Report: EMPTY HOMES DAY OF ACTION – Saturday 17TH APRIL 2021

We made it happen!

Yes, the empty homes day of action was a great success, with people joining events in Southwark, Newham, Islington, Haringey, Milton Keynes and Harlow. Live streams from some of these events were fed into the online rally, giving it the feel of a live news report, but without the tech capacity or boring conservatism (small c) of the established media. Instead it was punchy, pacey and politically cutting edge, with all the speakers and live streamers giving incisive and detailed analysis with radical, forward looking proposals. Especially loved Jon Glackin from Streets Kitchen, who spoke about homeless people taking over empty buildings, and John Bird pledging support from the Big Issue, and calling us “comrades”. Crucially, this was a solidarity rally, with so many links being made. This bodes well for the next day of action in October.

Special thanks go to all the live streamers. You were the stars of the show!

In the news…

In Islington, activists made the front page of the Islington Tribune and got a solidarity visit from one Jeremy Corbyn! See 2 min Corbyn video here. In Southwark the event at Manor Place was reported in Southwark News, on the front page! And South London Press , which covered the empty homes situation in all south London boroughs. In Newham, the Canning Town event was trailed by the Newham Recorder. Director of Action on Empty Homes and researcher Sam Burgum, and expert on squatting and requisitioning, were interviewed in Socialist Worker. The Suffolk Mercury asked Why are 3,500 homes stood empty in Suffolk? Other reports included the Wirral Globe, the Maldon Standard, and Isle of Wight paper the Island Echo, where ” a staggering 1 in 20 homes are classified as second homes”.

Empty Homes Day of Action Rally n

Watch the Rally on Facebook

Watch the Rally on YouTube

Manor Place Depot, Walworth, Southwark, SE17
Newham, East London
Carpenters Estate Newham, East London
Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes
Islington, North London, Pentonville Prison with Jeremy Corbyn
Pentonville Prison, Islington, North London

More details about the Day of Action here

http://www.axethehousingact.org.uk/uncategorized/empty-homes-day-of-action-saturday-april-17th-2021/

Early Day Motion Template letter to your MP

Template Letter to MPS

I am writing to ask if you will support the Early Day Motion (EDM) tabled by MP John McDonnell to be published on the members website on Tuesday 13th April. It is:

That this House calls on the Government to allocate time on the floor of the House for a debate on the potential merits of extending the moratorium on evictions in response to the covid-19 outbreak; and further calls on the Government to write off all rent arrears accrued during the covid-19 outbreak until the end of March 2022 or later.

We also ask if you would sign a letter from the national housing campaign Home for All to the Guardian making the same demand – you just need to click this link and sign or we can add you if you can let us know the name, title and organisation you would like to use,

Many thanks

Name

Address

HOMES FOR ALL UK

NEXT GENERAL MEETING SATURDAY 10th APRIL

H4A zoom meeting Saturday 10th April 11am

Topic: Homes 4 All General Meeting – followed by Filling Empty Homes
Organising Meeting

Time: Apr 10, 2021 11:00 AM London

Join Zoom Meeting

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82622489588

Meeting ID: 826 2248 9588

Agenda
Evictions campaign and Early Day Motion
Empty Homes Day of Action 17th April – stay on zoom to join organising meeting

Manifesto & Hustings.

Council Rents & benefit Cap


AOB

Homes for All Evictions Letter

Dear Members/SupportersPlease see attached Evictions letter that Homes for All discussed at the last H4A meeting.  We would very much like your support to demand an extended ban on evictions and to write off arrears accrued due to Covid-19 pandemic until the end of March 2022 and for Central government to develop an emergency financial package for tenants and landlords to stop evictions.
If you support these demands please can you sign the letter here with your name, title and organisation:https://docs.google.com/document/d/1t7g_lIvB9cFZfV8fiUKezmFQxma85siNmZXynECSoSU/edit
Or reply to this email with your name, title and organisation and we will add it to the letter.

Thanking you and solidarity,
Homes for All. 

