Possession hearings return but renters to get more support
Landlords can now bring possession proceedings again, but the government has also announced new measures to give tenants extra protection over the winter, especially at Christmas.
The government has changed the law to increase notice periods to 6 months meaning renters now served notice can stay in their homes over winter, with time to find alternative support or accommodation.
The only exceptions to this are the most egregious cases, including where tenants have demonstrated anti-social behaviour or committed fraud, and the landlord rightly would like to re-let their property to another tenant.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has also confirmed that with coronavirus still posing a risk, if an area is in a local lockdown that includes a restriction on gathering in homes, evictions will not be enforced by bailiffs.
This support builds on the package the government has already put in place to help communities through the pandemic, including an extra £1 billion to increase Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates so that they cover the lowest 30% of market rents.
For those renters who require additional support, there is £180 million of government funding for Discretionary Housing Payments, an increase of £40 million from last year and which is for councils to distribute to support renters with housing costs.
On 21 September courts were able to start possession hearings again. However, these will be subject to new court processes and procedures which the Judiciary have developed. These include:
the prioritisation of cases, such as those involving anti-social behaviour and other crimes, as well as extreme rent arrears where landlords would otherwise face unmanageable debts
no cases from before 3 August 2020 will immediately proceed to hearing, but will have to be ‘re-activated’ by the landlord and then subject to a new review hearing, at least four weeks before the substantive hearing
landlords will also need to provide the courts and judges with information on how tenants have been affected by the pandemic. Where this information is not provided, judges will be able to adjourn proceedings until the information is provided.
There will also be a ‘winter truce’ on the enforcement of evictions, with no evictions permitted in England and Wales in the run up to and over Christmas except in the most serious circumstances, such as cases involving anti-social behaviour or domestic abuse.
This will ensure vulnerable tenants are not forced from their homes at a time when public and local authorities may be dealing with the usual level of increased demand for services during this time. To achieve this, guidance will be issued to bailiffs that they should not enforce possession orders in the weeks of Christmas.
We shall keep clients informed of developments.
Please contact Janice Young or Holly Baker if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of commercial property law.