Since April 2021, V-KEMS (Virtual Forum for Knowledge Exchange in the Mathematical Sciences) has delivered a series of Virtual Study Groups considering minimising risk/impact of Covid-19 in a range of scenarios (including train travel, opening up higher education and the impact on cardiovascular waiting lists).

We have now been tasked by RAMP Continuity Network (a UKRI funded project) to undertake a series of Virtual Study Groups on their behalf. Below are the RAMP VSGs to date:

The next session will be a three-day event between the 12th-14th January 2022 on the topics of Recovery from the Pandemic: Future Communities. This three-day event will be an intensive session bringing mathematical scientists and other disciplines together to solve end user-defined challenges.

Study Groups work best when a real-world problem/scenario is posed at the start of the three days. This enables the assembled scientists to develop the generic thinking required but also provides some pertinent insight for the particular case considered. Currently, we are planning to consider two challenge areas.

During the three days, we are delighted to have a keynote talk by Professor Alan Penn, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and Professor in Architectural and Urban Computing at University College London (UCL).

Challenges

Challenge 1: Supporting local authorities, landlords and tenants in preventing homelessness post Covid-19

Presented by: Local Authority to be confirmed shortly 

Background: Covid-19 has caused unprecedented disruption to the private accommodation rental sector.  For tenants, one of the most obvious concerns arising from the Covid-19 crisis was the fear that there would be mass evictions in the face of rent arrears. For landlords, some have not had rent for two years, and have not been eligible for small business support. At least two “cliff-edges” in support for tenants are occurring in 2021:

  • Change in financial support (end of furlough and reduction in universal credit) which has supported tenants financially
  • End of the eviction ban (end of May 2021) which has supported tenants during successive lockdowns.

Add to this the Covid-19 induced market changes in rental attitudes. There is thus a backlog of people under threat. Given projections of unemployment and the relationship between unemployment and rent arrears, nationally, over 400,000 tenant households might be expected to be insignificant arrears at the end of the year. For more information, please click here.

This puts an unprecedented strain on local authorities for support in their prevention duty. Importantly, courts will face major difficulties in coping with any significant increase in landlord claims. As a result, the time taken to get an order, let alone to gain possession will increase significantly – implying that most cases now entering the system will not be completed until well into 2022.

Local authorities have several levers which could be employed to manage (schedule) the backlog and ensure fairness for all parties whilst these cases are being seen. Local authorities could:

  • Pay rent arrears on behalf of tenants/discretionary housing payments more generally
  • Providing temporary accommodation in the unused property
  • Providing low-cost loans to landlords

The Challenge: This challenge looks to model how the legal system can operate under these pressures and how the local authority options can be used most effectively under future possible scenarios.

Challenge 2: Supporting local authorities, businesses and high-streets post Covid-19

Presented by: Local Authority to be confirmed shortly 

Business rates are a substantial form of tax for the Treasury, worth around £30 bn per year.  One objective is of course for Government to raise funds, but given the inequalities in regional impact highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, can business rates be used (redesigned or in conjunction with other interventions) as a “lever” to encourage investments which:

  • Allow local authorities to be more resilient financially
  • Support green/net-zero targets
  • Give residents access to diverse services and amenities
  • Are sensitive to regional differences