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.

Regulations allowed the above activities to continue during the 5 November-2 December 2020 lockdown and during restrictions in force from 6 January 2021.

The UK Government published updated advice on home moving during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak (7 January 2021), 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.
  • 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 5 January 2021) states individuals should adhere to guidance in place across the respective parts of the UK (see below on this page), including on social distancing and face coverings. 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. 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 could not enforce evictions against residential tenants in England up to 11 January 2021 except in certain specific circumstances. These provisions have been extended to 21 February 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 31 March 2021 and are due to be extended in Scotland to 31 March 2021. In Northern Ireland, to 31 March 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 8 January 2021). The Northern Ireland Advice on home moving during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was last updated on 10 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.

 The Regulations which came into force on 6 January 2021 have not changed this position.

Guidance for social landlords’ housing allocations

The new guidance published on 7 January 2021 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 (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.

Disclaimer

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.