URGENT action is needed to stop cash-strapped renters in Oxford being kicked out of their homes once a ban on evictions ends next week, a group has warned.

Tenants across the city have already said they feel 'sick with worry' about the current situation, and now that worry could be about to get even worse.

When lockdown started in March, the Government banned landlords from evicting tenants, in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and to stop people being made homeless.

But that ban is set to end on Sunday, August 23, meaning landlords will once again be able to kick people out – even if they've lost their job because of the pandemic.

Read also: Police are hunting for this man after a 16-year-old boy was robbed in an Oxford park

A group representing people renting in Oxford has now described the city as the ‘coalface of the housing crisis’ in the UK and said people could be forced onto the streets after the ban ends.

The Oxford Tenants’ Union has called on Oxford City Council to help prevent an eviction crisis, only days after the council announced it had secured 124 rooms to keep people off the streets.

Oxford Mail:

Lucy Warin of the union warned the city council’s Housing and Homelessness Panel last week about the dangers that Oxford’s most vulnerable renters faced in the coming weeks.

She said: “When the national media cover this rental crisis over the next months and years they will come to Oxford and they will ask what was done to protect renters in the run-up to what was an entirely predictable crisis.”

Housing charity Shelter has previously gathered data which has shown evictions from privately-owned houses is the largest cause of rough sleeping in the UK.

Ms Warin said Oxford City Council’s ‘best chance’ of tackling homelessness was ‘keeping as many people as possible in their rented homes.’

Oxford Mail:

The union representative said she and other organisers had spoken to between 15 and 30 renters in the city regularly throughout lockdown.

Read again: What's it like to rent in Oxford as the coronavirus affects work and health?

At the start, many renters were worried about being unable to pay their rent after losing their jobs, while later during the pandemic some faced concerns of having to fill rooms in shared homes as their housemates had moved out.

Ms Warin added: “One phrase really stands out for us that we have heard just far too often: that phrase is ‘sick with worry’. That is something we have heard an awful lot of.

“We have heard from person after person who have come to us and told us about how an unsure renting situation or the idea of losing their home is really impacting their health and wellbeing, and most importantly their network and relationships.”

Oxford Mail:

Oxford City Council's housing and homelessness panel meeting on Monday, August 3

Her fellow tenants' union member Rob Zinkov said people only came to them for help when their situation was ‘quite desperate’.

Green Party councillor Dick Wolff said the city council did not have a lot of the powers needed to help renters stay in their homes, and said central Government would not be sympathetic towards ideas like introducing rent controls.

Mr Wolff said: “Power lies with landlords – that’s just a fact. The amount of controls we have are limited so an important part of the question for me is to ask, what is going on in that world? In the world of the landlords.”

He suggested an ‘open dialogue’ was needed with landlords to understand their situation, and that data should be gathered on how many people were renting in Oxford, and how many of them were vulnerable.

The council is currently building a register to record all private landlords and their properties in the city.

Read again about the register of landlords the council is building here

Labour councillor Shaista Aziz agreed that dialogue with landlords was important and warned that a ‘deepening rift’ would happen if landlords were not invited to speak about the housing crisis.

Oxford Mail:

Liberal Democrat councillor Liz Wade said other councils, including Bristol, Glasgow and Blackpool, had started operating social lettings agencies, which effectively created a ‘public rental sector’ where landlords registered to let out their homes through the council.

This had brought old homes in those areas into use as affordable rented housing.

The council agreed to collect data on Oxford's tenants to get a better understanding of the issues they faced.

Renting and the coronavirus

Some key points on rent and the lockdown in England:

• During the lockdown, most renters in private accommodation or social housing cannot be evicted

• Those who cannot pay their rent, either because they have lost their job or seen their wages fall, have been advised to speak to their landlord to negotiate a reduction or rent holiday

• Benefits including Universal Credit and housing benefit are available to help people pay their rent, bills and for food

• It is illegal for a landlord to harass a tenant to leave, lock someone out of their home, or make them leave without a court order

• On August 24, eviction processes CAN begin again, but even then, it could take up to three months for them to begin, as this is the notice period tenants must be given

Source – Shelter: england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/coronavirus