St Mungo’s Chief Executive warns that temporary measures to ease financial housing pressures on people caused by the pandemic are merely ‘kicking the problem down the road’ 

Steve Douglas CBE was speaking at an event organised by the Resolution Foundation to consider the housing arrears crisis

St Mungo’s Chief Executive Steve Douglas CBE has said the temporary measures introduced by the Government to help people in rent arrears as a result of the pandemic are a ‘sticking plaster’ with the underlying issues still to be addressed.

Mr Douglas was speaking at a webinar hosted by the Resolution Foundation entitled Resolving rents: Tackling Britain’s rent arrears crisis on 16 February.

The event was one of a series being held in the run up to the Government’s Budget which will be announced next month

During the session a summary of the Resolution Foundation’s second report in its Recovery Plan series, which focuses on the scale of and solutions to this rent arrears crisis, was presented.

The research revealed that more than 750,000 UK families – including 300,000 with dependent children – have housing arrears built up during Covid-19 putting them at risk of eviction and homelessness.

Speaking at the event Mr Douglas said: “It is commendable that last year, the Government recognised that there was a problem and acted quickly, with a ban on evictions, to prevent people losing their homes during the pandemic.

“However those interventions are a sticking plaster – and they are kicking the can down the road.”

He continued: “At some point the ban will end, courts will reopen and action against people who are in arrears will recommence. And that has the potential to lead to increased homelessness”.

Mr Douglas then suggested in order to really tackle the inevitable issues the Government should look at short, medium and long term solutions.

He agreed with The Resolution Foundation recommendations that:

  •  loans or grants to help people tackle their debts should be introduced now;
  • In the mid-term, beginning with the forthcoming budget the temporary measures to increase the affordability of rented accommodation through the housing welfare system, including the increase to the standard allowance of universal credit should be maintained and strengthened, as well as providing  greater security of tenure for tenants, through the abolition of  so called ‘section 21’ no fault evictions; and
  • In the long term the issue of the inadequate supply of genuinely affordable housing should be addressed – and backed the National Housing Federation, and other homelessness charities’, call for 90,000 new affordable homes to be built.

Mr Douglas concluded: “The pandemic has brought these issues in to sharp focus. There is a general consensus on the problem. We must now work together on the solutions, to prevent what could be a new tide of homelessness on the horizon.”

Alongside Mr Douglas on the panel were Meera Chindooroy, Deputy Director of Policy at the National Residential Landlords’ Association and Lindsay Judge, Research Director at the Resolution Foundation. The webinar was chaired by the Chief Executive of the Resolution Foundation Torsten Bell.

A recording of the event can be watched here.

St Mungo’s budget submission can be read here