Opinion: Brexit could take private renters’ homes

Cllr Sian Berry is concerned that Brexit is already effecting housing values. .

Cllr Sian Berry is concerned that Brexit is already effecting housing values. . - Credit: Archant

The impact of a no-deal, crash-out Brexit came into sharp focus this week with the leak of the government’s confidential Yellowhammer planning document.

This sets out in objective and worrying detail the risks to ports, roads, food and medicine supplies, and security and policing, of leaving the EU without a deal on October 31.

It's hard to believe our prime minister is actively planning for this to happen, but his recklessness means all responsible public servants need to be working not just to prevent it, but also to reduce the impact on our residents if he succeeds.

The "people's vote" campaign has been asking local councils in freedom of information requests what plans they have for coping with a no-deal Brexit and what risks they have identified. The revelations so far (with more to come) include that waste exports will face blockages with knock-on effects for council waste collections within weeks, and that school meal suppliers may also struggle to cope.

In Camden, the Chalcots cladding incident and a number of recent fires in residential blocks has prompted a full scale review of our local emergency planning, with a new council team set up.

Ward councillors like me have been called in for briefings and training on our role in helping when things go wrong. We have also been told how the council is looking at a range of possible no-deal Brexit effects on our borough, including the chance of queues at our international border at St Pancras Eurostar terminal.

However, none of the planning I have seen so far looks at a major risk I am concerned about - the risk of private landlords selling our homes from under us, causing housing and homelessness services to be overwhelmed.

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In London, we depend more than anywhere else in the country on private landlords.

Private renting is now the most common tenure in the city, and more than two million of us rent from landlords who still have no obligation to give us security of tenure, because improvements to renting rights have been delayed by, among other things, Brexit paralysis in Parliament.

My concern is that the Brexit chaos is already affecting housing values, and that a no-deal crash-out in October will make this worse and, along with rising interest rates, may encourage a whole raft of landlords to sell up at once.

This kind of exodus, even on a relatively small scale, would result in hundreds if not thousands of London renters facing simultaneous eviction notices.

My work in the London Assembly Housing Committee has shown that council housing officers are already struggling with demand from people facing homelessness, and that eviction from private housing is already the leading cause of people approaching councils for help and support.

We also found a severe shortage of places in temporary accommodation, especially for families.

I have warned Camden about this extra risk. I hope councils across London will add increased homelessness support, and planning ahead for finding more homes to rent as temporary homes, as new items in their Brexit plans.

I'll be doing everything I can to make sure these emergency plans aren't needed, but the last thing I want to see is councils taken by surprise by another disastrous effect of Brexit if the worst happens.