32.The recommendations we made in Chapters 2 and 3 require immediate action from the Government. Rough sleepers will be housed in secure accommodation and renters will not be evicted due to rent arrears caused by the crisis. The next step is for the Government to determine a policy solution for what to do with the rent arrears, which will continue to exist and build up even if tenants are protected from eviction.
33.Our evidence suggested a wide range of policy solutions. One suggestion which has gained publicity in recent times is that rent arrears could be cancelled for all renters. We note there may be a number of barriers to such an approach. For social landlords, cancelling arrears would undermine the Housing Revenue Accounts of local authorities, which could cause repairs and new builds to stop. Housing associations also make business decisions predicated on rental income, and would face similar difficulties. For the private rented sector, the Government would almost certainly face a legal challenge based on the right to property under Protocol No. 1, Article 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The other more practical point is that the current structure of the private rented sector—whether or not one believes reform is necessary—means a majority of landlords own just one property, and would struggle to deal without rental income over a significant period of time.
34.Nevertheless, it is important for the Government to consider other approaches, including the potential for long-term no-interest loans to cover rent arrears, as is the case in Spain. We will continue our inquiry and take evidence on policy options for rent arrears over the coming weeks, recognising the potential for substantial rent arrears to build up, which could be significant in relation to the period of tenancy outstanding.
35.In our inquiry into the long-term delivery of social and affordable housing, we have heard that the demand for social housing is high, with an estimated 90,000 social rented homes needed every year for the next ten years. Last year, just 6,287 social rented homes were built in England. We put this to the Minister, asking whether it was time for the Government to invest in an ambitious programme for social housebuilding. The Minister said in response:
The Government’s record since 2010, delivering 464,000 affordable homes in a range of tenures, is a positive one […] We are completely committed to the delivery of our flagship affordable homes programme.
36.The use of affordable housing by the Minister in this context relates to Annex 2 of the National Planning Policy Framework, which defines affordable housing as any housing for sale or rent, for those whose needs are not met by the market. It includes other affordable route to home ownership, including shared ownership. We are not convinced the housing need, which identified the need for 90,000 social rented homes every year, would be satiated by low cost home ownership. The need for social housing, already high, is only likely to increase even more as the economic impact of coronavirus becomes clear. We will finish our inquiry into the long-term delivery of social and affordable housing in the coming weeks, and publish a report with our recommendations before the summer recess.
37.The recommendations we make in this report require urgent consideration and action. We therefore ask the Government to respond to our recommendations by 12 June, rather than the usual two months. We will return to these crucial issues in the coming weeks and months.
66 Council of Europe, , Protocol No. 1, Article 1
67 Kath Scanlon and Christine Whitehead, , December 2016
68 Citizens Advice Bureau Spain, , 1 May 2020
69 For example, see: National Housing Federation (SAH047), Crisis (SAH023)
70 Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, , last updated 3 December 2019
72 Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, , Annex 2
Published: 22 May 2020