On Wednesday in Parliament at lunchtime, a few MPs spent an hour debating Homelessness under the heading of “Covid-19 Lockdown: Homelessness and Rough Sleepers”. Sadly there were no Sussex MPs involved in the debate although perhaps had it not been a COVID lockdown and the other challenges in terms of the premises that would have changed. The debate had a starting point that was an Urgent Question from the MP for Bristol West who is also the Labour Shadow of State for Housing, Thangam Debbonaire. She started the debate with this request
To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government if he will make a statement on his plans to prevent homelessness and protect rough sleepers during the second national lockdown.
I always find it interesting how so many questions get directed to a person and the Government then sends someone else to answer the question. So Robert Jenrick did not attend the session but instead he sent his colleague Kelly Tolhurst who is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rough Sleeping and Housing to respond to the question and the rest of the debate. She began by setting out a series of claims which on face value were very impressive. Some of these issues which are responded to by Debbonaire and Tolhurst refers to in her second piece reveals that she was trying to hide the fact that the Government is providing far less resources this Winter than they did last Winter. Her argument to justify this is that because the Government spent a substantial amount (£700m) during the first lockdown to move homeless people off the Streets that therefore there must still be lots of funds available for this Winter which of course is nonsense. Amongst the other subjects they touched on was the issue of evictions which begins from Tolhurst in her opening statement with these words
Throughout the pandemic, we have established an unprecedented package of support to protect renters, which remains in place. That includes legislating through the Coronavirus Act 2020 on delays as to when landlords can evict tenants and a six-month stay on possession proceedings in court. We have quickly and effectively introduced more than £9 billion of measures in 2020-21 that benefit those facing financial disruption during the current situation. The measures include increasing universal and working tax credit by £1,040 a year for 12 months and significant investment in local housing allowance of nearly £1 billion. As further support for renters this winter, we have asked bailiffs not to carry out evictions during national restrictions in England, except in the most serious of circumstances.
So the issue of evictions is not new to the Government as they were elected with a manifesto that they formed which included the following promise
We will bring in a Better Deal for Renters, including abolishing ‘no fault’ evictions and only requiring one ‘lifetime’ deposit which moves with the tenant. This will create a fairer rental market: if you’re a tenant, you will be protected from revenge evictions and rogue landlords, and if you’re one of the many good landlords, we will strengthen your rights of possession.
So although they do not refer to this as being a section 21 eviction, as we can see in the debate, that is what the other MPs recognise it as. Indeed the first person to mention it was Debbonaire who at the end of her first response raises a question regarding this subject
will the Minister now commit to abolishing section 21 evictions, as the Government said they would, to prevent a further rise in homelessness, and invest in the support and social housing we need so that we can genuinely end rough sleeping for good?
Sadly the response statement from Kelly Tolhurst ignores this question and although several other people including David Linden from the SNP and Florence Eshalomi and Ian Byrne from Labour raise the subject of evictions and Eshalomi and Byrne do get responses, none of those conversations focus on the manifesto promise. However Tim Farron from the Liberal Democrats does finally raise the same question as Debbonaire
Simply asking bailiffs not to physically remove desperate people who cannot afford to pay their rent until 11 January will not allow the Secretary of State to keep his promise that no one will lose their home due to a drop in income because of covid. How he could keep that promise would be, for example, to raise local housing allowance so that nobody finds that it is less than the rent they owe. Given that a third of those who are excluded are also private renters, he could also make sure that those people who have been excluded from financial support since March are no longer excluded and are given the support they need. Finally, given that the Government are in the mood for rushing through legislation, why do they not keep their manifesto promise and scrap section 21 evictions, and do it now?
So Tolhurst states
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but, as I have outlined, we have asked bailiffs to pause evictions over the Christmas period and that is something that we will monitor and keep under review. It is absolutely right that we have taken this action, and the Secretary of State took it quickly and swiftly. We are still committed to abolishing section 21, but legislation must be balanced and considered to achieve the right outcomes for the sector, and we will keep those under review. The Government will continue to take decisive action, as they have done at all stages of the pandemic, and as I have done today in outlining our Protect programme.
This lack of detail in connection to the 2019 manifesto is very disturbing as Kelly Tolhurst, Robert Jenrick and Boris Johnson and the rest of their colleagues were all elected as a consequence of the document and the promises it includes. The question is clearly when will this get resolved?