Changing Lives is calling for Chancellor Rishi Sunak to take unprecedented action in tomorrow’s Budget to prevent a tidal wave of homelessness from sweeping the country.
Stephen Bell OBE, Chief Executive of North East-based national charity Changing Lives, said he was pleased that the Government had announced a further extension to the ban on evictions until the end of this month but said plans need to be formed now to prevent a major societal crisis.
Changing Lives was known as the Tyneside Cyrenians when it was formed 50 years ago to help people experiencing homelessness. Stephen has been with the charity for more than half that time and has grown the charity to provide services and support in other areas – but his main passion remains homelessness and its causes.
He said: “We need the Government to sit down with charities, housing associations and reputable private landlords to see what can be done. This has to be sooner rather than later because there’s a storm coming, and we won’t know where to house the thousands upon thousands of people that will be made homeless once the eviction ban is lifted next month.
“We will have to wait and see if the Chancellor addresses this in the Budget. I really hope he does because I don’t want to see anyone evicted from their home.
“There are people in work who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in a financial crisis during this pandemic. Some are having to make a choice between feeding their family, heating their home, or paying the rent – at a time when prices in the supermarkets are going up and up and the need for foodbanks has never been greater.
“The ending of the furlough scheme will inevitably make things worse, with a big rise in unemployment numbers, and there is also the effect on people’s mental health to take into account. The word crisis doesn’t adequately cover the direction in which we are headed.
“The Government have been quite good at putting rescue packages in place during the pandemic. They urgently need to put one in place for the rental sector because all their efforts in this area so far have amounted to little more than delaying tactics. They need to stop kicking this can down the road.
“One thing the Government could do is make it virtually impossible for landlords to evict tenants who can put a longer-term repayment plan in place, no matter how modest. They could also look at increasing the Local Housing Allowance and lifting the benefit cap. If they don’t take a fresh look at the benefit system, then they may need to look at a compensation scheme for out-of-pocket landlords. We are in unknown territory here and the situation calls for novel solutions.”
A recent report from the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) said 840,000 private renters are behind with payments and leading property data firm, HouseMark, estimates that arrears in the social housing sector could be as high as £1 billion.
Many people have been served with eviction notices over the past 10 months, but bailiffs have been prevented from acting on them because of a temporary Government ban on evictions which has been extended twice already but is due to end on March 31.