Moving house only “where reasonably necessary” during the emergency period was 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 is now 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.
The Government has published updated advice on home moving during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak (13 May 2020), which includes the following guidance:
- Private landlords and letting agents should not conduct viewings in properties where tenants are symptomatic or self-isolating, or where it has been determined that they are clinically extremely vulnerable and are shielding.
- In other cases, where viewings can proceed, they should be conducted in line with the guidance on viewings earlier 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
At the start of the lockdown period the British Association of Removers (BAR) advised its members to “only complete any moves that are underway and immediately cancel or postpone any move that has not yet started.” The current advice on the BAR website (at 12 May 2020) states:
It is clear from the change of emphasis in the PM’s message of Sunday 10th May, that many industries are being encouraged to return to work, but only on the basis of it being unviable for them to work from home AND now having the ability to comply with the stipulated social distancing measures. Following its meeting this morning, the position of the Board of Directors of the BAR is therefore to suggest that a cautious approach to returning to operational activity may now be possible, although it remains the case in our industry that we are unable to comply fully with the social distancing measures outlined by the Government, and our Members must therefore take all appropriate measures to mitigate any associated risks.
To ensure a joined up approach in getting the UK residential property industry moving safely, residential property professional bodies including the BAR, are collaborating with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to develop guidance on home moving. This will lead to a pan-industry guide being published which will in turn be supported by sector specific guidance. It is important to ensure a joined up approach and consistency across the home moving sector, hence the industry intend to align any publication with MHCLG sector guidance as it develops.
A document published by the BAR to its Members on Wednesday 6th May, which has been widely endorsed by those other professional organisations and associations in the property moving industry, and which has also been presented to MHCLG, provides clear guidance on risk mitigation procedures for the removers and their clients. It must be noted that the fact of implementing the necessary safe working practices will inevitably have some impacts on the scheduling and resourcing of a move and so we strongly advise that you discuss all such considerations in detail with your chosen BAR Member mover.
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, and to suspend court possession hearings for a period of 90 days from 27 March 2020 to help to ensure that tenants are not forced out of their homes during the coronavirus outbreak. These measures apply in England and Wales but similar action has been taken in Scotland and Northern Ireland – for more information see the Library briefing paper: Coronavirus: Housing support. 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 the move is taking place of the tenant’s free will, as of 13 May 2020 moving home, including visiting a letting agent, viewing properties to rent, and other activities required to rent a property are permitted (see above).
Guidance for social landlords’ housing allocations
The Government’s initial guidance for social landlords advised that they should “pause non-essential allocation and transfer activity.” Only essential moves could take place, e.g. to support victims of domestic abuse and those fleeing other forms of violence. The new guidance published on 13 May 2020 advises that non-essential lettings can take place:
Landlords will need to consider how to carry out their activities in line with the government’s advice on social distancing in the workplace. Practices should also be altered 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, people who are shielding or showing symptoms of coronavirus should not be moved.
Where to get advice
Tenants who are being asked to leave their homes should seek urgent 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 including advice on moving home. Shelter also has an emergency helpline.
Citizens Advice has online guidance covering various housing and coronavirus issues.
The Commons Library does not intend the information in these articles 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 is required. This Library briefing provides information about sources of legal advice and help.