This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
During the initial emergency period from 23 March 2020 limited home moves were permitted under section 6(2) of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020.
These regulations were amended with effect from 13 May 2020 by The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2020 so that in England it became possible to:
- visit estate or letting agents, developer sales offices or show homes;
- view residential properties to look for a property to buy or rent;
- prepare a residential property to move in;
- move home; or
- visit a residential property to undertake any activities required for the rental or sale of that property.
Lockdown 2.0 began in England on 5 November 2020 and is scheduled to end on 2 December. New Regulations allow for the activities described above to continue throughout the period.
The Government published updated advice on home moving during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak (16 November 2020), which includes the following guidance:
- Private landlords and letting agents should not conduct viewings in properties where tenants are symptomatic or self-isolating.
- In other cases (such as where tenants have been determined to be clinically extremely vulnerable) where viewings can proceed, they should be conducted in line with the guidance on viewings in this document.
- Any visits to a property must be made in accordance with government’s guidelines on working in other people’s homes and social distancing.
- If possible, necessary repairs, gas and electrical safety checks should be conducted in the period between a property being vacated and a new tenant moving in. If this is not possible and visits are needed to an occupied property, this should be done by appointment with measures put in place to ensure physical contact is minimised, for example with residents staying in another room during the visit.
- Letting agents and landlords should take steps to ensure any properties are prepared ready for new tenants, this may include cleaning to minimise any potential spread of the virus in line with government advice.
Working with removal firms
The current advice on the British Association of Removers’ (BAR) website (updated on 1 November 2020) states:
Latest guidelines from the Governments in all areas of the UK confirm that you can still move home even under ‘lockdown’ or ‘circuit breaker’ conditions. Estate and letting agents and removals companies can continue to work, and people looking to move home can continue to do so. For more information, follow the national guidance on moving home safely, which includes advice on social distancing and wearing a face covering.
In order to keep the UK residential property industry moving safely, residential property professional bodies including the BAR, have been continuously collaborating with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to update previously published guidance that reminds everyone of what they should be doing when moving home under Covid-19 conditions. It is vital to ensure that we collectively maintain joined up approach and consistency across the home moving sector, hence the industry has aligned its processes with sector guidance developed by MHCLG.
Moving in the private rented sector
The first point to consider is why the tenant is seeking to move. The tenant may think they have to move because:
- the fixed-term of their tenancy has expired, and the tenancy has not been renewed; or
- the landlord has served a notice to terminate the tenancy; or
- the landlord has a possession order giving a date on which the tenant is required to move out.
It is unlikely that the tenant will have to move out, even if the landlord or letting agency is applying pressure on them to do so. Measures have been put in place to extend the notice periods that tenants are entitled to receive. The courts began to consider repossession cases again from 20 September 2020, but certain cases are being prioritised, e.g. those involving serious anti-social behaviour, domestic violence and serious rent arrears.
After England moved into lockdown 2.0 on 5 November, Regulations came into force on 17 November 2020 to provide that bailiffs cannot enforce evictions against residential tenants in England up to 11 January 2021 except in certain specific circumstances. These circumstances include where a court order was granted on grounds of anti-social behaviour or where over 9 months’ rent was owed before 23 March 2020.
Tenants whose landlords/agents are applying pressure on them to move against their will should seek urgent legal advice. Evicting a tenant without a court order can amount to a criminal offence. Where a court order has been granted there are restrictions on enforcement by bailiffs (see above).
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
The Welsh Government published Moving home during the coronavirus pandemic (updated 6 November 2020). In Scotland the Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on moving home has applied since 2 November 2020. The Northern Ireland Advice on home moving during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was last updated in August 2020.
Can tenants move into a multi-occupied property?
This question was addressed in a parliamentary answer of 12 June 2020:
Robbie Moore: To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, whether under covid-19 lockdown measures landlords of houses in multiple occupation are able to move tenants into properties where other tenants are residing.
Christopher Pincher: On 13 May we announced that anyone in England could now move home as long as they followed the advice at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/government-advice-on-home-moving-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak.
This includes those moving into an occupied House in Multiple Occupation (HMO): during viewings, HMO tenants should stay out of indoor common areas, such as kitchens, bathrooms or sittings areas. They could remain inside their own private room with the doors closed.
Tenant safety should be landlords’ and letting agents’ first priority in this or any other move.
Guidance for social landlords’ housing allocations
The new guidance published on 16 November 2020 advises that non-essential lettings in England can take place:
Landlords will need to consider how to carry out their activities in line with the latest guidance on practical steps to reduce transmission. Practices should also be carried out in line with this wider guidance, including:
- property inspections for vacating tenants
- collecting returned keys
- conducting viewings
- conducting tenancy sign-ups
- preparing homes to be re-let
The guidance urges landlords not to put pressure on applicants/tenants to move if they are not ready or able to do so. With some exceptions, people who are self-isolating or showing symptoms of coronavirus should not be moved.
Where to get advice
Tenants who are being asked to leave their homes should seek urgent legal advice and assistance. Local authorities’ homelessness (sometimes referred to as housing advice or housing options) services should be able to provide advice and assistance to prevent homelessness.
Shelter has online advice specifically covering housing and coronavirus related issues including advice on moving home. Shelter also has an emergency helpline.
Citizens Advice has online guidance covering various housing and coronavirus issues.
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.