland has already extended a ban on evictions until March 2021, while Wales, although it has not extended the ban, has doubled the notice period renters get prior to eviction to six months.

Whatever the approach, there is evidence that homelessness still increased during lockdown.

A report published in the New Statesman on Tuesday used data from Freedom of Information requests collected from two-thirds of councils in England to learn that 22,798 households have been made legally homeless since April.

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However, when every council in England is taken into account, the true figure is estimated to be closer to 33,000 households, according to the New Statesman.

"COVID-19 has heightened the impact of the housing emergency — from people sleeping rough, to families living in grim temporary accommodation, to renters facing mounting arrears after losing their jobs," Polly Neate, the chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said in response to the revelation.

"The end of the ban on evictions is less than a week away, so the government’s first action after recess must be to give judges new powers to ensure no renter loses their home because of COVID-19," she added.