Coronavirus: Boris Johnson 'bringing forward' legislation to protect private renters

Boris Johnson has promised to protect private renters from eviction due to the coronavirus outbreak, as he said the government was continuing with "unprecedented" steps.

At PMQs prime minister was urged by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to impose measures protecting renters after he said homeowners impacted by coronavirus would be offered a three-month mortgage holiday.

Mr Corbyn said: "Yesterday, the Chancellor unfortunately offered nothing to the 20 million people living in rented homes, including three million households with children.

"They're worried, they're worried sick that they can't pay their rent if they get ill, lose pay or feel they need to self-isolate.

"It is in the interests of public health, of the health of all of us, that people don't feel forced to go to work in order to avoid eviction when they know themselves they may be spreading this terrible disease.

"So will the Prime Minister now confirm that the Government's emergency legislation will protect private renters from eviction?"

Mr Johnson replied: "I can indeed confirm that we will be bringing forward legislation to protect private renters from eviction, that is one thing we will do, but it is also important as we legislate that we do not simply pass on the problem, so we'll also be taking steps to protect other actors in the economy."

Mr Johnson was facing questions in an unusually sparse House of Commons, as only MPs who have been selected to speak were admitted.

Mr Corbyn also questioned Mr Johnson on the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) issued to NHS staff for when they are treating patients with Covid-19.

There have been reports of regional problems with supply of equipment, with some staff saying there are not enough face masks to go round.

Mr Corbyn also said measures to ramp up testing in the UK were not enough.

He said: "The World Health Organisation said test, test, test and we should be testing, I believe, on an industrial scale."

He said 10,000 tests per day is "nowhere near even the number of people working in the NHS and the care sector", adding: "It is a massive undertaking and I wish there was a greater sense of urgency from the Government in getting this testing available for all staff."

Mr Johnson said the NHS was now moving to carrying out 25,000 coronavirus tests per day - a new announcement.

He added: "There is a massive effort going on, comparable to the effort to build enough ventilators, to ensure that we have adequate supplies of PPE equipment not just now, but throughout the outbreak."

Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak said on Tuesday they would do "whatever it takes" to help the UK economy, as the number of people in the UK thought to have Covid-19 rose to 55,000 and death toll reached 71.

However the government has come under fire for not outlining provisions which would help home renters, after providing a three-month mortgage holiday to homeowners.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma, told ITV News the government was "looking very closely" at providing support for renters and said the housing secretary would soon set out new measures.

"There are millions of people across our country who rent, some of them will have anxiety about what would happen if they do indeed start to suffer from Covid-19.

"The chancellor was very clear yesterday in the house, is that we are looking very actively at this.

"The housing secretary will be coming forward very shortly setting out the measures to protect renters."

Measures unveiled by Mr Sunak included £330bn of government-backed loans - equivalent to 15 per cent of GDP - and a package of tax cuts and grants worth more than £20bn.

Warning that "never in peacetime" had the UK “faced an economic fight like this one”, he also announced plans for three-month mortgage holidays for homeowners suffering outbreak-related difficulties.

Business Secretary Sharma told ITV News Political Reporter Shehab Khan the mortgage holidays would be offered to those "directly or indirectly" affected by the virus.

"To give an example, if you are in isolation as part of a household, clearly that is an area that you would expect mortgage companies to look at."

The coronavirus package comes after the public was told to avoid all non-essential contact and travel, while the elderly and those with underlying conditions were told they would have to stay home.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urged the Government on Tuesday to go further in its financial assistance by suspending home rental fees and ban evictions of tenants during the coronavirus crisis.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the government was working on measures to support people in employment and to help renters after announcing a three-month holiday for mortgage payers.

He said: "Of course people want us to go further. The Chancellor set out very clearly that we will be coming forward when it comes to employment measures. We will come forward with that as quickly as possible."

He added: "We will continue to provide support where it is needed. The Prime Minister has been clear that we will do whatever it takes to protect people's health, to protect people's livelihoods.

"We had a significant intervention yesterday. We are ready to do more."

The prime minister warned that Covid-19 is so "dangerous" that without drastic action it would "overwhelm the NHS" and that more "extreme measures" may be needed to protect lives in the future.

He added that there was only a "few weeks" to make the necessary amount of ventilators needed by the NHS to help patients through coronavirus.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know

It came after the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told MPs it is hoped the death toll can be kept to less than 20,000 as he told of the huge amount of strain the health service will be under from Covid-19.

In a hearing of the Commons Health Select Committee, Sir Patrick was asked whether the expected death rate was one fatality for every 1,000 cases, which would mean that there are “potentially 55,000 cases” at present.

He said: “We’ve tried to get a handle on that in Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) and if you put all the modelling information together, that’s a reasonable ballpark way of looking at it.

“It’s not more accurate than that.”

Shelves in supermarkets have been emptied by people stockpiling goods. Credit: PA

NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens told MPs the NHS would be “flat out” helping coronavirus patients for the next four to six months.

He has sent a letter to hospitals telling them to prepare for a large influx of patients requiring ventilation and ordered moves to cancel non-emergency surgery by April 15 at the latest, alongside the discharge of medically fit people to free up beds.