Senior doctors and health officials have warned that COVID-19 infection rates could rise if the government fails to extend the evictions ban it introduced during lockdown.
With the ban on evictions due to end next week, the signatories said in a letter sent to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick that an “avalanche” of homelessness could see COVID-19 infection rates shoot up.
Signatories to a letter sent to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick include representatives of the British Medical Association, the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Physicians, and the Faculty of Public Health.
The letter reads: “As public health organisations, we are deeply concerned that failure to prevent an evictions and homelessness crisis could significantly contribute to an increase of COVID-19 infections.”
The moratorium on evictions in England and Wales – introduced by ministers in March, and extended in June till 23 August – has provided respite for tenants who have built up arrears during the pandemic, the letter says.
It reads: “Now that these measures are being withdrawn, we are deeply concerned that the government does not have an adequate plan to address the growing rent debt crisis and to prevent a catastrophic wave of evictions and homelessness as we head towards autumn and winter.
“People forced into overcrowded temporary or emergency accommodation by eviction are at greatly increased risk of being unable to isolate if needed, face greater challenges in following social distancing guidelines and may lack adequate access to basic hygiene measures shown to reduce infection rates.”
Housing and COVID-19
An estimated 227,000 renters in England – around 3% of all private renters – have fallen into arrears since the start of the pandemic, putting them at risk of losing their homes when the evictions ban ends, according to research by homelessness charity Shelter.
Housing has been a key determinant in the unequal impact of COVID-19 on BAME households, the letter says.
It reads: “Should the government fail to adequately prevent an evictions and homelessness crisis, it will be black, Asian, and minority ethnic [BAME] people who will be most exposed to risk of homelessness and to the public health impacts.”
Research has shown that the COVID-19 virus has thrived in areas where social deprivation is highest and housing affordability is lowest, and has had a disproportionate effect on migrant workers with no recourse to public funds.
Daniel J Carter, epidemiologist and member of health campaigners Medact, said: “The gap in government’s policy to protect renters increases the public health risk.
“If you cannot pay your rent, you may fear eviction. If you fear eviction, you may continue to travel and work. If you continue to travel and work, you may inadvertently acquire or spread COVID-19.
“And if enough people continue to spread the virus, a second wave of the pandemic looks inevitable.”
The letter puts further pressure on the government to extend the evictions ban, which is soon due to be lifted.
Recent weeks have seen the government already heavily lobbied to extend the ban by the likes of campaigners, MPs, and the mayor of London.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham also warned that homelessness on the streets of Manchester could reach levels not seen since the 1930s.
However, the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) said an extension of the evictions ban is unnecessary, citing estimates that 95% of private tenants are either paying their rent or have agreed with their landlord to pay a lower rent or defer payment since the onset of the pandemic.
Chris Norris, policy director at the NRLA, said: “Extending the ban on repossessions is not necessary.
“Our research clearly shows that the vast majority of landlords and tenants are working together constructively to sustain tenancies wherever possible.”