Tenants facing eviction to get extra help amid expected ‘avalanche of homelessness’

Fears have been raised the the end of restrictions for bailiffs will lead to a rise in evictions and

Fears have been raised the the end of restrictions for bailiffs will lead to a rise in evictions and homelessness. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

Struggling tenants facing eviction during the Covid-19 crisis could be saved by an expansion in the Suffolk Law Centre’s (SLC) Housing Legal Aid service.

The Suffolk Law Centre is based in St Matthew's Street, Ipswich. Picture: RACHEL EDGE

The Suffolk Law Centre is based in St Matthew's Street, Ipswich. Picture: RACHEL EDGE - Credit: Rachel Edge

Rules which stop landlords throwing out tenants for rent arrears during the coronavirus crisis have been extended for another four weeks by housing secretary Robert Jenrick.

MORE: Ban on bailiff evictions extended after Ipswich warns of ‘worrying’ homeless rise

Yet there are still widespread fears many could find themselves homeless once the bailiff ban is lifted, with people’s incomes plummeting while on furlough and unemployment in Ipswich rising by 3,000 between March and June.

MORE: ‘Very worrying time’ - unemployment in Ipswich nearly DOUBLES amid swathe of job cuts

The SLC is one of those to warn: “We could be facing an avalanche of homelessness in the autumn due to the backlog of eviction cases.”

Yet the organisation has now announced a three-point expansion which it hopes could provide a reprieve for those struggling the most.

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Firstly, James Hanlon - who has been working for the service since September last year - has now qualified a Legal Aid Housing supervisor for Legal Aid work, under the supervision of Hackney Law Centre.

Secondly, the SLC has secured funding to recruit a Legal Aid housing caseworker to assist Mr Hanlon in managing the likely growth in casework when the ban on private sector evictions is lifted on September 20.

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Third, the SLC has won a contract to run the duty housing legal aid scheme at Bury St Edmunds County Court.

This will allow the service to be based in the court building itself and directly help people facing housing issues who have no legal representation, just as they have been doing at Ipswich County Court.

MORE: Ipswich braced for dramatic rise in homelessness this winter from aftershock of coronavirus

Audrey Ludwig, director of legal services and senior solicitor at SLC, said: “This investment in much-needed specialist legal expertise offers real hope to more local people than ever before who are or might be facing eviction from their homes.”

Mr Hanlon added: “Usually, it’s a David and Goliath fight between tenants and their landlords, which is why the service we provide is so important in levelling the playing field.

“Landlords in the UK have more power than their equivalents in most other European Union countries, including what are called section 21 evictions which allow landlords to take proceedings against tenants without having to provide a reason for so doing.”

Homeless charity Shelter has warned 3% of private renters could be at risk of eviction.

With 12,000 private lets in Ipswich, Neil MacDonald – Ipswich Borough Council’s portfolio holder for housing and health – fears about 360 households in the town could be in difficulty.

Jools Ramsey, chief executive of Ipswich Housing Action Group (IHAG) – which runs the Chapman Centre for homeless people, along with a money advice service – said she had “huge concerns” over the lifting of restrictions.

“Landlords consider eviction proceedings for a number of reasons, not just rent arrears – and as the restriction is lifted, I anticipate there being a considerable spike in court action to approve these,” she said.

“Many households’ income will have been affected by long-term sickness, furlough or redundancy, and whilst payment holidays on mortgages and credit cards will have helped some in the short-term, these will only have served to delay the inevitable financial pressures that people will be facing.”

Ms Ramsey is particularly worried about specific groups such as single men, who may not be considered priority need.

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