Statement on coronavirus and protection for tenants

Published: Thursday, 19th March 2020

A statement from councillor Susan Brown, leader of Oxford City Council:

At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday Boris Johnson said the government would do “whatever it takes” to help people affected by coronavirus and last night the government provided details of emergency legislation to protect renters from eviction.

This legislation will include suspending all new evictions from social and private rented housing for at least three months. The government is also extending mortgage payment holidays to buy to let landlords whose tenants are struggling to pay the rent due to coronavirus.

While we welcome the proposed legislation, Oxford City Council would like the government to consider doing more to protect tenants during these difficult times – for example, by also calling a halt to ongoing eviction proceedings and committing to maintain the arrangements announced yesterday for as long as they are needed.

There may be a need for additional financial support for landlords without mortgages and for renters who would have difficulties arranging repayment plans even after the coronavirus emergency has passed.

The government should explore all options for helping these tenants – including changes to benefit entitlement like suspending the bedroom tax and benefit cap, and temporarily increasing local housing allowance rates to median rent levels.

We have written to all our tenants to offer our support and asking them to contact us if they are having difficulty paying their rent because of the impact of coronavirus.

Ahead of the promised legislation we will be working with our housing association partners to help ensure tenants are protected from eviction, in line with guidance from the National Housing Federation.

While we do not have powers over private landlords or to intervene in eviction proceedings, we would echo the Residential Landlords Association’s guidance to their members about being flexible to help their tenants affected by coronavirus.

We will continue to do what we can to support tenants in Oxford whether they are renting privately or living in social housing. Our dedicated welfare reform team can provide expert advice and support for any tenant having problems paying their rent.

We also stand ready behind the government to help in any other way we can. No council by itself can handle the impact of coronavirus, but with the right support from central government we can help ensure Oxford’s tenants are protected from the virus as far as possible.