Fri, 27 Mar 2020
This is an updated version of To evict or not to evict?
With the current Coronavirus outbreak in the UK, we have seen guidance upon guidance and the enactment of the Coronavirus Act 2020 at break-neck speed. It has become commonplace that you’ll read something one moment and it will have changed the next.
With that, I already have an update to yesterday’s article “To evict or not to evict?”. In that article, I expressed how I felt the provisions contained within section 81 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 with regard to protection from eviction for residential tenancies fell short of what the government had appeared to promise back on 18th March 2020 in its press release titled “Complete ban on evictions and additional protection for renters”. In that press release, the government assured that “no renter in either social or private accommodation will be forced out of their home during this difficult time”. Section 81 of the 2020 Act, and more specifically schedule 29 to which it refers, extends the usual notice period to 3 months in respect of a number of statutory notices in relation to certain residential tenancies however does not apply to all tenancies; does not deal with rent arrears; and does not preclude the continuation of proceedings which have already commenced nor, seemingly, the start of proceedings where a notice has already been validly served.
I noted a number of tweets from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on 24th March 2020 which suggested that “clear guidance has been given to judges and bailiffs, meaning that it is highly unlikely that any possession proceedings will continue during this period. If there is evidence that this is not the case, we have the power to review accordingly”; and questioned whether or not the “clear guidance” given to judges and bailiffs would mean that there would be no continuation of possession proceedings, or if we would get to see said guidance so as to know what we are working with.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has now issued further guidance dated 26th March 2020 titled “Government support available for landlords and renters reflecting the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak” summarising what it terms “a package of measures to protect renters affected by coronavirus (COVID-19)” restating that “with these in force, no renter in either social or private accommodation will be forced out of their home”. It summarises the effect of section 81, and schedule 29, of the 2020 Act but goes further and states as follows:
“From tomorrow (27 March 2020) following a decision by the Master of the Rolls with the Lord Chancellors agreement the court service will suspend all ongoing housing possession action – this means that neither cases currently in the or any about to go in the system can progress to the stage where someone could be evicted. This suspension of housing possessions action will initially last for 90 days, but this can be extended if needed. This measure will protect all private and social renters, as well as those with mortgages and those with licenses covered by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. This will apply to both England and Wales”.
Though disappointing that this is not enshrined in legislation but rather a decision seemingly made by the judiciary, it is a very significant step toward achieving what the government had indicated in its 18th March 2020 press release. It would appear to relate to all possession matters both private and social, whether renters or those with mortgages; however, it is not all-encompassing. Licenses which are not covered by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 do not fall within the above, for example.
The suspension also does not address rent arrears accrued as a result of coronavirus. Given many lost their jobs prior to the announcement of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, may be unable to access the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme either by way of being over the threshold but without work or unable to claim in respect of dividends, or may otherwise fall through the net, it is likely that many tenants will fall into difficulties during this period. The guidance is clear that “tenants are still liable for their rent and should pay this as usual”.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government does suggest that support is available for those facing financial hardship and struggling to pay their rent, and it would seem that more updates will come. In addition to the usual suggestion to speak to one’s landlord, they have also indicated that they are “working with the Master of Rolls to strengthen the pre-action protocol requirement and also extend this to the private rented sector. This will help landlords and tenants to agree reasonable repayment plans where rent arrears may have arisen”.
As to other key points made in the guidance, it is noted that housing disrepair is acknowledged with a statement in bold that “Landlords remain legally obligated to ensure properties meet the required standard”. While agreements should be made between tenants and landlords for non-urgent repairs to be done later, “urgent, essential health and safety repairs should be made”. This should, presumably, fall within the essential purpose of going outside of one’s home for work where this cannot be done from home; though landlords may find it more difficult to find contractors to carry out the same during this period where businesses have decided not to continue to provide services.
The detail of the above remains to be seen and, as of yet, no announcement or new publication appears to have been posted on the judiciary.uk website. No doubt there will be something more in the coming days.