Local authorities have been routinely advising tenants to “stay-put” in their rental properties where they had been served a section 21 notice informing them that the landlord was seeking possession, more often than not because of rent arrears.

The process usually involves the landlord in going through with the possession claim and a bailiff eviction, often costing the landlord thousands in fees and lost rent, before the council will take responsibility for re-housing the tenant.

In addition, by advising the tenant to ignore the notice, the council is putting the tenant in the way of being responsible for paying the landlord’s court fees for the s21 eviction claim. Albeit many tenants in this position don’t have the resources to pay, a County Court Judgement will often prevent them getting another private let.

Earlier this year the then housing minister, Brandon Lewis, wrote to all chief executives of councils stating that this action was against government guidelines and that landlords and tenants should not be put in this position. In his letter he stated:

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“Authorities should not routinely be advising tenants to stay until the bailiffs arrive; there is no barrier to them assisting the tenant before this. By doing this, local authorities miss a valuable opportunity to prevent homelessness.”

It has also been reported that 47% of tenants who have been served a section 21 eviction notice by their landlord say they have been told to ignore it on advice given by agencies including Shelter and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB).

A private member’s bill entitled The Homelessness Reduction Bill, was tabled by Bob Blackman MP, which if carried through should end this anomaly for landlords and tenants. The bill is due for its second reading 28th October 2016.

Private tenants would no longer have to wait for forcible eviction by bailiffs before being accepted as homeless by local councils if the bill goes through. A properly presented section 21 would suffice.

Bob Blackman MP, who is a member of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, has been vociferous in his comments on the way local authorities treat some tenants faced with homelessness. He has said that in some cases they are offered no more support than a list of local letting agents.

The bill is looking at amending the Housing Act 1996 to allow local authorities to get involved earlier in the process in order to prevent homelessness providing the tenant is genuinely threatened with homelessness.

David Carter, CEO of The Sheriffs Office, High Court eviction specialists, says:

“Whilst this bill will go some way to helping with certain issues, focus should not be taken away from the delays in County Court Bailiffs granting possession of the property back to the rightful owner.

“Despite the fact that a clear and concise process for the use of HCEOs in the eviction of tenants now exists, we are still seeing a reluctance by some County Courts to grant Section 42 leave*.

“We hope that with the impending reforms to the judicial systems that there will come a time when leave is not required and a landlord can choose between the County Court Bailiff and High Court Enforcement Officer.”

*Using Section 42 of the County Court Act 1984 to repossess residential property is a method which can be used to speed the eviction process by permitting the transfer to a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO), ultimately at the discretion of the Judge.

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