This is our second report scrutinising the Government’s actions to help rough sleepers, the wider homeless population, private renters, and landlords during the covid-19 pandemic. The publication of this report does not end our work in this area: we will continue to review how the Department acts and will intervene when we believe it is necessary to do so in the public interest.
At the start of the pandemic, the Government, local authorities, and charities helped to provide tens of thousands of rough sleepers with emergency accommodation through what is now known as the ‘Everyone In’ initiative. Researchers at University College London estimate that as of December 2020, 242 deaths were prevented because of Everyone In.
However, in late May 2020, the Government changed its emphasis on whom councils should be helping. Initially, the Government had encouraged local authorities to assist those who had No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF). In late May, the Government reminded local authorities of its position on eligibility relating to people with NRPF, and asked local authorities to use their judgement when assessing people’s needs. Our inquiry heard that this created confusion for local authorities and led to people with NRPF being denied support during the covid-19 public health crisis.
Furthermore, the recent case of Ncube v Brighton and Hove City Council ruled that councils can and should be using specific powers to provide accommodation to people with NRPF during a public health emergency.
Beyond the pandemic, our inquiry heard that the Government’s pledge to end rough sleeping by 2024 will require a review of its immigration policy, which in some cases denies housing support to those with NRPF.
As well as supporting thousands of homeless people, the Government has also supported renters during the pandemic by banning evictions except in specific cases (such as anti-social behaviour). However, when this ban is eventually lifted in May, many renters who have been unable to pay their rent during the pandemic will be at risk of becoming homeless. Furthermore, the most recent regulations changed the definition of “substantial rent arrears”—the threshold for permitting repossession—from equivalent to at least nine months’ rent to six months’, and removed the requirement to disregard arrears accrued since 23 March 2020.
The problem of growing rent arrears not only puts some renters at risk of eviction and homelessness; it also affects landlords’ incomes. The Government will eventually have to come up with a policy response, because it cannot keep extending the evictions ban forever more.