A further extension to the current ban on bailiff-enforced evictions in England has been announced very recently by the Government and this time, it is until 31st of May 2021. We have covered the previous extensions here and this latest is one in a string of short-term bans which have been announced on various occasions over the last year.
However, it is indicated that the latest extension is likely to be the last with a new approach coming into play from June as England prepares to move out of lockdown and COVID-19 restrictions.
What this extension means
This further extension means that private landlords are required to continue to provide tenants with six months’ notice before seeking possession of properties. It also means that landlords will continue to be prevented from seeking eviction of their tenants except in limited circumstances (see more regarding this). As such, tenants have respite for another two months or so but it begs the question of what comes after?
What is expected after May 2021?
Despite a further extension being announced, there has been no guidance as to what will happen when this finally runs out in May. The Government have simply stated that they will “consider the best approach to move away from emergency protections from the beginning of June, taking into account public health advice and the wider roadmap”.
The harsh reality…
Research by the charity, Shelter, has revealed that it has been inundated with calls from people struggling to pay their bills and that almost half a million private renters in England have fallen behind with their rent or have been served with an eviction notice. Chief executive, Polly Neate, said renters face an uncertain future stating that “The pandemic has repeatedly exposed just how broken private renting is, leaving many people hanging onto their homes by a thread.” She further called upon ministers to take due consideration and create a system “fit for purpose”.
Chief Executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, Ben Beadle was also swift to respond to the extension news stating that “the further extension to the repossessions ban will do nothing to help those landlords and tenants financially hit due to the pandemic. Given the cross-sector consensus for the need to address the rent debt crisis, it suggests the Government are unwilling to listen to the voices of those most affected.”
Proposals to deal with evictions
We have expressed our opinion on a number of occasions that it is not enough to simply keep delaying the inevitable and that a proper financial package needs to be put in place to help tenants address the ongoing issues with paying their rent and with the arrears which have built up over the last 12 months. This is the only way to properly remove the ongoing threat of eviction. Despite the fact that some form of package is supported by tenants and landlords alike, the Government have still not made any such announcements. It is hoped that this will change before the end of May. We consider that if the matter of substantial arrears is not addressed, private landlords will simply be able to obtain possession orders under s.21 after the ban expires and that even sympathetic landlords will feel they have no choice but to do so where the payment of rent is also their source of income.
As well as financial support as set out above, we believe that now would be the time to abolish s.21 as soon as possible, a change already well overdue after having been promised by the Conservative Party in their 2019 manifesto. Without this, landlords (both fair and unscrupulous) will continue to be able to evict tenants regardless of the reasons for the arrears. Therefore, even where these are solely related to the COVID-19 crisis and despite the new requirements for landlord to bring issues to the Court’s attention where seeking eviction, there will be no real protection against eviction for those in private rented accommodation.
What can we expect once the ban is lifted?
Should there be a surge of evictions once the ban is lifted, as seems probable if the above measures are not put in place, this is likely to lead to a significant a rise in homeless applications being made to local authorities. This will place additional pressure on already cash strapped local authorities to provide accommodation at a time when private rents are increasing and there is already a chronic shortage of social and other genuinely affordable housing. This domino effect is almost surely due to cause an avalanche in homelessness unless there is a renewed focus on investing in homelessness prevention services as raised by the Local Government Association.
Final call to the Government…
If nothing else, surely the effect on the rental market over the last year and the warnings from so many quarters, should prompt the Government to take a renewed approach to housing overall. The presence of no fault evictions, the lack of rent controls, the limited supply of affordable housing, the under-funding of Local Government and the ongoing failure to build social housing have all combined to create a housing crisis which the pandemic has brought to the fore. All of these issues need urgent reversal if the Government is to provide a real solution.
It is fundamental that the Government takes active steps over the next two months to ensure that when the ban is lifted, we do not simply end up with a deluge of evictions of private tenants who continue to be unable to pay their rent or resolve or manage their arrears.
This is socially and morally essential but also a wise move financially. If steps are not taken to intervene to prevent homelessness rather than having to pay to deal with the fallout of this, the cost will only be greater in the long run as urgent housing has to be sourced for vulnerable people.
Whether this extension will actually be the very last is yet to be seen however, it will be particularly interesting to see how quickly the Government work to introduce the Renters Reform Bill to fulfil their promise to abolish s.21 no fault evictions, which would most definitely be necessary, at the very least, to ensure stronger protection of tenants.
Surely it is now time for the Government to take due consideration and act promptly.