Extra Covid protections for rough sleepers and renters

Date published: 11 January 2021

Extra support to help protect rough sleepers and renters from the effects of Covid-19 was announced by the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick last week (8 January).

An additional £10 million in funding has been provided to councils in England to help enable them to accommodate all those currently sleeping rough and ensure they are swiftly registered with a GP, where they are not already.

This will ensure they can be protected from the virus and contacted to receive vaccinations in line with the priority groups outlined by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

Councils have also been asked to reach out again to those who have previously refused help, given rising infection rates and the colder winter months.

In Greater Manchester there are more than 4,000 households in temporary accommodation, and more than 1,000 individuals who were rough sleeping or at imminent risk of rough sleeping but do not qualify for temporary accommodation are also being accommodated and supported through the local 'A Bed Every Night' scheme and the Government’s 'Everyone In' approach

Renters will continue to be supported during the new national restrictions, with an extension to the ban on bailiff evictions for all but the most egregious cases for at least 6 weeks – until at least 21 February – with measures kept under review.

This announcement of the extension to the ban on evictions doesn't go far enough for Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester and Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) Lead for Housing, Homelessness and Infrastructure, City Mayor of Salford Paul Dennett. In a letter to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), Robert Jenrick on 8 January they requested that the ban be extended until at least the summer.

They said: "We are fearful that the combination of reducing household incomes, gaps in the financial safety net, increasing rent arrears and removal of measures to protect and support tenants and landlords will drive a surge in evictions.

"The latest survey by NRLA suggests 7% of private renters are in arrears due to Covid-19 – in Greater Manchester this equates to 16,800 households. There are limits to the ability of landlords to be flexible, based upon their own individual financial circumstances. In a public health crisis, tenants’ security in their own homes should not depend upon the depth of their landlord’s pockets."

Court rules and procedures introduced in September to support both tenants and landlords will remain in place and be regularly reviewed. The courts will continue to prioritise cases, such as those involving anti-social behaviour, illegal occupation and perpetrators of domestic abuse in the social sector.

Landlords continue to be required to give six-month notice periods to tenants until at least 31 March except in the most serious circumstances.

Councils will work closely with local health partners to ensure those sleeping rough are able to access the Covid-19 vaccine in line with the priority groups outlined by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

This will be done through a GP, or by other means if mainstream provision is unsuitable, ensuring that the wider health needs of rough sleepers are addressed and assessed for clinical vulnerability to Covid, supporting them now and for the future.

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: "These renewed efforts to protect people who are homeless in the pandemic will save lives.

"It was truly a landmark moment when, back in March, everyone on the streets was offered somewhere safe to stay. It’s as important, if not more so, that today we see government leadership to protect all those sleeping rough. The highly infectious new strain of coronavirus alongside the cold weather makes this the most dangerous moment of the pandemic for those without a home.

"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."

A new mediation pilot will further support landlords and renters who face court procedures and potential eviction from next month (February).

It will offer mediation as part of the possession process to try and help landlords and tenants to reach a mutual agreement and keep people in their homes.

Helping to resolve disputes through mediation will enable courts to prioritise urgent cases, supporting landlords and tenants to resolve issues quickly without the need for a formal hearing.

The mediation pilot will work within the existing court arrangements in England and Wales.

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