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Housing possession update – 4 November 2020

As the sun went down on Halloween, we awaited what seemed like the inevitable news, that England would go into a second lockdown. The Prime Minister announced that from Thursday, 5 November 2020, the whole of England would go into a second lockdown for four weeks until 2 December 2020.

On 1 November 2020, Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing provided an update as to the state of the housing market in light of the imminent second lockdown. He stated the following:

  • i) Renters and homeowners will still be able to move;
  • ii) Removal firms and estate agents can continue to operate;
  • ii) Construction sites can and should continue; and
  • iv) Tradespeople will be able to enter homes

while confirming that all must follow the Covid-19 safety guidance. The above covers the housing market and while there has been no update from the government on possession matters, on 1 November 2020 the Lord Chief Justice and Senior President of Tribunals stated that courts would remain open during the second lockdown in England.

With regard to possession claims, following the lifting of the government’s suspension on 21 September 2020, these are currently able to proceed through the courts. This was discussed in more detail at the annual HMCTS public user event on 3 November 2020, where it was confirmed that possession claims would proceed. It would therefore be for Judges to give directions to take into account the second lockdown, rather than a suspension of claims.

In relation to evictions, the previous government guidance stated that evictions should not be enforced where local lockdown restrictions were in place. Further to this, Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland wrote to the High Court Enforcement Officers Association (HCEOA) to clarify this now applied to all areas of England, except those under the lowest Tier 1 level of restrictions. Mr Buckland requested “that your members should instruct the enforcement agents working under their authorisation not to enter residential properties in areas that are classified as Local Alert Level 2 (high) or 3 (very high), for the purposes of enforcement, including taking control of goods and carrying out evictions.” It is understood that the same guidance was given to County Court bailiffs.

In addition to the above, the government has requested that bailiffs do not enforce eviction warrants for a one-month period of Christmas, known as a “Christmas Truce”. The one month period covers 11 December 2020 to 11 January 2021. It is understood that this has been agreed by both the High Court Enforcement Association and Civil Enforcement Association. Although, it is worth noting that at this stage this has not been made law as the summer ban on eviction was. This may follow once we enter the second lockdown later this week. It is also important to note that this does not stop landlords from obtaining a warrant, to be enforced when the Christmas Truce ends.

While Mr Jenrick confirmed an extension of mortgage holiday payments for the second lockdown period, it appears a second suspension on possession claims is highly unlikely with the courts remaining open. In an effort to assist tenants during the second lockdown, the government have announced that they have raised local housing allowance rates and introduced discretionary payments for renters in financial difficulty.

However, as we approach the second lockdown and the winter months, arguably the government should implement a second suspension to protect tenants, especially as unemployment is likely to rise in the coming weeks. The danger of proceeding without a second suspension is that more tenants will become homeless at a time when they are most vulnerable. This could be as a result of the impact on their employment and the economy as whole, or on their mental and physical health during the pandemic, or a combination of both.

If you believe you are being evicted due to Covid-19 pandemic, contact our Social Housing experts on homelessness and evictions for legal advice. Call free on 0808 271 9413 or request a call back online.