Councils: Government must ‘retreat carefully’ when easing Covid support measures

·2-min read

The Government must “retreat carefully” when it removes measures introduced to support struggling families during the coronavirus pandemic, councils have warned.

The District Councils’ Network (DCN) said removing support too quickly risks derailing the national recovery and a surge in households unable to pay their bills or rent.

Its report, Building Back Better – Leaving No One Behind, is calling for the Government to keep in place some protections as it eases others “cautiously”.

This includes making permanent the increase in local housing allowance and £20 a week uplift in Universal Credit (UC) payments.

It also wants to see the job retention scheme gradually phased out, with those in the hardest-hit sectors helped for longer.

And it is calling for the ban on bailiff-enforced rental sector evictions, which is due to end on May 31, to be extended.

A DCN survey in February of 70 district councils found that 87% expected homelessness to rise and 85% reported a likely increase in UC claims when the eviction ban ends.

Nearly half (47%) reported an increase in the need to mediate with landlords to support tenancies during the pandemic, despite the eviction ban.

And 91% saw increases in the use of food banks in their local area.

Councillor Giles Archibald, the DCN’s Better Lives spokesman, said: “The coronavirus crisis has hit many people hard and the economic impact will continue to be felt for some time.

“Therefore it is vital, that as we come out of the pandemic, we don’t rush to unravel the unprecedented level of support the Government rightly provided to protect families at risk of hardship and homelessness.

“Everyone understands interventions like the furlough scheme and evictions ban cannot continue forever, but we cannot pull them all away overnight either.

“The Government must retreat carefully from these big national interventions, while equipping local district councils with the funding and flexibility to solve problems before they grow in impact and cost.”

The DCN says all future funding to address hardship, poverty and homelessness must be channelled through district councils, which best know who is in greatest need and how to directly help them.

It says a “flexible prevention pot” would help districts to work locally to solve problems, help people experiencing hardship and debt, and “rewire a local safety net focused on prevention”.

A Government spokesperson said: “From the beginning of the pandemic, we have taken unprecedented action to protect renters and help keep them in their homes.

“As Covid restrictions are eased in line with the road map out of lockdown, we will ensure tenants continue to be supported with longer notice periods, while also balancing the need for landlords to access justice.

“We are also supporting families who are most in need, spending billions more on welfare, helping people find new work through our Plan for Jobs and helping families stay warm and well fed with our £269 million Covid Local Support Grant.”