This briefing paper explains measures the Government put in place during the coronavirus outbreak to assist households to retain their homes and enable local authorities to tackle the specific challenges faced by rough sleepers. The paper covers subsequent measures taken in light of the courts starting to consider possession claims again from 23 August and to prevent rough sleepers from returning to the streets. The paper is being updated regularly to take account of new developments.
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The coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak has had significant implications for households’ ability to retain their homes and, for those that are street homeless, to be able to secure a safe place in which to follow Public Health England’s advice on self-isolation, social distancing and hygiene.
In response, the UK Government introduced a series of housing support measures, some of which were extended and some which will end in the near future:
- Provisions were included in the Coronavirus Act 2020 to extend the notice periods that certain tenants in England and Wales are entitled to receive when a landlord is seeking to recover possession of their homes. The minimum notice period for tenancies within scope is now three months – this applies to notices served in England from commencement (26 March) up to 30 September 2020, and in Wales up to 23 July 2020. Notices served before commencement remain valid. On 23 July 2020 the Welsh Government laid Regulations to temporarily increase notice periods from three to six months in respect of certain tenancies. The six month notice period applies to notices served on or after 24 July up to 30 September 2020, but this period may be extended.
- The Master of the Rolls issued a Practice Direction to suspend all ongoing housing possession action in England and Wales from 27 March 2020 for a period of 90 days. On 5 June 2020 the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, announced an extension of the moratorium on possession actions for a further two months. The Government has confirmed that the courts will start to process repossession cases again from 23 August 2020.
- A new Practice Direction (PD 55C) will come into effect on 23 August 2020 after the stay on possessions is lifted. This PD places new requirements on claimants seeking a repossession order – these requirements will remain in place until 28 March 2021 (subject to reviews).
- Work is underway to provide that when the moratorium on evictions is lifted, private landlords in England and Wales will be required to adhere to a revised version of The Pre-Action Protocol for Possession Claims by Social Landlords.
- The Chancellor announced an increase in Housing Benefit and Universal Credit “so that the local housing allowance will cover at least 30% of market rents” within a Broad Rental Market Area.
- The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued guidance to lenders advising them to operate payment holidays for owner occupiers and buy-to-let landlords of up to 3 months. On the 22 May, the FCA proposed that firms should, as appropriate, extend mortgages holidays for a further three months. This advice was confirmed on 2 June 2020. Lenders have been advised to exercise forbearance during the crisis.
- The Government announced £3.2 million in emergency funding for local authorities in England to support rough sleepers and other vulnerable homeless people into appropriate accommodation during the Covid-19 pandemic. By May nearly 15,000 vulnerable people who were sleeping rough, or at risk of sleeping rough, had been provided emergency accommodation.
- The Government has set up a rough sleeping taskforce, headed by Dame Louise Casey, to develop plans to ensure that as few people as possible return to life on the streets. To enable this the Next Steps Accommodation Programme is providing two distinct funding streams for local authorities and their partners in 2020/21:
- £105 million for shorter-term/interim accommodation and immediate support; and
- £161 million to deliver 3,300 units of longer-term, move-on accommodation and support.
Having welcomed the Government’s commitment to introduce a “complete ban on evictions”, following publication of amendments to the Coronavirus Bill several commentators said the changes fell short of the initial commitment. However, the suspension of ongoing housing possession action from 27 March was acknowledged as a significant step in providing security of tenure for most tenants in England and Wales during the Covid-19 outbreak. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government issued guidance for landlords and tenants (updated July 2020), and the Welsh Government published a series of guidance notes under the heading Renting a home: coronavirus.
The Scottish Government legislated to strengthen tenants’ security of tenure and a Bill introduced in the NI Assembly to apply a 12 week notice to quit period to all tenancies obtained Royal Assent on 4 May 2020.
As the date on which the suspension of eviction action in England and Wales was due to end (25 June 2020) moved closer, questions were asked about the implications for landlords and tenants of the removal of protections. The immediate pressure was resolved by the extension of the moratorium on repossession actions until 23 August. The extension was welcomed, but confirmation that possession action will start again from 24 August has led commentators to call for more action to prevent a spike in evictions.
The Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee published the interim report of its inquiry to assess the impact of the coronavirus crisis on homelessness, rough sleeping and the private rented sector on 22 May 2020. The report urged the Government to implement six key measures to protect rough sleepers and renters:
- Provide local authorities with an annual £100 million dedicated funding stream to end rough sleeping in England once and for all.
- Compensate local authorities for provision offered to rough sleepers with no recourse to public funds as a result of the current crisis.
- Boost the immediate availability of appropriate supported housing, by providing targeted grant funding for local authorities and housing associations to acquire properties and removing restrictions on Right to Buy receipts.
- Amend existing housing legislation to give judges more discretion in eviction cases concerning rent arrears accrued as a result of the pandemic.
- Accelerate plans to introduce a Renters’ Reform Bill to abolish section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions.
- Maintain the Local Housing Allowance Rate (LHA) rate at the 30th percentile long-term and consider what the impact on renters and the wider rental market would be of raising LHA rates further.
The Government’s response to the Committee was published on 25 June 2020.
This paper will be updated to take account of additional announcements and developments.