The people of Colchester have rallied during this time of crisis and shown great community spirit. By following the government guidance, by staying at home to protect the NHS, with the aim to save many lives and to protect essential frontline workers.

Whether it’s a house, a flat, a room in house share, student accommodation or even a boat, our homes have become a sanctuary for many of us, shielding us from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though we have isolated for the greater good, this has placed a challenging toll on our physical and mental health, due to all the unknowns this crisis brings.

With local businesses forced to shut in order to protect the workforce, an additional unknown has placed pressure on many of Colchester’s residents, is how they will be able to continue to pay their rent or mortgage, enabling them to stay in their home, long after this crisis has passed.

Locally, the Labour Group knows how people are struggling to come to terms with the financial implications of Coronavirus. The impact on working families is huge, with thousands of people seeking additional support by applying for Universal Credit. Colchester Borough Council has seen huge increases in residents making contactt to ask for help with housing costs and council tax relief.

Nationally, mortgage holders are being supported through a scheme to provide a 3 month holiday on repayments where people are in difficulty. That money will still have to be paid but provides a pause and an opportunity for home-owners to review their situation. The same level of guaranteed support has not been directly passed on to private renters though.

If you’re renting privately you might feel especially at risk of losing your home, the roof over your head, the place you feel safe when you sleep at night, where you enjoy a meal with your family or friends and curl up on the sofa to watch the latest boxset on iPlayer or Netflix. You’re probably on a short term contract and not necessarily sure what the future holds. If you’re still working or on furlough, you’re probably able to carry on paying your rent. An increasing number of people will be worried about whether they still have a job to return to. Many people in Colchester will be on a casual contract or might not get the same number of hours in the future that will help them pay their rent, putting them at risk of eviction. We know that renters are far more at risk than those that own their home with a mortgage.

As Portfolio Holder for Housing, I’ve overseen the team that has supported 42 rough sleepers get off the streets and secured somewhere safe for them to stay. We’re already securing longer term support for these people. Our Housing Workers have been making thousands of calls to our most vulnerable residents to ensure they’re safe and to check if they need any help with food or medication. We’ve been sending activities for those living in our sheltered accommodation too. When we clap our carers every Thursday night at 8pm, I always think about our council and Colchester Borough Homes’ keyworkers who have supported the community through this crisis.

There is currently a freeze on evictions but this currently expires at the end of June.

If you think paying your rent might be a problem here is some advice:

Your landlord could be sympathetic and might accept late rent or agree to a rent reduction. Speak to them as soon as you can.
Seek support through Universal Credit or other benefits.
If you’re being harassed by your landlord contact the Private Sector Housing Team

Colchester Borough Homes have a great team of advisers who can help you get the right support for your circumstances. Don’t be afraid to ask for help at the soonest available opportunity as this prevents the issue from escalating. The charity, Shelter has a comprehensive website with additional resources and advice.

Labour is challenging the government to do more to protect private renters and provide longer term guarantees. Labour has produced a five-point plan to protect people from eviction:

Extend the temporary ban on evictions for six months or however long is needed to implement the legal changes below.
Give residential tenants the same protections as commercial tenants, by protecting them from being made bankrupt by their landlords for non-payment of rent.
Bring forward the government’s proposal to scrap Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions and outlaw evictions on the grounds of rent arrears if the arrears were accrued because of hardship caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Once evictions are prevented, grant renters at least two years to pay back any arrears accrued during this period.
Speed up and improve the provision of Universal Credit, as Labour recently called for, and consider a temporary increase to the Local Housing Allowance to help prevent risk of homelessness.

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