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Today in politics: Furlough latest, student lets, LHA rates and cladding

Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

We look at all the latest coronavirus news and the results of a survey into work to improve fire safety in residential buildings.

Papers say furlough scheme may continue to support renters

Newspaper reports today the government could continue to support renters as it winds down its furlough scheme.

Matt Dathan, Deputy Political Editor at The Sun today reports: “The Sun understands that options being considered include only making the job retention scheme available to workers who the Treasury deem as most financially unstable.

“This could include renters who are living “hand-to-mouth” each month and whose large proportion of income goes on rent and bills. They are also less protected than homeowners, who are eligible for mortgage holidays. Although tenants can only apply for rental deferrals, landlords are not obliged to comply, while the move would also help prevent them being evicted due to unpaid rent.”

Call for ‘fair and transparent’ policy for student lets 

During oral questions to Ministers at the Department for Education yesterday, Joanna Cherry MP (SNP, Edinburgh South West) told the House: “A survey by the National Union of Students has shown that 85% of working students will need additional financial support after losing their jobs as a result of the current crisis. 

“With rent being the most significant financial demand on students, will the Minister tell us what discussions she has had with the private rental sector to ensure that students are not being charged for rooms that are lying empty?”

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan MP, responded: “We understand that this is a difficult time for everyone, including students, which is why we have worked with the Office for Students to help providers. 

“We have reallocated funds totalling £46 million for April and May for hardship funds for students. On accommodation specifically, we have sent the clear message that accommodation providers need to be fair and transparent in their policies for students. The Treasury has announced additional measures to protect renters who are tenants.”

Colum Eastwood MP (SDLP, Foyle) has also received a response to his written question asking what support the Department for Education is providing to university students tied into rental agreements during the covid-19 outbreak.

The Universities Minister responded: “The Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have both made clear, the government will do whatever it takes to support people affected by Covid-19.

“Students will continue to receive scheduled payments of loans towards their living costs for the remainder of the 2019/20 academic year.

“While it is for universities and private accommodation providers to make their own decisions about charging rents to absent students, we would encourage them to consider the fairness of doing so and to clearly communicate their policies to students. 

“It is also important to stress that accommodation providers should not have instructed any student to leave. If any accommodation provider did formally instruct a student to leave the property then it would be unacceptable to continue to charge student rents.

“Students who are tenants with individual private landlords should discuss the possibility of an early release from their lease. 

“As tenants, students are entitled to support such as repayable rent reductions or postponements and assurances that eviction proceedings cannot begin against them for three months if they are impacted by Covid-19. However, students renting under licence (which is the case in most halls of residence) are ineligible for this support.

“Students with a part-time employment contract should speak to their employer about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme –  which has been set up to help pay staff wages and keep people in employment. 

“We have also asked that higher education providers pay particular attention to the additional financial hardships that are being faced by student staff who have been reliant on income from campus-based jobs at this time.

“If a student thinks that their accommodation provider is treating them unfairly, they can raise a complaint under the accommodation codes of practice as long as their provider is a code member. 

A near identical response was provided to Nadia Whittome MP’s(Labour, Nottingham East) written question asking what recent discussions the Department for Education has had with the Treasury on support for students renting private accommodation who are not able to make rental payments due to loss of earnings during the covid-19 outbreak. The Minister’s response can be accessed here.

Minister on LHA rates in capital 

The former Shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey MP (Labour, Wentworth and Dearne) has received a response to his written question asking what estimate the DWP has made of the proportion of properties in each broad rental market area that will be affordable to local housing allowance claimants from April 2020.

The Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Stephen Timms MP (Labour, East Ham) has also received a response to his written question asking what percentile of local rents the maximum local housing allowance rate is for each (a) home size and (b) broad rental market area.

Responding to both questions, the Work and Pensions Minister, Will Quince MP, responded: “In response to COVID-19, this Department has increased Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates to the 30th percentile of local market rents from April for Universal Credit and Housing Benefit claimants, giving additional financial support for private renters.

“This means that 30% of properties in each broad rental market area (BRMA) in England, Scotland and Wales are within the LHA rate with the exception of 15 rates in central and inner London where the national maximum caps continue to apply. The national caps have also been increased and are now based on the Outer London LHA rate plus 20%.

“The proportion of properties in central and inner London that are within the LHA rate are set out below:

BRMARoom1 Bed2 Bed3 Bed4 Bed
Central London30%
Inner East London30%15%-20%25%-30%15%-20%30%
Inner North London30%15%-20%20%-25%15%-20%20%-25%
Inner South East London30%30%30%30%30%
Inner South West London30%25%-30%30%25%-30%20%-25%
Inner West London30%30%30%25%-30%30%

The Shadow Housing Secretary, Thangam Debbonaire MP, has also received a response to her written question asking what assessment the DWP has made of the proportion of new claimants of universal credit whose housing costs are not covered by the local housing allowance set at the 30th percentile.

The Minister, Will Quince MP, confirmed no assessment has been made.

Cladding issues in residential blocks continue

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has published the findings of a survey into the progress of remediation work to improve fire safety in residential buildings.

The survey highlights significant ongoing fire safety issues in multi-occupancy buildings across the country leaving residents with facing bills of thousands of pounds. There were 1,352 responses to the survey and key headlines include:

  • 70% of respondents still had combustible cladding on their building
  • Many facing large bills for issues not covered by government funds

As part of its inquiry into the progress of remediation, the Committee invited residents of multi-occupancy buildings to highlight ongoing issues where they live.

Summary of findings

The survey found residents continue to face bills of thousands of pounds for remedial or safety measures for a range of issues including combustible cladding, inadequate fire breaks and timber balconies or walkways. Some residents were still having to pay for round the clock fire watches, facing higher insurance premiums or increased service charges.

Respondents called for the Government to go further in its support than the £1 billion Building Safety Fund announced in the 2020 Spring Budget, and pledge to ensure that all forms of dangerous cladding should be removed and other safety defects dealt with.

The survey will inform the Committee’s ongoing work into the removal of cladding from existing buildings, following the Grenfell disaster. The Committee will hold a formal evidence session in the near future and has invited further written evidence to be submitted by organisations responsible for residential buildings or representing those who live in them.

Sample quotes from respondents:

“I have highly flammable insulation, missing fire breaks, missing compartmentation, poorly fitted fire protection to the structural steel and poorly fitted fire doors. I fear for my life on a daily basis.”

“As a result of waking watch costs, which completely decimated the reserves that our building had built up over 20 years in 3 months, our service charges increased hugely.”

“The funding will need to cover all buildings, not just those above 18 metres, and will likely need to exceed £1 billion, as it should be expanded to cover all sorts of fire safety defects”

“It is great the government has announced the fund, but it is taxpayers money eventually and developers that broke the law should he held accountable financially.”

Chair’s comments

Committee Chair, Clive Betts MP said:  “What we have heard is not encouraging and it appears that much more will need to be done if people are to feel safe in their homes, and no longer face the stress of large bills to resolve issues not of their making.

“The Housing, Communities and Local Government will continue to hold the Government and industry to account while the issues remain widespread.”

The full summary of the responses can be read here.

About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Magazine and Digital Editor for the NRLA. With 20 years’ experience writing for regional and national newspapers and magazines she is responsible for editing our members' magazine 'Property', producing our articles for our news site, the weekly and monthly bulletins and editorial content for our media partners.

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