This is the text of a letter written by Councillor Alex Hollingsworth on 20 August 2020 urging communities secretary Robert Jenrick to extend the ban on evictions for private tenants:
I write on behalf of Oxford City Council to express my serious concerns about the impact of the ending of the ban on evictions which is due to take effect from the 24th August, and to demand that the government takes immediate action to protect tenants in the private rented sector in Oxford and across the country.
A House Condition Survey completed in April this year concluded that 49% of the housing stock in Oxford is in the private rented sector, by some distance the largest proportion of housing in the city; it is clear that there will be a disproportionate impact on tenants in Oxford when the eviction ban is lifted.
In addition Oxford is the least affordable city in the UK and our tourist economy has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic; this has impacted on the people relying on the hospitality sector for employment, many of whom live in the private rented sector. The furlough scheme, which has protected many renters, is due to expire, making this the worst possible moment to remove the protection from eviction which is likely to be the only thing preventing tenants becoming homeless.
The mortgage payment holiday scheme has been extended to the 31st October so it seems particularly unfair that landlords with buy to let mortgages are protected, whereas their tenants are not. Statistics show that the majority of young renters in particular have no access to savings whatsoever, something that further reinforces the need to support tenants as well as landlords.
The only steps taken by the government has been to amended the eviction rules so that landlords will have to say how the pandemic has affected their tenants financially when applying for a hearing and produce a tenant's full rent arrears history in advance of proceedings, rather than at the hearing itself. This will not prevent evictions from commencing and is not the same as the pre-action protocol for social tenants the government promised to extend to the private rented sector, and is not nearly enough to protect tenants in the private rented sector.
The government needs to act now to protect tenants by extending the ban on evictions, and it should go further by abolishing now Section 21 (so called ‘no fault’) evictions. Shelter has warned that 230,000 private renters across the country are at risk of homelessness when the eviction ban ends, and no-fault evictions have been the biggest single and fastest growing cause of homelessness since 2010.
When the government called for ‘everyone in’ this March Oxford City Council worked closely with MHCLG and local partners to provide safe accommodation for rough sleepers and people in shared hostels. We have offered accommodation to everyone experiencing rough sleeping since lockdown and have secured 124 rooms of interim housing as a bridge from the streets to settled housing over the next 12 months. We believe that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford; failing to extend the eviction ban is a real threat to realising that goal.
As the government’s recent reversal of policy on exam grading has shown, it is possible to change course right up to the last minute: the government should do the same thing now support renters, and extend the ban on evictions today.