This briefing paper explains measures the Government has put in place during the coronavirus outbreak to assist households in retaining their homes and to enable local authorities to tackle the specific challenges faced by rough sleepers. The paper has been updated to take account of further measures introduced after 26 March 2020.

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The coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak has brought 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.

The Government has announced a series of housing support measures:

  • 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.
  • Private landlords in England and Wales will be required to adhere to The Pre-Action Protocol for Possession Claims by Social Landlords.
  • The Master of the Rolls has 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.
  • The Chancellor has 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) has issued guidance to lenders advising them to operate payment holidays for owner occupiers and buy-to-let landlords of up to 3 months. Lenders have been advised to exercise forbearance during the crisis.
  • The Government has announced £3.2 million in emergency funding for local authorities in England and has urged authorities to support rough sleepers and other vulnerable homeless people into appropriate accommodation.

Having welcomed the Government’s commitment to introduce a “complete ban on evictions”, following publication of amendments to the Coronavirus Bill, several commentators said that 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 Scottish Government is also legislating to strengthen tenants’ security of tenure, while in Northern Ireland “only urgent matters will be addressed by way of a court hearing until further notice.”

There are calls to go further, including a further increase in Local Housing Allowance rates to cover the median of market rents and to operate a rent freeze during the period of the crisis.

This paper will be updated to take account of additional announcements and developments.

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