The UK government yesterday lifted its stay on housing possession proceedings. It introduced a moratorium on tenant evictions in March and this was extended further in June. The moratorium expired on 20 September, although a further reintroduction cannot be ruled out if lock-down measures need to be reintroduced.

These new rules sit alongside additional measures outlined by the government on 11 September, which sought to protect tenants during winter.

Law Society president Simon Davis has says:

“Possession proceedings must be made more workable in anticipation of the huge increase in cases, the established backlog and the difficult circumstances facing landlords and tenants. However, in order to protect vulnerable tenants it is vital that legal advice (and Legal aid) is available to all tenants.

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“It is unacceptable that, in the face of a pandemic and difficult economic prospects, tenants are being left without representation during possession proceedings.

“The changes to the possessions procedures are a positive step, but they cannot replace legal advice in achieving access to justice. More needs to be done by government departments to support tenants at this time, to prevent them losing their homes and to stop an increase in homelessness

“They will also have a limited impact where mandatory evictions, such as section 21s remain available to landlords.

“Allowing judicial discretion in all current possession proceedings will help to reduce homelessness and encourage better relationships between tenants and landlords. This must be considered if these changes are going to have the intended impact.”

“Tenants are still required to pay their rent and many are therefore accruing significant rent arrears, despite the looming end to the furlough scheme and employment prospects continuing to dwindle,” said Simon Davis.

No widespread or speedy evictions

However, law firm Royds Withy King says that widespread evictions are unlikely to follow the lifting of the landlord possession restrictions. There is unlikely to be an immediate spike on evictions following new eviction protocols and there is a backlog of cases, says the law firm.

Jacqui Walton, a senior paralegal in the residential property team at Royds Withy King commented:

“It is unlikely that we will see an immediate spike in evictions and certainly not tenants kicked out onto the streets any time soon. Landlords are bound by strict rules designed to slow the process down.

Landlords that started eviction proceedings before the 3 August must now serve what is called a ‘reactivation notice’. If they do not, any claim will not be relisted by the courts or heard by a judge.

“And even when a reactivation notice is served, in fault-based evictions the courts will allow more time between the claim and hearing, typically eight weeks, and given the backlog of cases that is likely to be significantly longer.

“Eviction claims that started on or after the 3 August now require landlords to enter into what is called a ‘pre-action protocol’, with landlords needing to attempt to agree a resolution with their tenants before issuing a possession claim. Landlords will also need to provide the courts with information on what impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on a tenant, which may have an impact on how much time a tenant is given by the court to vacate a property.

“The guidance on what this means for landlords, what information is needed and what happens if it is not provided is unclear and could leave eviction claims stuck in the courts for many months to come, leaving landlords in limbo. Whilst this may give respite to tenants, there does not appear to be any recognition from government that landlords too may be struggling with the loss of income during the coronavirus pandemic.

Notes & Links:

In July 2019, the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government launched a consultation: A New Deal for Renting, which sought views on how section 21 has been used in the past and how landlords should be able to regain possession once it has been abolished. The Law Society’s housing law committee backed government moves to abolish ‘no-fault’ evictions in January 2020.

In October 2019, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) consulted on proposals to change the HPCDS, with its stated aim to ensure the scheme is sustainable in the long-term and can maintain this vital service for those who need it.

In January 2020, the Law Society responded to the consultation, welcoming many of the proposals. There has been no response from the MoJ to that consultation or implementation of proposals.

In April 2019, the government announced it will end ‘no-fault’ evictions by repealing section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.

Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 allows landlords to end Assured Shorthold Tenancies (AST) without having to give a reason, provided the correct procedure is followed and proper notice is given.

In July 2019, the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government launched a consultation: A New Deal for Renting, which sought views on how section 21 has been used in the past and how landlords should be able to regain possession once it has been abolished.

The Law Society’s housing law committee backed government moves to abolish ‘no-fault’ evictions in January 2020. 

Read press release

Read government’s winter support press release

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