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Today in politics: Furlough report , students, rent freezes and stamp duty

Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

We look at a new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, advice on students moving in and out of rental homes and calls by left wing Labour MPs for Covid-related rent arrears to be written off. There has also been a move to extend the stamp duty deadline for refunds for those selling their main home.

A third of PRS tenants on furlough worry they won’t be able to pay rent

More than a third of private renters who’ve been furloughed are worried they won’t be able to pay their rent when the coronavirus lockdown ends, according to a new report.

New research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests at least 250,000 people could struggle to meet their housing costs.

The JRF says its research is based on the proportion of people who are private renting according to Office for National Statistics data.

The researched asked furloughed private renters if they were worried about paying rent at the moment, and if they were worried about paying their rent when lockdown ends.

Darren Baxter, policy and partnerships manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “Renters are really worried about not being able to pay the rent, both right now and in the future when the lockdown ends, particularly those who’ve been furloughed. 

“The furlough scheme has been a lifeline during the pandemic, but it will not save every job, and many private renters who are let go by their employer will need to turn to the social security system for help with housing costs.”

The JRF is calling for an increase in Local Housing Allowance to cover median rents in all areas, and a removal of the national cap on LHA. 

The research is based on a sample of 1,031 private renters in a YouGov survey of 6,430 UK adults.

New guidance for colleges and universities on re-opening plans

The Department for Education has published guidance for higher education institutions on reopening buildings and campuses. 

Of note, it says the following about accommodation:

“In advance of the next academic year, you will want to prepare accommodation for students. 

“Some of this accommodation has been used for housing students who were not able to go to family homes during lockdown. 

“Where students have contracted coronavirus (COVID-19) while in student accommodation, rooms and other facilities will need to be cleaned, following guidance on cleaning non-healthcare settings.

“DfE has issued guidance for students and providers about how students may safely collect belongings left in student accommodation in a safe and managed way.

Guidance published on moving homes may also apply to students collecting belongings to move to other accommodation and also students moving into accommodation in the new academic year. 

“The moving home guidance sets out specifically that “moving home” is now a valid reason to leave home. Point 6 in this guidance “Moving your belongings” also sets out protocol for those moving home/ moving belongings.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published guidance on consumer contracts, cancellation and refunds affected by coronavirus (COVID-19). This sets out the CMA’s view on how the law operates to help consumers understand their rights and help businesses treat their customers fairly.

 Students may be entitled to refunds from accommodation providers depending on the terms of their contract and their particular circumstances. 

If students need help, organisations such as Citizens Advice offer a free service, providing information and support.”

Labour MPs call for rent freezes and write off of arrears

Four Labour MPs, all of whom are members of the left-wing Socialist Campaign Group, have written to the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick MP, calling for the UK government helps to freeze rents and write off arrears.

The signatories, all elected for the first time last year, are:

·         Apsana Begum MP (Poplar and Limehouse)

·         Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP (Streatham)

·         Zarah Sultana MP (Coventry South)

·         Claudia Webbe MP (Leicester East)

The letter can be accessed in full here.

HMRC to extend stamp duty refund deadline

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Jesse Norman MP, yesterday published a written statement announcing that HM Revenue and Customs can, in certain specific cases, extend the three-year deadline allowing people to get a to refund of the 3% higher rates of Stamp Duty Land Tax when selling a previous main residence.

The Minister notes:

“Affected taxpayers must make a sale as soon as practicable once the exceptional impediment to sale ceases to apply, and this amendment applies to those whose refund window ended on or after 1 January 2020.

“HMRC will set out operational guidance on the cases which will qualify for an extended refund window in due course. Taxpayers can write to HMRC setting out their individual circumstances and HMRC will make decisions to grant an extension on a case-by-case basis. HMRC will also closely monitor the number and type of applications for an extension, as a protection against cases of fraud and abuse.”

The full statement can be accessed here.

Government pressed on Pre-Action protocol for social housing

The former CLG Secretary, Lord Pickles, has received a response to his written question asking what plans the Government has to introduce a pre-action protocol for councils which would encourage the negotiation of affordable rent payment plans with tenants before seeking bailiff enforcement action following the end of the current moratorium on new evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The HCLG Minister in the Lords, Lord Greenhalgh, responded: “The existing Pre-Action Protocol for social landlords  encourages landlords and tenants to try to agree affordable sums for the tenant to pay towards rent arrears based on the tenant’s income and expenditure. 

Landlords are encouraged to do this as soon as possible and to postpone commencing court proceedings for as long as the tenant keeps to such agreement, or to adjourn proceedings if an agreement is reached after proceedings are begun. 

“The failure of a landlord to comply with the protocol may be taken into account by the court in deciding what orders to make.

“There are currently no plans to revise this protocol.”

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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