This paper considers how English local authorities deal with private tenants who have been served with a section 21 notice and are about to become homeless. A common response has been to tell tenants in this position to remain in situ until a court order/bailiff’s warrant is obtained. The paper considers changes introduced by the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 with effect from 3 April 2018.
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Private renting has grown in recent years and is now the second-largest tenure in England; an estimated 19% of households rented privately in 2018/19.
The end of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) is a significant cause of homelessness. Households who are homeless, or threatened with homelessness, can apply to their local authority for assistance. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) publishes statistics on the number of applications received. In 2010/11, the end of an AST was given as a cause of homelessness in 6,630 applications (15% of cases), rising to 15,500 applications (27% of cases) in 2017/18. In London, 33% of homeless acceptances were due to the end of an AST over this period.
Data on homeless applications before and after the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came into force are not comparable. In the last quarter of 2019, applications following the end of an AST accounted for 19% of households owed a duty to prevent or relieve homelessness by their local authority.
Authorities often tell private tenants to wait for a court order
When an English local authority is approached for assistance by a household that has been served with a notice of the landlord’s intention to seek possession under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, a common response has been to tell the applicant to remain in situ until a court order/bailiff’s warrant has been obtained. Authorities often told these households that an application for homelessness assistance under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 (as amended) would not be considered before a court order/bailiff’s warrant was issued.
Organisations representing homeless people contend that requiring households to wait for a court order/bailiff’s warrant misses an opportunity to try to prevent homelessness, creates more uncertainty and instability and could render tenants liable for the landlord’s eviction costs. There is also a concern that forcing landlords to obtain court orders to evict these tenants could mean that they are less likely to offer tenancies to more vulnerable households.
Is this advice correct?
The then Housing Minister, Brandon Lewis, wrote to all local authority CEOs concerning their approach to homeless applicants who were facing eviction due to a section 21 notice in June 2016. The letter said: “Unless a local authority has very good reason to depart from the statutory guidance then they should not be placing households in this position.”
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017
Measures in the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which came into force on 3 April 2018, mean that local authorities in England are now required to treat an applicant as threatened with homelessness if they have been served with a valid section 21 notice which expires in 56 days or less and have no other accommodation available for occupation. The effect of this is to trigger the authority’s homelessness prevention duty.
A new statutory Homelessness Code of Guidance for local authorities has been published which incorporates changes made by the 2017 Act.
There is some evidence that the 2017 Act has improved the way in which local authorities are delivering their homelessness prevention services, but there are variations. MHCLG is currently reviewing implementation of the Act; a report was expected by March 2020.