A partial government eviction ban should remain in force to help prevent a potential surge in homelessness for renters this year, says Oxford City Council.
The ban is currently due to lapse after 21 February and the council is urging the government to extend it beyond 8 March, when current national lockdown measures may begin to ease.
From April to September 2020 the council accepted a duty to prevent homelessness for 112 households, compared with 249 households in 2019. The eviction ban is the main reason for this 55% fall, with far fewer private rented tenants needing help from the council.
While the number of households accommodated under the duty to relieve homelessness rose from 82 in 2019 to 208 in 2020 – a 154% increase – this was not a result of more evictions. The 2020 figure is higher because the council gave emergency housing to people who were already homeless when the pandemic hit. These included people who were experiencing rough sleeping or living in shared hostel spaces unsuitable for self-isolation, as well as people with no recourse to public funds – that is, people who do not normally qualify for benefits or housing because of their immigration status.
The partial eviction ban
Most bailiff evictions are now on pause until after 21 February and this includes all section 21 (‘no fault’) evictions. Bailiffs can only evict tenants if a hearing has already taken place and there are at least six months’ rent arrears or there has been antisocial behaviour. Since last August, most tenants have also been entitled to at least six months’ notice of court action to evict them. The eviction ban does not cover lodgers sharing accommodation with their landlords.
Potential impact in Oxford
Last July, Shelter warned that 230,000 private renters across the country could face homelessness when the eviction ban ends. Almost half (49%) of Oxford’s housing stock is in the private rented sector, by some distance the largest proportion of housing in the city. Oxford is the least affordable city in the UK and the economic impact of the pandemic – particularly if the national furlough scheme closes at the end of April – means that resuming evictions would put many private tenants at risk of homelessness.
In August, the council warned that ending the eviction ban would have a disproportionate effect in Oxford, and called for an end to ‘no fault’ evictions and delivery of a Renters Reform Bill promised in the Queen’s Speech in November 2019.
The resumption of evictions would also undermine the council’s efforts to help ensure that nobody should have to sleep rough in Oxford. Since the pandemic hit the council has been successful in winning more than £2m in government funding to help people experiencing rough sleeping, so far providing safe shelter for 313 people and helping 138 of these into more settled housing.
Support for private renters
The council provides advice and support for private tenants although it don’t have powers over landlords or to intervene in eviction proceedings. The tenancy relations officer can help and advise tenants whose landlords threaten them with eviction – between April and September she helped prevent homelessness for 84 tenants.
The welfare reform team can also provide expert advice and support for any tenant having problems paying their rent. The team helps tenants to find work, access training and get other support they may need to improve their situation for the long term. This can include temporary financial help to pay the rent.
“As things stand the eviction ban is due to end after 21 February, when we will still be in lockdown. Our own experience shows that the eviction ban has helped prevent homelessness throughout the pandemic, and it needs to be extended again – and not just until lockdown ends.
“As we said last year resuming evictions would have a disproportionate effect here, with nearly half of Oxford’s homes rented privately. The economic impact of coronavirus will last long after lockdown and the government needs to take action to prevent a potential wave of homelessness for private tenants this year. That also means ending ‘no fault’ evictions and delivering on their promise to bring in a Renters Reform Bill.”
Councillor Mike Rowley, cabinet member for affordable housing and housing the homeless