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Tenants face uncertainty once again as possession claims restart this Monday

Sunday marks the end of the evictions ban, with proceedings starting this Monday (21 September), following a month-long extension announced two days before the previous deadline of 23 August

As the critical deadline looms for tenants, leading social justice law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, is continuing to offer 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 took a hit, and then extended for a further 2 months in June. The stay had been due to end on 23 August but was extended at the eleventh-hour after public pressure. However, despite the introduction of renewed lockdowns and stricter rules on gatherings, tenants will now be facing eviction amid a potential second wave of coronavirus as the country heads into autumn and winter.

During the latter part of the stay some measures have been put in place to limit the anticipated flood of possession claims and evictions, including extension of notice periods, the requirement for reactivation notices and other measures to try and encourage negotiation and settlement of potential claims.

Hodge Jones and Allen remain concerned that many people remain at risk of eviction due to issues related to Coronavirus despite these additional measures and that further steps are needed to protect tenants. Furthermore, although the deluge of cases may not be as bad as feared it looks as though this has simply been postponed to next year.

Sophie Bell, partner and housing specialist at Hodge Jones & Allen, explained what the end of the stay mean in practice: “Landlords are free to start reactivation and starting claims for possession of peoples’ homes, which is very concerning given that many such claims will be based on rent arrears – which in many cases will have arisen due to the pandemic. This means that we will start to see people being evicted from their homes despite their unavoidable circumstances.

“Whilst Judges will be able to take some individual circumstances into consideration, 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 could lead to rising homelessness, even though large areas of the country are seeing further outbreaks of the COVID-19 virus.”

Parliament’s Housing, Communities, and Local Government Committee previously wanted that the change may set in motion 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. The new measures require landlords to refer to any Coronavirus related issues in their reactivation notices but it is difficult to see what difference that will make where a mandatory ground is being used.

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, which can be read here.

Sophie continued: “The previous last-minute extension of just four weeks, with little communication as to whether this would or wouldn’t be extended once again, was simply not enough. I am pleased some measures have been put in place to try and control the situation but these simply do not go far enough. Cases of Coronavirus are raising across the country, and as data from the Office for National Statistics has shown, redundancies are being made at the fastest pace since 2009. There is too much uncertainty of what the next months could bring, and bringing back the threat of eviction to people that have suffered the most, through getting ill and unable to work, or losing their jobs just piles on the pressure.

“In addition to this, it is also concerning that people who live in ‘legal aid deserts’ might not be able to get the help they need. Access to legal services in these areas was already an issue, and with the current economic crisis, this is getting worse by the day as small local firms fold.

“This is an extremely worrying time for lots of people up and down the country, but there are steps people can take. It is imperative that tenants have open conversations with both their landlords and solicitors before formal proceedings begin, as this gives a better chance of a successful resolution. Many landlords do want to help, so frank dialogue is important.

“However, the Government still needs to provide a solution for tenants facing eviction, particularly if they cannot access legal representation. We are looking at a policy failing, which could significantly escalate the existing homeless crisis which in turn will put even more pressure on the already scarce housing available in the UK. Adoption of the Parliamentary Committee’s recommendations to take steps to prevent mandatory evictions is needed, but serious thought must also be given to the under-provision of legal advice and lack of social housing more generally.”

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