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Courts in England will remain open during the latest national lockdown, but evictions will not be enforced until 11 January 2021 ‘at the earliest’.
There will be a few exceptions, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced. These comprise ‘the most egregious cases, including where tenants have demonstrated anti-social behaviour or are the perpetrator of domestic abuse in social housing, and the landlord rightly would like to re-let their property to another tenant’.
Courts will operate under the revised rules and procedures introduced in September which include prioritisation of cases, such as those involving anti-social behaviour and other crimes.
‘We have already taken unprecedented action to support renters during the pandemic including introducing a six-month notice period and financial support to help those struggling to pay their rent’, said the minister.
‘We are now going further by protecting renters from eviction during the new national restrictions and throughout the Christmas period – with a pause on bailiff activity other than in the most serious circumstances, such as anti-social behaviour or fraud.
‘For those renters who require additional support, there is an existing £180 million of government funding for Discretionary Housing Payments for councils to distribute to support renters with housing costs.
‘Whilst national restrictions apply, the only circumstances where these protections do not apply are illegal occupation, fraud, anti-social behaviour, eviction of domestic abuse perpetrators in social housing; where a property is unoccupied following the death of a tenant. We also intend to introduce an exemption for extreme pre-Covid rent arrears’.
Two updated guidance documents have also been published; COVID-19 and renting: guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities, and Understanding the possession action process: A guide for private landlords in England and wales.
For the National Residential Landlords’ Association, chief executive Ben Beadle said the vast majority of landlords who have had tenants affected due to the pandemic have been working constructively to support them.‘However, in a minority of cases renters have abused the protections afforded by the recent ban on repossessions, causing significant hardship. It is therefore important that the Government recognises that in the most serious cases enforcement action must continue’.
Extension of the furlough scheme and support for those who are self-employed would be ‘a lifeline to many renters reliant on it’, said Beadle. ‘However this still does not address the considerable rent arrears that tenants and landlords continue to face due to the pandemic through no fault of their own.
‘Ministers need urgently to develop a bespoke financial package for renters to pay off such arears. This should include a mix of interest free government guaranteed hardship loans and increased benefit support for those who rely on it’.