Tens of thousands of people have been made homeless since the start of the pandemic despite a ban on evictions, the Guardian has found, with charities warning that younger people are falling through the gaps.
Since April this year at least 90,063 people in the UK have been threatened with homelessness – and more than half of these have already lost their accommodation.
Charities say data shows a new cohort of homeless people who have slipped through the cracks despite protections such as the ban on evictions and a government scheme to house the homeless during the coronavirus crisis.
These include young people, many of whom work in hospitality, who have lost their jobs and are struggling to support themselves financially. Many have precarious living arrangements meaning they were not protected from the evictions ban.
Ministers recently announced that renters would be protected during the new national restrictions, with no bailiff enforcement action.
While the government said it had almost eradicated rough sleeping through its Everyone In scheme, the Guardian has found tens of thousands of newly homeless people presenting for support.
Paul Noblet, head of public affairs for the homeless charity Centrepoint, said: “Through our helpline, we have been hearing about lots of people losing their homes despite a ban on evictions – some of the calls are from young people who work in the hospitality industry whose home may have been linked to their job, so someone living at a hotel or a pub.”
He added that being sent section 21 eviction notices from landlords would be stressful for people who did not know their rights.
“People who got eviction notices would be people living under the shadow of losing their home at the first opportunity the courts can reopen,” he said.
Lucy Abraham, chief executive of the homeless charity Glass Door, said it was seeing a large number of people in precarious living situations who had found themselves homeless.
“Workers who were sharing overcrowded houses found these situations untenable because everyone was suddenly supposed to be home the whole time rather than just sleeping there,” she said.
Jonny Webb, a fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research who specialises on housing and homelessness, said official data showed there was a 69% fall in people being given section 21s this year compared with 2019 but people were still being evicted.
“Some people will have been served a notice and not aware of the legal procedure to challenge, and think they must leave their accommodation. There could be rogue action from bailiffs, which shows even though the government put a system in place it is not necessarily working as it should be, and in fact, we are still seeing evictions under section 21 when they should be banned.”
Webb said people who are newly homeless are those living in “precarious situations” that would not be covered by the ban, or those “living with a violent partner”.
He added: “This idea early on that [the government] said they had eradicated rough sleeping, that is definitely an overreaction especially when you look at reports showing those taken off the streets are now starting to slowly trickle back.”
The data comes from a freedom of information request replied to by 204 councils, which showed 36,359 were threatened with homelessness since the pandemic started. Data also showed 6,184 were served section 21 notices and 46,894 came to the council saying they were already homeless.
Karen Buck, the Labour MP for Westminster North, said: “There have been some illegal evictions [during the pandemic], which are being desperately underreported.
“At the moment the new homeless appears to be young singles – after we had the Everyone In scheme that was successful in terms of getting people off the streets but since that wound down the numbers have increased rapidly in London.”
Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow housing secretary, said: “The prime minister’s order to stay at home will feel particularly hollow for people without anywhere to call ‘home’. Government ministers said that progress in March was an opportunity to end rough sleeping for good – but it looks like these gains have been lost.”
The government has announced an extra £15m to support people rough sleeping, which Jon Sparkes, from the charity Crisis, said was “welcome but does not go far enough and addresses just one part of the problem.”
He said: “We appeal to the UK government to give local councils clear instruction and sufficient funding to ensure everyone is in safe and self-contained accommodation and, in doing so, build on the significant progress made this year in ending homelessness for good.”
A Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “This week we confirmed that bailiff enforcement action will not be permitted during the national restrictions or over the Christmas period – except in the most serious eviction cases such as those involving anti-social behaviour. This builds on existing protections, including six-month notice periods and new court rules meaning judges will prioritise the most serious of cases.
“We have also taken action to prevent people getting into financial hardship by helping businesses to pay salaries, extending the furlough scheme, and boosting the welfare safety net by over £9bn.”