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Housing

9 out of 10 councils fear homelessness surge if Covid help goes too quickly

District Councils’ Network says council need tools to help if removing furlough and eviction protections leaves families facing cliff edge

Nearly nine out of 10 councils are preparing for a sharp increase in homelessness if Covid-19 support such as the furlough scheme and eviction protections are removed too quickly as restrictions ease.

The District Councils’ Network (DCN) – representing 187 district councils in England – warned not taking a phased approach to removing protective measures could plunge families into crisis and undermine the work done to protect them during the pandemic. The Westminster government confirmed bailiff-enforced evictions will restart from June 1 alongside four-month notice periods. Furlough is set to end in September.

Cllr Giles Archibald, the District Councils’ Network’s Better Lives spokesperson, said: “The coronavirus crisis has hit many people hard and the economic impact will continue to be felt for some time.

“Therefore it is vital that, as we come out of the pandemic, we don’t rush to unravel the unprecedented level of support the Government rightly provided to protect families at risk of hardship and homelessness.

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“The government must retreat carefully from these big national interventions, while equipping local district councils with the funding and flexibility to solve problems before they grow in impact and cost. As we build back better, we must ensure councils can ensure no-one is left behind.”

DCN’s ‘Building back better – leaving no-one behind’ report found nearly half of councils reported an increase in the need to mediate with landlords to support tenancies during the pandemic, despite the eviction ban.

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Almost all councils reported an increase in the use of food banks in their local area.

DCN urged the central government to retain the temporary rise in local housing allowance to ease the impact of ending restrictions on tenants. Boosting discretionary housing payments – cash payments councils can make to help people struggling with housing costs – could also help to keep people in their homes.

A flexible prevention pot would also allow district councils to prevent problems with hardship and debt, DCN said.

The network also called for the furlough scheme to be phased out over different sectors, lasting longer for industries hit hardest, such as tourism and retail.

A government spokesperson said: “From the beginning of the pandemic, we have taken unprecedented action to protect renters and help keep them in their homes.

“As Covid restrictions are eased in line with the road map out of lockdown, we will ensure tenants continue to be supported with longer notice periods, while also balancing the need for landlords to access justice.

“We are also supporting families who are most in need, spending billions more on welfare, helping people find new work through our Plan for Jobs and helping families stay warm and well fed with our £269 million Covid Local Support Grant.”

It’s not the first time the DCN has issued a stark warning of rising homelessness during the pandemic. The network’s notice that 500,000 people could fall into homelessness as a result of the pandemic focused minds at The Big Issue and partly inspired the formation of the Ride Out Recession Alliance.

Since then, The Big Issue has worked with partners to help people keep their jobs and get back into work. Launching a jobs helpline, a jobs board and toolkit including employment tips and advice as part of the Ride Out Recession Alliance’s Jobs and Training Programme.

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