As a critical August deadline looms for tenants, Hodge Jones & Allen, a leading social justice law firm offers guidance to renters who may be unaware that the stay on possession is due to come to an end, or what to do when it does.
The halt on court proceedings was introduced by the Government on the 26 March, at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic, to stop people facing homelessness as the country entered lockdown and incomes suffered. It comes to an end on 23 August, and there are no current plans to extend, despite the threat of a potential second wave of COVID-19.
Sophie Bell, partner and housing specialist at Hodge Jones & Allen, said “This now means that landlords are free to start bringing claims for possession of peoples’ homes, which is a particular concern given that many such claims will be based on rent arrears which have arisen due to the pandemic.”
“Whilst Judges will be able to take such issues into consideration in some cases, in others landlords can rely on mandatory claims (for example in the case of private tenants or social tenants in more than eight weeks of rent arrears), meaning a possession order will be made automatically, regardless of any hardships the tenant may be facing. This may well lead to rising homelessness, despite the fact that various areas are seeing further outbreaks of the COVID-19 virus.”
Parliament’s Housing, Communities, and Local Government Committee has warned the change may spark a “cliff edge of evictions”. They have recommended to the Government that landlords are prevented from relying on mandatory grounds in COVID-19 cases, but as yet no such changes have been agreed.
This coincides with the continued gap in legal aid funding, with ‘legal aid deserts’, areas that lack legal aid solicitors, continuing to form across the country.
The housing team at Hodge Jones & Allen, who regularly advise tenants being failed by Government policy, have compiled the following advice for those who may be feeling uncertain about their future:
- Communication is key. It is important to open conversations before possession claims start to see if a mutual solution can be agreed. If you have a social landlord, ask them for help with any benefits issues.
- Submit in writing a plan to begin to pay your debt. It is worth noting that all correspondence should be via formal emails to leave no room for arguments around the facts.
- Start with your repayment plan as soon as possible ahead of proceedings, even if you haven’t heard back from your landlord. This way, in court, you or your representative can point to the fact that you have made efforts at resolving the issue, even in situations where the landlord has been unresponsive to your proposed plan. This will help your claim.
- Seek legal advice as soon as you can. With court proceedings taking place over the phone, it is not yet clear what will happen with the duty solicitor scheme of representation, but legal aid is still available for those eligible. To avoid being left out contact a reputable firm and explain your situation. They will do their best to help.
Sophie continued: “It is important that tenants open conversations with both landlords and solicitors, before formal proceedings begin, as this gives a better chance of a successful resolution of a claim.
“While the change is concerning for all who may be facing eviction, we are particularly concerned about the fate of private renters and those living in ‘legal aid deserts’, which, in the current economic crisis, are getting worse by the day as small local firms have folded.
“The Government needs to put serious thought into what will happen to tenants facing eviction, particularly if they cannot access legal representation. What we are looking at is a real policy failing, which could significantly escalate the existing homeless crisis. Adoption of the Parliamentary Committee’s recommendations to take steps to prevent mandatory evictions would be a good start, but serious thought also needs to be given to the under provision of legal advice and lack of social housing more generally.”
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