The UK government has extended an eviction ban by four weeks and given tenants more security after an outcry over fears of rising homelessness.
A ban on the enforcement of repossession orders and bailiffs visiting homes has been in force since March in England and Wales. But it was due to expire on Monday (24 August) with legal eviction proceedings able to resume, sparking a backlash from councils, charities and campaigners.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “I know this year has been challenging and all of us are still living with the effects of COVID-19. That is why today I am announcing a further four-week ban on evictions, meaning no renters will have been evicted for six months.”
He also announced plans to significantly increase the notice period landlords must give tenants to six months, “supporting renters over winter.” He said the six-month rule would only apply to England, and would be in place until at least the end of March next year.
But he added: “However it is right that the most egregious cases, for example those involving anti-social behaviour or domestic abuse perpetrators, begin to be heard in court again. So when courts reopen, landlords will once again be able to progress these priority cases.”
Further measures to help renters are also promised once the “urgencies of the pandemic have passed.”
The extension has been welcomed by housing charities, but some warned it only gave a temporary reprieve. Shelter’s chief executive Polly Neate said: “A bullet may have been dodged with this extension, but as soon as parliament returns, it must give judges extra powers to stop renters being evicted because of ‘Covid-arrears.’”
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, called both measures “very good news.”
Landlords had claimed fears of mass evictions were scaremongering, and say most landlords are trying to keep tenants in their homes. Ben Beadle, CEO of the National Residential Landlords Association, said a blanket extension was “unacceptable” and left many landlords facing financial harm.
Health chiefs including the Faculty of Public Health, British Medical Association and Royal College of Physicians had also warned the lapsed ban even risks higher coronavirus infection rates.
Tenants in overcrowded temporary or emergency accommodation are less likely to be able to follow social distancing, hygiene and self-isolation measures, according to 16 health groups who wrote to housing secretary Robert Jenrick.
Rent arrears are widely thought to have shot up since the crisis began as household incomes have been hammered by the virus and recession. One study suggests average household incomes have suffered the biggest annual decline in half a century.
Housing charity Shelter estimates around 230,000 private renters in England have fallen into arrears since the pandemic began. A survey by charity Citizens Advice suggests the figure could be much higher, with 1.2 million UK households believed to have fallen behind with rent.
A backlog and heavily limited capacity in the courts mean landlords, charities and lawyers do not expect an immediate rise in evictions when the ban eventually lifts, however.
“Once the moratorium expires it is unlikely that we will see an immediate spike in evictions and certainly not tenants kicked out onto the streets the following day,” said Jacqui Walton, a senior paralegal at law firm Royds Withy King.
“Landlords are bound by strict rules designed to slow the process down.”