Household Financial Crunch Data – A glimpse

Striking Numbers

£2,300 Average increase in debt and arrears since March 2020 among those who have fallen behind on bills or borrowed for essentials.

-22.4% Change in outstanding credit card balances in year to January 2021.

360,000 Increase in unemployment in the year to January 2021.

6.8% Increase in average first-time buyer house price in the year to January 2021.Every Day in the UK

£25 billion Amount of arrears and debt accumulated by 11.1 million households since March 2020 due to the financial pressures of the pandemic.

460,000 Number of private sector renters who were behind on their rent in January 2021, up from 230,000 in May 2020.

2.3 million Number of people falling behind on their broadband bill in November 2020.

7 in 10 Proportion of Universal Credit claimants seeking advice from Citizens Advice who have not previously made a benefits claim.

Personal Debt in the UK

People in the UK owed £1,700.2 billion at the end of January 2021.

The average total debt per household, including mortgages, was £60,999 and per adult was £32,087, around 107.6% of average earnings.

Net mortgage lending rose by £5.17 billion in the month, while net consumer credit lending fell by £2.79 billion.

Citizens Advice Bureaux across England and Wales answered380,283 enquiries in February 2021, 9.5% down from February 2020.Mortgages, Rent & Housing

Outstanding mortgage lending stood at £1,501 billion at the end of January 2021.

The average mortgage interest rate was 2.09% at the end of January 2021. Based on this, households with mortgages would pay an average of £2,854 in mortgage interest over the year.

HM Land Registry reports that the average house price for first-time buyers in Great Britain was £208,336 in January 2021, an annual increase of 6.8% and a monthly change of -0.6%.

According to the Office for National Statistics, private rental prices in the UK rose by 1.4% in the 12 months to February 2021.
(All the above data brought to you by Money Advice Charity)

Response from Housing Lead on Southampton City Council

This is a quick response from Housing lead on Southampton City Council – 

she will be responding more fully – action on evictions:

  • Suspended all debt recovery during lockdown 1 when there was so much uncertainty around Government support and delays to UC.
  • We are contacting all our tenants to ensure those entitled to Discretionary Housing Payments are getting DHP, along with support with benefits to make sure they are claiming for everything they should be.
  • We have set up a citywide joint working group with frontline services, including local charities and advice services, to make sure no one is falling through the gaps. If a group are, we are working on what we can do together to try and mitigate impact for them.
  • Any debt policy is being co-design with local charities and advice services.
  • We are taking a more bespoke approach to debt and people’s needs, looking at an individual and what support they may need holistically (broader than just debt they may owe).  
  • Rather than just letters, which can get confusing and scare people, based on advice from local charities, we have also increased use of phone, email and additional stages in the process to allow more time for the individual to get back on track.
  • As well as continuing to negotiate payment arrangements, we have also increased our use of alternative payment arrangements to support tenants.
  • We have set up an Arrears Review Panel, to ensure there are far more checks and balances and offer to support, before taking any further action.

No DSS: Landmark Court ruling declares housing benefit discrimination is unlawful

Right now, hundreds of thousands of renters are facing discrimination when looking for a home. They’re being locked out of properties they could otherwise afford – simply because they receive housing benefit.   

For a long time, letting agents and landlords have been putting in place so-called ‘no DSS’, ‘no benefits’, or ‘no Universal Credit’ policies to prevent renters who receive housing benefit from accessing homes.   

But today we have received official confirmation of a landmark court ruling declaring housing benefit discrimination unlawful, marking a huge breakthrough for our End DSS Discrimination campaign.  

An historic hearing 

Housing benefit discrimination has been confirmed as unlawful in a landmark court ruling. 

At the historic hearing at York County Court involving Shelter client Jane*, ‘no DSS’ discrimination was declared unlawful, meaning letting agents and private landlords will have to drive out old discriminatory practices for good.  

District Judge Victoria Elizabeth Mark confirmed that rejecting tenancy applications because the applicant is in receipt of housing benefit is unlawfully indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of sex and disability, and contrary to sections 19 and 29 of the Equality Act 2010.  

