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100,000 Renters In England ‘Risk Eviction’ When Universal Credit Is Cut

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100,000 renters in England ‘risk eviction’ when universal credit is cut

Housing charity Crisis says £20-a-week reduction could be final blow for struggling households

At least 100,000 renting households will be placed at risk of eviction when the government’s planned £20-a-week cut to universal credit comes into effect next week, the housing charity Crisis has warned.

The proportion of private renters relying on benefits in England has surged to around one in three since the start of the pandemic, leaving thousands at risk of homelessness due to arrears if the uplift to UC is removed by ministers as planned.

The footballer Marcus Rashford is among those calling for its retention, citing fears about child hunger.

The squeeze on renters is being compounded by the final lifting of the emergency restrictions on evictions during the pandemic in England and the end of the furlough scheme on Friday.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have extended more liberal measures on evictions until next year.

“For many struggling renters this cut could be the final blow that forces them from their homes,” said Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis. “The UK government must change course and keep the £20 uplift so that people don’t needlessly lose their homes this winter and we have a fighting chance at recovery. The UK government assured people they would not lose their home because of the crisis; we must not fail them now.”

The charity predicts evicted households who seek help from local councils with emergency housing will end up costing the public purse more.

With a third of renters relying on benefits following the pandemic, the impact could be widespread.

The number of private renters relying on UC or housing benefit for rent surged to almost 2 million in May 2021 with 560,000 renters joining benefits queues since February 2020, according to analysis by the housing charity Shelter of Department of Work and Pensions figures.

The biggest increases were seen in the most expensive areas of London and the south-east, but other hotspots where the majority of renters rely on benefits include Blackpool, Middlesbrough, Great Yarmouth and Torbay.

Dan Wilson Craw, the director of the Generation Rent campaign group, said the UC cut would have a twin effect on renters, pushing some into arrears that would lead to eviction and make it harder for them to pass affordability checks to get a new home. He said about half of private renters who rely on local housing allowance benefits already do not get enough to cover their rent and have to top it up.

“Without the uplift, and with the end of furlough … we will see another surge in eviction notices served in the run-up to Christmas,” he said. “There’s still time for the government to step in with a Covid rent debt fund to clear renters’ arrears and keep people in their homes.”

From 1 October, the notice periods for anyone served a section 21 “no fault” eviction notice in England will have two rather than four months’ notice to find a new home. For tenants in arrears, the notice period for anyone owing less than four months’ rent was cut from four to two months and for anyone with longer arrears to four weeks.

A government spokesperson said the UC uplift was always temporary and “designed to help people through the toughest stages of the pandemic.”

“Universal credit will continue to provide vital support for those both in and out of work and we will deliver a fairer and more effective rental market that works for both tenants and landlords,” they said, adding the government is spending £750m to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over 2021-22 and will publish a white paper on renting including the abolition of “no fault” evictions in due course.

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Adults and children still in hospital after ‘harrowing’ gas explosion in Ayrshire

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Adults and children still in hospital after ‘harrowing’ gas explosion in Ayrshire

Two adults and two children remain in hospital after an explosion ripped through homes on a South Ayrshire council estate, destroying one terraced house and severely damaging others.

A local councillor confirmed that gas caused the blast in the Kincaidston area shortly after 7pm on Monday evening. The explosion was heard for miles around. Chris Cullen, a South Ayrshire councillor, said that if gas from the affected properties could be capped, other residents may not be able to return to their homes for up to 10 days.

The gas distribution company SGN said it was “assisting the emergency services to ensure the immediate vicinity is made safe”.

The injured residents were taken to Crosshouse hospital in Kilmarnock and remained there on Tuesday morning.

Cullen told BBC Good Morning Scotland that the scene was “harrowing”.

He said: “Early yesterday evening there was a row of houses and now there is a hole. Two-and-a-half houses are missing. It is quite shocking how far the debris has fallen and the damage it has caused.”

He added: “It has been a gas explosion, the exact details of how that happened aren’t released yet.”

Nine fire engines, six ambulances and an air ambulance attended the scene.

South Ayrshire council reported being flooded with donations of overnight essentials and hot food and drinks after setting up rest centres at Queen Margaret Academy, the local secondary school, and a nearby community centre. The evacuated residents went to stay with family and friends or were placed in hotel accommodation.

By Tuesday morning, the council had set up a dedicated phone line for those who required access or needed other support. Cullen added: “The council are now working to make sure people are homed and sorted out with everything they need for the next few days.”

Residents living near the estate described seeing smoke billowing from the site and finding broken roof tiles strewn across the street.

Police Scotland said local road closures were in place and the public were advised to avoid the area.

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DUP hits out at prosecution of army veteran who died from Covid

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DUP hits out at prosecution of army veteran who died from Covid

Serious questions need to be raised about the prosecution of an 80-year-old army veteran over a fatal shooting during Northern Ireland’s troubles, the Democratic Unionist party leader has said, following the death of the former soldier from Covid on Monday evening.

