COVID-19 GUIDANCE

Earlier this summer, we reported on the government’s initial two-month extension on the ban of all eviction proceedings in England and Wales until August 23.

This was aimed at giving struggling tenants, who may be facing financial difficulties in the light of the coronavirus pandemic, additional breathing space, and meant no one would be in imminent danger of losing their home. The move extended the ban on evictions from June 25 to August 23, following the original announcement made back in March.

So courts had been set to hear cases again this week, at the end of the five-month pause. However, on Friday, the evictions ban was further lengthened until September 20, taking the total duration of the pause to six months.

The announcement followed fears that thousands of tenants could be made homeless if evictions were to resume.

More notice of eviction

At the same time, from now until late March, tenants will also be entitled to six months’ warning if their landlord does plan to evict them, except in cases of extreme anti-social behaviour or domestic violence. (Previously, notice of evictions has tended to be a couple of months.) This was aimed at avoiding a raft of wintertime evictions.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has insisted that, as the effects of coronavirus continue to be felt across the UK, he was ‘supporting renters over the winter’ with this announcement. He added that, once the ban on evictions was ended, cases involving rent which had not been paid for more than a year would be among those to be heard first. (Courts are now due to resume on September 20.)

The latest extension gives courts more time to prepare for when the ban is eventually lifted.

Already, in mid-July, Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland had announced sites for 10 ‘Nightingale’ courts across England and Wales, set up at speed to tackle the effects of the virus on the UK’s justice system, including dealing with a backlog of evictions proceedings.

On July 22, Chris Pincher MP, a housing minister, described an end to the moratorium on possession proceedings as ‘an important step towards normal life being resumed’, and giving both landlords and tenants access to justice.

Reaction to the extension

Meanwhile some politicians have expressed concern over what they called a programme of ‘rolling’ extensions. Equally, the terms under which the ban will finally be removed remain unclear.

But the move has been welcomed by housing charity Shelter, who said  it was ‘right’ for the government not to remove the ban and expose renters to the risk of homelessness during a pandemic. It called on the government to put more safeguards in place for renters.

Inevitably, on the other side of the coin, organisations such as the National Residential Landlords Association have concerns of their own, stressing that landlords have now been left powerless to deal with issues such as anti-social behaviour or non-payment of rent.

Chief executive of the association Ben Beadle told journalists: “There must now be a plan to support households to pay their bills and compensate landlords for lost income.”

Some larger private landlords have confirmed that, in any event, they had no plans for mass evictions. Meanwhile, some are suggesting a fund should be set up to help those who have fallen into rent arrears.

Finally, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has claimed that the announcement simply ‘gave tenants a few more weeks to pack their bags’.

Our view at Oakfield

Neil Newstead, our chief executive, says:

At Oakfield Estate Agents, we broadly welcome this move, which makes it harder for tenants to lose their homes, something no one wants to see, especially at a time like this.

We work closely with both landlords and tenants, so that tenants have security while at the same time landlords’ interests are protected. And we’d urge anyone experiencing financial difficulties to communicate with us promptly above all, so that we’re aware of any potential problems and can discuss the issues involved and come up with a solution together.

Meanwhile, for landlords, our teams in Bexhill, Eastbourne and Hastings are committed to ensuring the experience with us is a positive one. What’s more, our accounts team works closely with our landlords and tenants to make sure renters pay on time. Equally, now we’ve been able to resume our usual programme of inspections, we make sure tenants are keeping the property to the expected standard. Equally, the fees we charge landlords are thoroughly transparent from the outset.“

Finally, as we’ve already seen this year, in lockdown and as it eases, the rental sector is currently extremely busy as people look at renting as a valuable housing solution during these unprecedented times.

If you have a property to let out in one of our areas, or are looking to move here or change where you’re currently renting, make us at Oakfield your first port of call. Get the ball rolling by dropping us an email today.