Labour and Green councillors have called for an extension to a ban on evictions during the coronavirus crisis.
The ban is due to expire in a few weeks prompting Labour councillor Gill Williams to urge landlords, letting agents and others to find alternatives to evictions.
Green councillor Martin Osborne echoed her call, saying that the eviction ban was a vital part of efforts to contain covid-19.
Councillor Williams called on Brighton and Hove City Council chief executive Geoff Raw to write to Conservative Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick urging him to keep the ban in place for a further six months.
At a virtual meeting of the full council last night (Thursday 28 January) she said that the government should remove an exemption allowing landlords to evict tenants who had fallen behind with their rent over the past six months.
She called on ministers to introduce grants to help with covid-related debt, with Labour and Green councillors voting for her demands. The Conservatives abstained.
The council, she said, had prioritised helping the homeless and preventing homelessness but more people were at risk as the pandemic continued.
Councillor Williams, a member of the council’s Housing Committee, said: “Brighton and Hove CAB (Citizens Advice Bureau) reports that the ending of private rental sector tenancies is the leading cause of homelessness in this sector and rent arrears have become one of the highest debt issues.
“It’s getting more and more serious. Many people are being furloughed or have lost their income altogether due to covid and the numbers are rising.
“How are we going to help these people keep their homes when they’ve lost work or income or are working fewer hours due to covid-19 and have growing debt and rent arrears?”
The East Brighton ward councillor said that she knew from experience that if the eviction ban ended in two weeks’ time, the homeless prevention team would be overwhelmed with demands for help.
Green councillor Martin Osborne said that renters needed greater protection from the effects of the continuing pandemic.
Councillor Osborne said: “Although I appreciate the temporary eviction bans, that have been welcome from the government, it seems they are trying their best to get away with doing the minimum.
“They keep extending the ban for short timescales with the hope that the number of cases of covid will fall so they can restart the evictions as soon as possible. What renters need instead is some long-term security.”
He said that a six-month breathing space would allow the vaccination programme to take effect and the economy to recover.
Conservative councillors urged the Greens and Labour instead to ask that the chief executive write to Brighton and Hove’s three MPs – Peter Kyle, Caroline Lucas and Lloyd Russell-Moyle.
The move was part of a trend at the meeting, with Conservatives accusing Labour and Green councillors of repeatedly focusing on national issues rather than those for which councillors are responsible.
The Tories said that the three MPs should be asked to vote for the Renters’ Reform Bill when it was debated in the House of Commons.
Conservative councillor Mary Mears, who is also a member of the Housing Committee, said that the bill would give renters greater security and give short-term tenants better protection by abolishing no-fault evictions.
Councillor Mears said: “It is really sad that our Green and Labour members do not have confidence in the ability of our local elected Members of Parliament to raise national issues in Westminster on behalf of all of us in the city.
“Therefore, they feel the need to raise them at council, further wasting time, taxpayers’ money and officer time.”
The Conservative move was rejected and Councillor Williams said that her motion before councillors was intended to help tenants in need now.
No one knew what would be in the Renters’ Reform Bill, she said, because it had not been published yet and publication had been delayed indefinitely.
Labour and Green councillors and two independents, Nikkie Brennan and Kate Knight, voted for the motion which also asked council officials to ask landlords to find alternatives to evictions.
And they called for an end to “discriminatory practices that act as barriers to benefit claimants such as ‘no DSS’ policies, requiring six months’ rent in advance, homeowner guarantors and prohibitive terms and conditions”.
Independent councillor Bridget Fishleigh joined the Tories in abstaining while the fourth independent, Tony Janio, the former Conservative leader, voted against.
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