Concerned, anxious, uncertain. A few words to describe an insight as to how tenants have felt in England since the start of the Coronavirus Pandemic. The Government delivers a strict message to stay at home to avoid the spread of the virus, yet provides loopholes and provisions for tenants to in fact, be evicted from their homes and be street homeless.
What’s happened since March 2020 for tenants?
In March 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the first National Lockdown and following which, a complete ‘ban’ on evictions were announced leaving tenant’s feeling somewhat at ease. They knew that whilst a global pandemic is in force, they would not be at risk of street homelessness, which of course, provided an element of security and certainty. The Government made clear that whilst individuals were losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic and rent was becoming unaffordable, no one could be ‘forced out of their home’. The Government also made clear that Landlords were no longer able to provide a three month notice but rather, increased this to be a six month notice; again, a sense of security being afforded for anxious tenants.
How was this enforced?
A Practice Direction was issued confirming that possession proceedings in England & Wales shall be suspended from 27th March 2020 for a period of 90 days. Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing announced a further two month extension on such suspension on 5th June 2020. The Government then announced that from 24th August 2020, the stay on possession proceedings shall be lifted and all proceedings shall continue. Once again, tenants were left feeling extremely concerned and anxious at the idea of losing their home during a global pandemic. At the 11th hour, on 21st August 2020, the Government confirmed a further 4 week stay until 20th September 2020. Whilst the 4 week stay was welcomed by some, many tenant’s still felt tremendously worried that the roof over their head, protecting their family during the COVID19 outbreak could now be at risk of repossession. The stay was finally lifted and possession proceedings began again from 21st September 2020.
What happened after the stay was lifted?
Despite possession proceedings recommencing, on 10th September 2020, Mr Jenrick announced that court appointed bailiffs shall not enforce evictions where local lockdown measures were in force. This meant that tenants could have a possession order against them but could still latch onto the glimmer of hope, being that an eviction could not be enforced and they would not be forced onto the streets during a national lockdown.
Such ban on evictions was due expire on 11th January 2021 however, once again, at the 11th hour, on 8th January 2021, this was extended until 21st February 2021. Such late changes in such significant decisions which impacts the lives of many, has not been welcomed by tenants, practitioners and charities assisting vulnerable tenant’s throughout the pandemic. In particular, the fact that neighbouring countries, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, took the decision on the same date (8th Jan 2021) to enforce such a ban until 31st March 2021 therefore negating the need for continuous extensions at the final hour, thus confusing tenants further as to why such measures could not have been in place in England and yet short continuous bans appeared to be somehow more appropriate.
Eviction ban – another extension to end of March 2021
Once again, an 11th hour ban has now been introduced, confirming that the eviction ban will be extended until 31st March 2021 in light of continuing lockdown restrictions. We have previously written on this topic and have expressed our views that this ‘ban’ does very little but postpone the inevitable and cause further anxiety for tenants with the last minute approach taken by the Government. We note that in Wales & Scotland, renters are able to apply for financial support such as a low interest tenancy saver loan scheme so that they do not accrue rent arrears therefore meaning that the eviction is in fact prevented, as opposed to stalling matters and postponing the inevitable and looming eviction. Such a method has meant that landlords have also been able to be paid for the rental liability, as opposed to a loss in income for them, and a loss in a roof over the tenant’s home. We, as tenant assisting practitioners, are disappointed that such measures have not been considered in England despite the dire need for such provisions.
Certainty for tenants
Whilst we acknowledge that some may be of the opinion than an extension is ‘better than nothing’, we do not deem such measures and last minute extensions to be going far enough to protect tenants throughout such exceptional circumstances. Tenants must be afforded certainty and must be able to rely on the word of their Government as opposed to 11th hour changes that interferes with their daily life. Many tenants face sleepless nights in the approach of an eviction ban ending and make preparations for an eviction to take place. No one should be forced to be street homeless during a global pandemic when the message to the Nation, is to stay at home.