Councillors push for help for tenants with covid-related rent arrears

Councillors have unanimously agreed to support people at risk of eviction because of rent arrears built up during the coronavirus pandemic.

Brighton and Hove City Council Housing Committee agreed to ask that priority be given to investigations into different ways to reduce people’s debts such as extending discretionary housing payments and providing interest-free loans.

The committee also agreed to ask the council’s executive director for housing, neighbourhoods and communities Rachel Sharpe to write to the government seeking more support to cover the cost of reducing covid-related rent debts.

Green councillor David Gibson, who co- chairs the Housing Committee, said: “I am absolutely really worried about the large number of people in private rented housing who are in arrears as a result of the pandemic.

“It is absolutely vital to do all we can within our means and urge the government to do all they can within their means to offer support to prevent people from being evicted.”

Labour councillors Gill Williams said that housing campaigners had lobbied the Chancellor to act to avoid renters being scarred by debts they have no hope of clearing.

She said: “Trying to pay off or reduce rent arrears when you have lost your income is often unachievable and causes poverty, worry and stress.

“Rent arrears result in long-term hardship among those who are often among the most vulnerable in society.”

Councillor Williams made reference to research by Generation Rent which estimated that one in three private renters had lost income because of the pandemic – and nationally more than 500,000 households were in rent arrears or at risk of rent arrears.

In Brighton and Hove, Citizens Advice found that rent arrears had become the third-highest debt issue recorded among their clients.

Conservative councillor Anne Meadows questioned support for people receiving benefits as they still received their money during the pandemic, while those on furlough received 80 per cent of their pay.

She said that the council had received £50 million from the government to deal with the costs of the pandemic, including the highest amount of money to support the “Everyone In” policy for rough sleepers.

Councillor Meadows, a former chair of the Housing Committee during her 25 years as a Labour councillor, said: “I do understand there are some people who lost their jobs.

“It’s those people I feel most for. I would agree to look at that. Those who receive benefits paid monthly into their bank accounts, they have that.”

In response, Councillor Gibson said that some people who received benefits did not have their rent covered.

Councillor Williams said that people who were on furlough did not have their rents reduced by 80 per cent.

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