Devon council boss says Government should pay lockdown rent arrears

A Devon council is expecting a rise in homelessness when a ban on evictions introduced during the pandemic runs out at the end of May.

Edward Oldfield www.devonlive.com 

Torbay Council leader Steve Darling is backing a call by MPs for the Government to tackle the problem by helping tenants repay rent arrears built up during the last year.

The Liberal Democrat wrote to the local government secretary Robert Jenrick at the start of March about helping people keep their homes.

Cllr Darling said the council was supporting a Citizens Advice Bureau campaign for emergency grants and loans to help cover rent debts.

In Torbay, more than 330 households sought help from the council after losing their privately rented homes due to financial problems in 2019. Of those, 131 families had to be housed in emergency temporary accommodation.

Cllr Darling said the figure was only slightly lower in 2020 despite the ban on evictions, and the council was expecting the number to rise when the ban ended.

He points out in his letter that a quarter of homes in Torbay are privately rented.

The council leader said: “We welcomed that the Government has committed to a ban on bailiff enforced evictions in most cases for the time being.

“However, particularly during the third lockdown many people are facing further shocks to their income.

“Urgent action is needed to avoid leaving millions of renters with spiralling debt and at risk of eviction.

“Existing support, like the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Covid Winter Grants Scheme, is welcome but not targeted at renters.

“The Government should put in place a national programme of loans and grants to help people who have fallen behind on rent due to the pandemic.

“Grants should be directed at people in the most financial difficulty, like those who are eligible for benefits or who wouldn’t be able to repay a loan in 5 years.

“The loans should be Government-backed and interest-free. This will bring England in line with Scotland and Wales and will help renters move forward following the pandemic.”

On Wednesday, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee of MPs said many renters would be at risk of becoming homeless when the evictions ban ends, BBC News reported. It added that the problem would be made worse by rising unemployment as job support schemes ended.

To prevent a rise in homelessness, MPs said the Government should provide targeted support to tenants to repay rent arrears built up over the last year. They estimated it would cost between £200m and £300m and would reduce homeless spending in the longer term.

As part of efforts to increase the stock of social housing in Torbay, which is below the national average, a new council-owned social housing company is buying around a dozen homes in Paignton town centre.

The properties in Bishops Place are the first to come under the control of TorVista Homes, a provider set up by TDA, Torbay Council’s economic development company.

The company gained registered provider status in early March, allowing it to start purchasing properties.

TorVista Homes has been backed with £25million of council funding and is planning to develop a series of new social housing schemes in Torbay.

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