Dennis Hutchings, who had denied killing 27-year-old John Pat Cunningham in 1974, was three days into his trial in Belfast when he contracted the virus. He had kidney disease and was on dialysis.

The DUP leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, said: “There now stands serious questions around those who made the decision that Dennis should stand trial once more. He was honourable. He wanted to clear his name again but was dragged to a court and hounded until his death.

“This is a sad indictment on those who want to rewrite history but also demands serious questions of the Public Prosecution Service about how this trial was deemed to be in the public interest.”

Hutchings’ death has reopened the controversy over legacy prosecutions that the government is proposing to end with new legislation.

Hutchings, from Cawsand, Torpoint in Cornwall, denied the charges and had said he wanted to clear his name. Earlier this month, his lawyers said he had taken a case alleging a breach of the Human Rights Act to the European court of human rights in Strasbourg on the grounds that military veterans had been subjected to discriminatory treatment.

“It’s too late for me [not to face trial] but it’s not too late for the government to do the right thing for all those veterans who served to maintain peace in Northern Ireland and who continue to live in fear of a knock on the door.

“But if the government won’t act or listen to the veterans and the British people, then I hope Strasbourg will,” Hutchings said at the time.

The DUP and the other main political parties are united in their opposition to new laws that would “remove all judicial recourse for innocent victims”, but it had questioned the weight of evidence for bringing the veteran to trial.

“Whilst understanding the desire of the Cunningham family for justice, we have consistently challenged those in legal authority who insisted that Dennis stand trial again. He was an 80-year-old veteran, in ill-health on dialysis and there was a lack of compelling new evidence.”

The court had heard that the prosecution had accepted that the case against Hutchings was largely circumstantial as no forensic evidence to identify which bullets struck Cunningham was collected.

However, the prosecutor said the shooting could “never be lawful or justified” and the 27-year-old was unarmed and not posing a threat. He was an adult with learning difficulties and had “the mind of a child”, the court heard.

In a statement, the Traditional Unionist Voice leader, Jim Allister, said the prosecution was “needless” and “cruel” with Hutchings “requiring regular dialysis, while being brought to Belfast to face a trial of dubious provenance”.

The Conservative MP Johnny Mercer, who has campaigned against prosecutions for legacy killings and had travelled to Belfast to support the former soldier, had called the trial a “grotesque experience” for Hutchings.

 

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Minister hints at gas boilers ban but says market should drive change

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Minister hints at gas boilers ban but says market should drive change

Gas boilers could be banned in future but the government believes the market should drive changes to home heating systems, the cabinet minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan has said, amid criticism of the limited grants system for heat pumps.

Ministers had been under pressure to set a date to ban the installation of new gas boilers in existing homes, but on Tuesday announced the installation of low-carbon heat pumps would be encouraged with a grant system of £5,000 for up to 90,000 homes in England and Wales.

The grant would make the installation a similar cost to a new gas boiler, but green campaigners have said the move would expand the greener system to a minuscule proportion of homes and does not set a date for a full ban.

Speaking on Tuesday as the government launched its heat and buildings strategy, one of a number of announcements made ahead of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, Trevelyan hinted the installation of new gas boilers would be banned in the future.

“In the short term, yes, of course this is a voluntary scheme … There will be a point at which that changes but, yes, for now that’s the case,” she told Sky News.

The international trade secretary said she believed the market would eventually change to make the greener switch more affordable. “At the moment we’re encouraging the market to drive those changes,” she told the BBC.

“What we’re seeing already is energy companies already moving into, not only providing us with energy, but encouraging their customers to shift to heat pumps and looking to find ways to help do that – your energy provider will be part of that solution.

“In 10 years’ time, we want to look back and think we’ve actually made a difference as individuals, because that’s as important as the big chunky things like offshore wind turbines and nuclear power stations.”

The full strategy is expected to be published on Tuesday and will include measures totalling £3.9bn to decarbonise buildings and how they are heated, with a confirmed 2035 target for all new heating systems in UK homes to be energy efficient.

Caroline Jones of Greenpeace UK said efforts to decarbonise housing were being hampered by unambitious policies and inadequate funding. She said: “More money must be provided to rapidly increase the number of homeowners switching to heat pumps over the next few years, with full costs covered for families on low incomes.

“A clearer signal would have been a phase-out of new boilers before 2035. And all of this must be delivered with a fully funded, nationwide programme to insulate our homes at a scale and speed that the government hasn’t fully grasped.”

Under the plans, which the minister said would support up to 240,000 jobs by 2035, the £5,000 grants will be available from April next year, and should eliminate any price differential for heat pumps or similar systems. The plan suggests as the market expands, the price for such systems should drop by between a quarter and a half by 2025.

The wider £3.9bn of funding for greening homes will be targeted through a series of existing schemes, with others aimed at public buildings.

Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, said it was a “meagre, unambitious and wholly inadequate response”.

He added: “Families up and down the country desperately needed Labour’s 10-year plan investing £6bn a year for home insulation and zero carbon heating to cut bills by £400 per year, improve our energy security, create jobs and reduce carbon emissions.”

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