Protecting the homeless and the private rented sector: MHCLG’s response to Covid-19 Contents


1.Since the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic, we have focused our attention on assessing the impact on rough sleepers, the wider homeless population, private renters, and landlords, and scrutinising the Government’s actions to try to help these groups. On 17 April 2020, we launched our inquiry. Within 2 weeks we received over 300 responses.1 By May, we believed our inquiry had revealed concerns which required immediate action by the Government, so we published an interim report a month after launching our work, entitled Protecting rough sleepers and renters.2

2.Since the publication of our interim report, we have continued our important scrutiny of the Department’s actions as the pandemic unfolded. We issued further terms of reference to reflect the rapidly changing circumstances and received an additional 47 written submissions.3 We held four more evidence sessions, hearing from many experts, including Baroness Casey of Blackstock DBE CB, who led the “Everyone In” intervention in March 2020, before questioning the Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing, Eddie Hughes MP on 28 January 2021. Following his appearance, the Committee wrote to the Minister requesting further information that he had agreed to supply to the Committee during the oral evidence session.4 We are extremely disappointed that the response was not sent until five weeks after our deadline. Although the Minister apologised for the delay in replying, this delayed the publication of our report and inhibited our ability to fully scrutinise the Government on these very important issues.

3.It is important, too, to highlight the testimony we heard on 17 December 2020. We invited four experts by experience, Abeo, Sam, T, and Tracey, to share their stories of homelessness and rough sleeping, which were powerful and poignant.5 We are grateful for their honesty.

4.‘Homelessness’ or ‘the homeless’ are terms which encompass a wide range of experiences. Rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness, but there are many more people homeless than those on the streets. The wider homeless population includes those in temporary accommodation, and the ‘hidden homeless’, which includes people in night shelters and informal, unstable arrangements with friends and family, like sofa-surfing. Our inquiry has primarily focused on those at greatest threat from covid-19 in the short-term—rough sleepers—but our other focus on the private rented sector stems from the interconnectedness of that sector with homelessness. The most recent annual statutory homelessness statistics show that local authorities are most likely to owe a prevention duty (households threatened with homelessness within 56 days) to households living in the private rented sector.6

5.Our interim report began by explaining the vulnerability of rough sleepers, which cannot be over-emphasised. Prolonged rough sleeping is devastating to an individual’s mental and physical wellbeing. It exposes them to an increased risk of being the victim of serious crimes like violence and sexual assault. As we stated last year, the streets are dangerous at the best of times, and we are far from those. Covid-19 preys on pre-existing vulnerabilities, especially chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Individuals suffering from homelessness have higher rates of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart problems and strokes; on average they have seven long-term health conditions, which is more than people in their 90s.

6.Private renters were vulnerable and insecure before the pandemic struck. The Government’s consultation A New Deal for Renting accepted that private renters felt insecure due to short fixed-term tenancies.7 Since 2000, the sector has more than doubled in size, in part driven by a large increase in the number of families renting privately.89 According to the House of Commons Library, over the same period, relative poverty rates of households in the private rented sector have more than doubled.10 Private renters spend the most on household costs11 (averaging around 45%), with one in six households relying on housing benefit pre-pandemic.12 The Government spent an estimated £23.4 billion in 2018–19 to support renters, representing 2.9 per cent of total public spending.13 That was before the pandemic struck, hitting household incomes and earnings for many households in the country. Since March 2020, it is estimated that a third of all private renters had a fall in their household’s overall net income, causing a significant impact on the ability of renters to meet their outgoings.14

7.In this report we set out what the Government needs to do short-term and long-term to protect both people with a home, and those without, from the ongoing health risks and economic fallout of covid-19. In Chapter 2, we consider how the Department can improve on the early success of Everyone In and embed the principle long-term. In Chapter 3, we recommend how the Department can meet its pledge that no-one will lose their home due to the pandemic. The publication of this report does not end our work in this area; we will continue to review how the Department acts and intervene when we believe it is necessary to do so in the public interest.

1 Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Impact of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) on homelessness and the private rented sector: written evidence, 14 May 2020

2 Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, First Report of Session 2019–21, Protecting rough sleepers and renters: Interim Report, HC 309

3 Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Impact of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) on homelessness and the private rented sector: written evidence, 8 December 2020

5 These names are pseudonyms selected by the witnesses to help protect their identities.

6 MHCLG, Statutory Homelessness Annual Report, 2019–20, England, 1 October 2020

8 Department of Communities and Local Government, English housing survey: private rented sector, 2015–16

10 Poverty in the UK: statistics, CBP 7096, House of Commons Library, 18 June 2020

11 Household costs are mortgages for mortgagors, or the average proportion of income spent on rent for renters.

12 MHCLG, English Housing Survey: Headline Report 2018–19, 23 January 2020, para 1.49; Office for National Statistics, Families and households in the UK: 2019

13 Office for Budget Responsibility, Welfare spending: housing benefit, accessed 15 February 2021

14 Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Briefing: struggling renters need a lifeline this winter, November 2020

Published: 31 March 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement