Rough Sleepers and renters in England will be given extra protections during the latest national lockdown, ministers have confirmed.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced councils will collectively receive an additional £10 million in funding to help redouble their efforts to accommodate all those currently rough sleeping across England. The move will also allow all those currently sleeping rough to be registered with a GP and to be offered a Covid-19 vaccine in line with the priority groups set out by independent advisory group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
Councils will be asked to reach out again to those who have previously refused help, give rising infection rates and the colder winter months. Renters will also be supported by an extension to the ban on bailiff evictions, which had been due to expire on January 11 following the end of the ‘winter truce’. For all cases except those involving anti-social behaviour, bailiff evictions will be paused for at least six weeks – until at least 21 February - with measures kept under review.
Communities Secretary Jenrick said: “At the start of this pandemic we made sure that the most vulnerable in society were protected. This winter, we are continuing in this vein and redoubling our efforts to help those most in need. Our ongoing Everyone In initiative is widely regarded as one of the most successful of its kind in the world, ensuring 33,000 people are safe in accommodation. We are now going further and focusing on GP registration of rough sleepers. We are also extending the ban on bailiff evictions – helping to protect the most vulnerable renters.”
The Government introduced the Everyone In scheme at the start of the pandemic back in March 2020, housing almost 15,000 rough sleepers and vulnerable people in hotels and other emergency accommodation to protect them from the coronavirus. Ministers say that by November last year, around 33,000 people had received support through Everyone In with nearly 10,000 in emergency accommodation and over 23,000 moved on into longer-term accommodation. But with the UK recording its second-highest daily death toll of the pandemic on Thursday and temperatures plummeting, ministers were forced to act to save lives once more.
The move to protect rough sleepers during the national lockdown has been praised by Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes who has been calling for the return of the Everyone In scheme in recent days. “These renewed efforts to protect people who are homeless in the pandemic will save lives,” said Sparkes. “What is very welcome here is the two-pronged approach – a continued commitment to getting everyone into safe accommodation but also now making sure people are registered with a GP so they can quickly access the vaccines. We know through our services that people facing homelessness often are not registered with a doctor’s surgery. Addressing this issue will be a lifesaving intervention and a step towards ensuring people who are homeless are protected in the longer-term.”
One of the founding members of the coalition, Museum of Homelessness co-founder Jess Turtle, called on the Government to ensure that everyone is included in the new rough sleeping protections “no matter their imigration status, identity or situation”. “After an intense week where so many have called for action, we’re pleased to see the Government finally acknowledging the true scale of the current crisis,” said Turtle.
“We are pleased to see protections extended for renters and plans made to ensure access to the vaccine for our community. But we are worried that this £10 million won’t be enough and that people won’t be able to access help due to their immigration status, identity or situation. As winter unfolds we will continue our practical and campaigning work. We are proud to be working with brilliant and tireless people in our Homeless Taskforce and the Dying Homeless Coalition to try to ensure no one is left to face this pandemic alone.”
For renters, Friday’s announcement will pause bailiff evictions but does not stop landlords from being able to serve eviction notices. The Government also announced a new mediation pilot for renters who face court procedures and eviction from next month. The pilot will be introduced as part of the possession process to bring landlords and tenants together to reach a mutual agreement that allows people to stay in their homes during the pandemic.
Generation Rent director Alicia Kennedy insisted the new measures do not go far enough to protect renters.
“The government is right to extend the ban on bailiff enforcement for the duration of the lockdown,” said Kennedy. “But it is disappointing they have not committed to a full eviction ban as they did in March last year. The Housing Secretary pledged that no one who lost income as a result of the pandemic would lose their home, but half a million households have fallen behind on rent since March and without further support they will get deeper into debt and face homelessness.”
But there was no announcement on any additional financial support for renters. On Thursday, debt charity StepChange joined The Big Issue’s Ride Out Recession Alliance, landlord groups ARLA Propertymark and the National Residential Landlords Association as well as Nationwide Building Society in calling for renters to receive support for mounting arrears.
Richard Lane, StepChange director of external affairs, said: “We fully welcome the extension of the temporary evictions ban. We also urge the Government to ban bailiff visits, and to start building the longer-term recovery framework that will be needed to tackle household debt once the pandemic eventually ends.”