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.
The UK Government published updated advice on home moving during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak (12 April 2021) to reflect step two of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, which includes the following guidance:
- 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.
- 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.
- Moves into a house in multiple occupation (HMO) are allowed. However, there may be additional risks involved in moving into an HMO at this time which is why it is important that all involved take reasonable precautions. During viewings, tenants that share an HMO are advised to stay out of indoor common areas, such as kitchens, bathrooms or sittings areas, during a viewing. If it is not a tenant’s own private room that is being viewed they can also remain inside their room with the doors closed.
- Tenants, landlords and letting agents and landlords should be aware of and follow the government guidance on coronavirus and rentingwhich contains further advice that may also be applicable such as on possession proceedings, repairs, maintenance and health and safety.
Working with removal firms
The current advice on the British Association of Removers’ (BAR) website (updated 18 March 2021) states individuals should adhere to guidance in place across the respective parts of the UK (see below on this page) and take steps to minimise the risk of spreading Covid-19. It continues:
Throughout the pandemic, the BAR has worked tirelessly with the authorities across all regions of the UK to keep the UK residential property industry moving safely. The professional Organisations and Associations across the home moving market, including the BAR, have been continuously collaborating with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the Home Moves in Scotland Working Group, [t]he Home Moves in Wales Stakeholder Group and the Devolved authorities in Northern Ireland, to design and implement a joined up approach to safe working practices across the home moving sector under COVID-19 conditions. We are in constant communication with all of the regional Administrations to seek further clarity on this developing situation and we will update Members as and when more information becomes available.
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 (with some exceptions, for example in cases involving anti-social behaviour and domestic abuse). The courts began to consider repossession cases again from 21 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 could not enforce evictions against residential tenants in England up to 11 January 2021 except in certain specific circumstances. These provisions have been extended several times and will remain in place until 31 May 2021. The circumstances where bailiffs can enforce evictions include where a court order was granted on grounds of anti-social behaviour or where at least 6 months’ rent is outstanding. Similar measures are in place to extend restrictions on enforcing eviction orders in Wales to 30 June 2021 and in Scotland to 30 September 2021. In Northern Ireland, to 30 September 2021, landlords must generally give 12 weeks’ notice to tenants to leave a property.
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 11 January 2021). The Scottish Government has published Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on moving home (updated 2 April 2021). The Northern Ireland Advice on home moving during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was last updated on 3 February 2021.
Guidance for social landlords’ housing allocations
The updated guidance published on 12 April 2021 advises that 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 (e.g. safety), people who are self-isolating or showing symptoms of coronavirus should not be moved.
Where to get advice
Tenants who are asked to leave their homes should seek 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. 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.