So, we ended 2021 after twenty-one months since the first Covid lockdown with the new variant, Omicron, spreading fast, and with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland putting in stricter measures and speculation that England may follow with an announcement early in the New Year.
The eviction suspension was put in place from April to October 2020 following the introduction of the Coronavirus Act 2020, as the Government understandably did not want evictions happening during a national pandemic, especially with no vaccine rolled out.
The emergency measures, which included extended notice periods and the stay on evictions, lasted until 31 May 2021, with evictions only permitted to proceed upon the leave of the court, where exemptions were made on priority cases.
Notices finally returned to pre-pandemic timescales – two months for Section 21 and two weeks for Section 8 – from 1 October 2021.
Figures from the HM Courts and Tribunals Service for England and Wales showed that in 2020 there were only 9,000 Accelerated (Section 21) claims issued, 12,000 Private Landlord Claims issued and 18,000 Social Possession claims issued – 39,000 claims issued in total. Compare this to a total of 110,000 claims issued in the previous year of 2019.
The most landlord and tenant possession claims ever issued was 194,000 in 2002.
We saw lots of changes to court procedures which were put in place during the pandemic – such as Reactivation Notices having to be filed at court, to re-instate claims to carry on in the court system, along with Review Hearings, which meant that before the main substantive hearings were heard, parties had to receive a telephone call from the Judge to hear the status of the case and whether it was deemed a priority.
Many a time at Landlord Action we failed to receive a call from the court on the Review Hearing and it was reported that 75% of the time Review Hearings were not heard. Review hearings have now been scrapped.
We also saw a big increase in improved communication between landlords and tenants, with landlords trying to avoid the court at all costs, mediation coming into effect and payment plans being negotiated. Cleary in the future mediation will form part of the possession procedure.
The assistance provided by the Government’s support through the furlough scheme and the temporary increase to Universal Credit assisted tenants and had a positive impact, but we did see a massive increase in rent arrears, with over one year’s arrears being the norm in many cases.
As a sector, the property market was one of the first to open in May 2020, and with the stamp duty concession that followed, we saw a frenzy as the sales market heated up.
With that, at Landlord Action we did see a huge increase in instructions, where landlords wanted to serve notice on their tenants, so they could sell their property and cash in on a high price, but also for other reasons such as increased legislation and rising taxes.
A lot of these landlords, we noticed, were the smaller ones in the one to four property bracket. I do speak to landlords daily and there are many that want to grow their portfolios in 2022.
We await more details on what the future holds in the White Paper relating to the Renters Reform Bill, the main topic being the abolishment of Section 21- the non-fault notice.
We know there needs to be a lot of work on the Section 8 grounds of reform from the current 17 grounds, along with bailiff reform and mediation. But there was good news with the announcement by Dominic Raab, Lord Chancellor, that over £300 million is to be invested in the court system.
Talking about Section 21 claims, under the Accelerated Possession Procedure the most ever issued in a year was 38,000, in 2015. Since the introduction of the Deregulation Act, there has been a decrease in numbers, as now there are many more compliance issues a landlord must abide by to gain a possession order from the court.
I spoke to a judge who regularly deals with Accelerated Possessions, and she said on average it takes her fifteen minutes to deal with one case.
So far in 2021 possession claims stand at 23,000, not including the Q4 December figures which are yet to be added.
But I think the reality is that in 2022, the 2020/21 possession figures will at least double, with social housing providers starting to issue claims again, after two years, holding off evicting tenants.
Some 70% of possession claims issued come from the social housing sector. Social rents will increase next year. Tenants’ household bills will increase, especially energy costs, along with increased taxes and an increase in inflation. Private rents meanwhile are also still increasing.
The reality is possession claims and evictions will increase sufficiently.