Coronavirus: Sian Berry calls for Covid-19 rent arrears to be scrapped

Sian Berry. Photo: Isabel Infantes/PA Wire

Sian Berry. Photo: Isabel Infantes/PA Wire - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Campaigners are calling for rent arrears accumulated during the Covid-19 lockdown to be scrapped – with central government instead reimbursing small landlords via grants.

New Economics Foundation, London Renters Union and Green Party co-leader Sian Berry have all called for such a policy – and Islingtons housing lead Cllr Diarmaid Ward backed it “in broad terms”.

In her capacity as a London-wide Assembly Member, Ms Berry lobbied Sadiq Khan to support the idea during a virtual Mayor’s Question Time on May 22.

Ms Berry told the Gazette: “It’s the right policy and it’s one that the government has so far ignored. I tried to get the mayor on board and he refused, I asked three times.

“Renters have lost their incomes, they have run into difficulties paying their rents, there are arrears. They are supposed to pay [landlords] back money they can’t afford. It seems completely unfair renters should have to pay back their rent.

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“In London we have the most renters of anywhere else in the country. {...} We are uniquely going to be paying back for the crisis in ways other areas are not and I think it’s totally unfair and the mayor should be standing up for us.”

During mayor’s question time, Mr Khan stopped short of saying rent arrears should be “forgiven”, but added: “The government should be supporting those landlords having problems because renters haven’t been able to pay their rent.

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“Renters should be supported by the eviction period being extended beyond June, and there should also be a position who have got rent arrears, that isn’t the basis for which they can be evicted in the future.”

The current ban on evictions is due to expire on June 25 – and the Government is considering whether it should be extended. It says its already offered an “unprecedented package of support to ensure no tenant will be forced out of their home during the pandemic”.

Islington Council’s housing lead Cllr Diarmaid Ward told the Gazette: “I know current unique circumstances are causing people terrible difficulty. Whether they’re a private renter or council or any other situation, please get in contact Islington Council – we will do our best to help.

“In terms of the actual policy point I do support that but we need central government to actually step in because it’s all very well saying: ‘There needs to be a rent holiday’, but that needs to be funded by central government. We do need to also emphasise that, anyone who’s in trouble, chances are they’re eligible for Universal Credit and Housing Benefit.”

Finance chief Cllr Satnam Gill previously told the Gazette that was a “nearly £1million increase” in rent arrears among Islington Council tenants in the first five weeks of lockdown.

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