Open Letter: Protect renters now

Today, three of the UK’s biggest tenants unions - ACORN, Living Rent and London Renters Union - released an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak, and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick. In the letter, backed by academics, civil society and union leaders, the groups make three demands on the UK government: to suspend all rent immediately; to cancel all rent debt; and to put in place stronger protections against eviction.

Dear Mr. Jenrick, Mr. Sunak and Mr. Johnson,

For too long, our housing system has prioritised private profits of landlords over the needs of the rest of us, leading to unaffordable rents, increased insecurity, and the decimation of public housing. A housing system rigged in the interests of landlords and investors is now deepening the problems caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. We agree with Leilani Farha, UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, who said: “Housing has become the frontline defense against the coronavirus. Home has rarely been more of a life or death situation”. 

Tenant unions fought for and won a temporary freeze on evictions but these measures are inadequate on their own. Polling shows 6 in 10 renters have suffered losses to their income and many are left out of government support schemes or do not receive enough to cover rent and other essentials such as food. The Conservative 2019 manifesto pledged “a better deal for renters” but current government policy leaves renters to fend for themselves. 

  • Rent is still due and the government’s guidelines make it clear that landlords can issue eviction notices to renters who enter into rent debt. Huge numbers of renters are already behind on rent payments and at risk of eviction as soon as the temporary freeze on evictions is lifted. One survey showed the amount of rent collected by landlords down by almost half. Government inaction is causing a chaotic rent debt and evictions crisis. 
  • Tenant unions have collected a wealth of evidence showing that estate agents and landlords are harassing renters to continue to pay rent in full. Many renters are fearful of eviction and of getting into unmanageable debt. 
  • Millions of people feel enormous pressure to prioritise rent over buying food. According to recent research by the Food Foundation, 1.5 million Britons have gone a whole day without food during the Coronavirus pandemic. 
  • Many renters feel they have no choice but to break social distancing guidelines and go out to work so they can continue to pay their rent, putting themselves and others at risk of infection. 
  • Massive rent debt will make it impossible for many to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Housing, food and medicine are essential for the collective wellbeing of our society - landlords being able to continue to receive rent payments in full is not. While we are told that we must all make sacrifices and that we are all in this together, millions of  people are suffering just to prevent the profits of landlords from being interrupted. Renters across all tenures need to be protected during the Coronavirus pandemic. 

We urge the government to: 

  • Suspend rent immediately: no rent should be due for the duration of the crisis.
  • Cancel all rent debt: arrears accumulated during the crisis should be written-off 
  • Protect renters from eviction: In England and Wales, Section 21 should be abolished immediately. Across the UK, protections against eviction should be expanded so no one loses their home while they are trying to cope with Coronavirus and its aftermath.

Thousands of renters have joined tenant and community unions over the past 6 weeks. Together, we will continue to organise to protect our homes and our communities and we are ready to take further collective action if the government fails to adequately address the growing Coronavirus rent crisis. 

Yours sincerely, 

Tom Renhard, ACORN

Sonja Coquelin, Living Rent

Amina Gichinga, London Renters Union

John McDonnell MP

Zarah Sultana MP

Richard Burgon MP

Clive Lewis MP

Sian Berry, co-leader, Green Party

Ian Hodson, Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union

Jo Grady, University and Colleges Union

Petros Elia, United Voices of the World

Claire Sosienski Smith, VP Higher Education, National Union of Students

Gary Smith, GMB Scotland

Gordon Martin, RMT Scotland

Jackson Cullinane, Unite Scotland

Susan Pashkoff Chair, East London Unite Community

Better than Zero, Scotland

Satbir Singh, CEO, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

Ellen Clifford, Disable People Against the Cuts

Joe Beswick, head of housing, New Economics Foundation

Jacky Peacock, director, Advice4Renters

Glyn Robbins, Homes for All

Siddhartha Mehta, Medact

Will Stronge, Autonomy

Zita Holbourne, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts

Dr Danny Dorling, University of Oxford

Michael Edwards, Hon Professor, Bartlett School of Planning, UCL 

Dr Stuart Hodkinson, Leeds University

Owen Hatherley, journalist

Peter Stefanovic, lawyer