This briefing paper explains measures the Government has put in place during the coronavirus outbreak to assist households to retain their homes and to enable local authorities to tackle the specific challenges faced by rough sleepers. 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 have been extended:
- 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 and Wales from commencement (26 March) up to 30 September 2020. Notices served before commencement remain valid.
- 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. Eviction hearings will not be heard in the courts until 23 August at the earliest.
- 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 specialist taskforce, headed by Dame Louise Casey, to develop plans to ensure as few people as possible return to life on the streets. £105 million new funding has been made available in the current financial year to enable local authorities to secure move on accommodation and support to those in emergency accommodation. A further £160 million has been allocated to fast-track the delivery of 3,300 new housing units for rough sleepers in the next 12 months.
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 is 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 (March 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 late August. This was welcomed, but commentators are calling for more action to prevent a spike in evictions when the moratorium is finally lifted.
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 urges 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 Committee asked the Government to respond to its recommendations by 12 June 2020. At the time of writing (25 June) the Government response had not been published.
This paper will be updated to take account of additional announcements and developments.