Opinion: pandemic rent debt must be cancelled and renters protected

Opinion: pandemic rent debt must be cancelled and renters protected

by Jonathan Mitchell.

Throughout this pandemic private renters have received a half-arsed olive branch from the government. They may have been given protection from Section 21 evictions (also known as ‘no fault evictions’) during it, but no write off of pandemic debt.

Mortgage holidays were granted for all mortgage payers – including landlords- but nothing for private tenants, meaning the safety net for renters was more delaying the inevitable, rather than avoiding the crisis. (1)

Now the protection is ending and there is a risk that this could affect hundreds of thousands of people. There is no statutory conditions to protect renters: no debt write-off, no payment plans, no housing procurement to house the homeless. There is no consideration of what will happen when the working poor – many with families – are cast to the streets and add pressure on many other services.

Some will argue that not all landlords are bad and the “good ones” will accept payment plans. But this is irrelevant. A society based upon gentlemen’s agreements and good faith acting is a weak one that will be exploited and manipulated to the tune of those who have no interest in morality. If we are serious about protecting those at the greatest risk of eviction and preventing homelessness, we need to work together and act now.

That spirit has led to groups campaigning on radical and necessary demands. Momentum’s “Eviction Resistance” campaign and the modus operandi of ACORN – a community union for renters – have converged on the demand to cancel all pandemic rent debt and to end Section 21 evictions, ensuring that housing is a right, not business.

Yesterday (June 5th), Acorn and Momentum organised a stall at the Bargate in Southampton to talk to people on the streets about the fact that the government has ended protection for private renters from eviction. It was a great turnout of activists with friends from The People’s Assembly Against Austerity joining us to raise awareness about ACORN and the upcoming wave of evictions.

Responses from the public were positive,  and we believe our budding membership could have increased by 50% after meeting new people. We also raised awareness about the eviction ban being lifted, something which only a few were aware of. We spoke to people who were at threat of eviction and wanted support. This felt like the beginning of a new movement in Southampton.

We plan to organise regular weekly stalls to raise awareness. People can join ACORN here: https://www.acorntheunion.org.uk/join

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/support-for-those-affected-by-covid-19/support-for-those-affected-by-covid-19

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2021/may/30/private-renters-in-england-on-cliff-edge-as-eviction-ban-ends

 

Jonathan Mitchell is Chair of Momentum Southampton and an activist in ACORN.