Discrimination and the Equality Act  

Under the Equality Act, it is unlawful to indirectly discriminate based on things like gender, disability or race. ‘No DSS’, ‘no benefits’ or ‘no Universal Credit’ policies breach the act via indirect discrimination, as they disproportionately harm women and disabled people, who are more likely to receive housing benefit.   

This court ruling has confirmed what we have been arguing – that anyone who seeks to exclude renters receiving housing benefit is not just acting unjustly, but unlawfully too. 

A win in the courts  

This is the first time that a UK court has fully considered a case like this.  

Shelter has been fighting to end DSS discrimination for nearly two years, and we have been involved in several other ‘no DSS’ cases. These all settled at an early stage, with each letting agent agreeing to change their practices and offering apologies and compensation to our clients.  

We’ve been pleased to see the changes that these individual letting agents have made, but to bring about widespread change across the private rented sector – and be able to help others who have experienced housing benefit discrimination in the future – we wanted a judge to make a formal ruling on a case.  

That’s the difference with Jane’s* case. It’s the first time a UK court has declared it unlawful to discriminate against someone because they receive housing benefit.  

Jane’s experience  

Jane turned to Shelter for help when a letting agent refused to rent any properties to her because of a company policy not to accept tenants receiving housing benefit.  

Jane is a hard-working single mum who lives with a disability. She had rented privately for 10 years, always paying her rent in full and on time, and has great references from her former landlords. She was able to pay her deposit and rent in advance due to her parents lending her money, which she was able to pay back to them – and she had a guarantor.  

When her landlord served her with a Section 21 ‘no-fault’ eviction notice, she needed to find a new home. She saw a suitable, affordable property and applied to rent it,  but the letting agents refused to consider her application – telling her that ‘for years’ they ‘have had a policy of not accepting housing benefit tenants’. She and her children were left homeless as a result. Jane told us:

I hope I’ll have helped people who aren’t able to be as determined as me. I’m like a dog with a bone. It’s the principle. It’s completely unfair to treat people like this, and I hope this will prove that letting agents can’t do this and prove they can’t discriminate.

Widespread change 

This landmark ruling will make a difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands of private renters across the country like Jane, who receive housing benefit and have been facing discrimination when looking for a home. 

We know the ‘no DSS’, ‘no benefits’ and ‘no Universal Credit’ policies are widespread, and that what Jane experienced is not a one-off occurrence. A 2020 YouGov survey found that 63% of private landlords either operate an outright ban on letting to tenants receiving housing benefit or say they prefer not to let to this group. 

But this ruling means that letting agents and private landlords will have to drive out old discriminatory practices for good, so that renters who receive housing benefit are no longer barred from renting any privately rented properties. 

We’ve seen how the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led to huge financial hardship, with hundreds of thousands of people losing work and urgently in need of support – including housing benefit – to help them pay their rent.  

Given the huge rise in the numbers of people receiving housing benefit due to the pandemic, we’re concerned that many more renters will be coming up against DSS discrimination.  

So, this ruling could not have come at a better time. It will make a huge difference to the lives of many private renters who are relying on housing benefit to keep their head above water.   

What happens next?  

Finally, we have formal clarification that DSS discrimination is unlawful. This win is what we need to end it for good.

Now that  it has been proven in the courts, we’ll be doubling up our efforts to end housing benefit discrimination for good – and make sure letting agents are complying with the ruling.  

Next General Meeting Saturday 27th March

H4A zoom meeting Saturday 27th March at 11am

Topic: Homes 4 All General Meeting – followed by Filling Empty Homes
Organising Meeting

Time: Mar 27, 2021 11:00 AM London

Join Zoom Meeting

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82147506061

Meeting ID: 821 4750 6061

Agenda

The recent H4A summit debated inequalities in housing, health & wealth
and a government that has failed to offer any long-term solutions during
and beyond the Covid crisis. The Mayoral and local elections are looming
and we have an opportunity to make housing a key issue. We will  be
discussing:

Update from workshops & proposed activities over coming weeks
Action around Mayoral/local elections
Steering Group – need more volunteers
Empty Homes Day of Action 17th April – stay on zoom to join meeting
AOB