Another day, another 11th hour decision
On 20 November 2020, Hodge Jones & Allen posted a blog explaining that there would be a temporary ban on most evictions until 11 January 2021, as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The weeks after that have seen an extremely worrying rise in infection and death rates, the NHS becoming overwhelmed and an ever changing and increasingly confusing tier system, culminating in an inevitable national lockdown, announced by the PM on the evening of 4 January 2021.
Despite the clear severity of the situation and despite numerous calls from charities and campaigners to extend the ban on evictions, the decision to do so was only announced on 8 January 2021, three days before the planned end. And even then, the ban has only been extended until 22 February 2021.
Whilst we at Hodge Jones & Allen welcome this extension, we remain very concerned that this alone is insufficient to address the very real problem of hundreds of thousands of families facing increasing rent arrears, ongoing possession claims and eventually eviction.
Crucially, it is noted that the circumstances in which evictions can still go ahead have been widened. Previously a landlord could still seek an eviction for “substantial rent arrears” but this was defined as “arrears of at least 9 months excluding any arrears since 23 March 2020”. This protected against people being evicted for arrears that accrued since the pandemic began. This protection has, somewhat shockingly, been quietly removed. The exclusion of substantial arrears now means arrears of only 6 months rather than 9 and will include arrears since 23 March 2020. This effectively means that someone who has been unable to pay their rent since the pandemic began for reasons beyond their control and related to Covid-19, can now be evicted.
It is also this writer’s view that the ban may well have to be extended again beyond February 2021. This piecemeal approach to matters of vital importance to individuals is a very worrying trend given the well documented mental health crisis precipitated by the pandemic and all the associated issues it raises. The threatened loss of one’s home is an extremely worrying and stressful thing and the ongoing lack of certainty over this issue will be adding significantly to people’s anxieties. To keep them hanging on until the last minute on so many occasions borders on cruel.
Nor is it enough simply to place this ban on evictions. It is simply a postponement of the inevitable. Although various measures have been put in place to require landlords to explain to the Court what the impact of Covid-19 has been on their tenants in order that they can take this into account when deciding whether to make a possession order, this is not enough in itself to prevent many evictions, even where the rent arrears are solely due to the pandemic. What about for example where the landlord has used the “no fault” eviction procedure? No amount of information about the impact will change the fact that possession will be awarded if the landlord chooses to pursue this.
As has been said many time throughout the last months, what is needed is a proper package of support to help renters suffering a loss of income as a result of the pandemic. Support to pay rent over and above minimal and ultimately ineffectual increases in benefit support is desperately needed. As is a proper financial package to help pay their arrears. On this, many landlords themselves are in agreement as they naturally would much prefer simply to have the rent paid then have to evict families with very little hope of the debt being cleared.
Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, recently tweeted:
“Eviction ban or not, it doesn’t deal with the fundamental problem of rent debt.
“Many renters and landlords are struggling through no fault of their own. Time for a proper plan to help renters and landlords sustain homes with loans or grants and tweak to Universal Credit and Local Housing Allowance.”
We entirely agree. We also consider that the promised ban on “no fault” evictions needs to be brought forward urgently.
Whilst the extension on the eviction ban may go some way to protecting the vulnerable from eviction during the worst of the pandemic and the winter months, it again does nothing to put in place any kind of longer term plan to help those at risk of eviction through no fault of their own. Without this, the anticipated surge of evictions resulting in a massive increase in homelessness and already strained council services becoming overwhelmed, remains a very real and concerning possibility. This is not to mention the together huge personal hardship that will be suffered by so many.
The importance of this issue cannot be over-emphasised and even an 11th hour change on this stance would be welcomed.