The government announced a further extension to the ban on bailiff-enforced evictions in England and Wales until 31 May 2021. Now that 31 May is around the corner, we look at what the new changes entail. Firstly though, what has the result of the restrictions been thus far…?
Evictions and Statistics
Recently released statistics for possession proceedings and evictions reveal a huge reduction in the number of people losing their homes, when compared with previous years. The reason for this is due to the changes introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The figures below are for tenants in England & Wales covering the period from January to March 2021 and are contrasted with the same period in the previous year- January to March 2020.
Landlord possession actions – January to March 2021
· possession claims- 6,377 issued- this has decreased by 74% compared with 2020
· orders for possession- 5,427 orders made- decreased by 72% from 2020
· eviction warrants – 2,480 issued – decreased by 80% from 2020
· repossessions- 262 carried out- decreased by 96% from 2020
Legal changes in response to the pandemic were the reason for the huge drop in cases. There was a stay on most possession proceedings in the county court which (twice extended) was between 27 March and 20 September 2020. Possession claims could be made during the stay but could not progress through the court until this was lifted.
Possession claims can only be made after the tenant has been served with a valid Notice and after the relevant notice period has expired. Legislation extended the notice periods which landlords must provide, except in the most serious circumstances. This has had a consequential effect on the number of claims for possession being made by landlords. In England, regulations were passed in August to extend notice periods in most private and social rented sector tenancies to six months except in the most serious circumstances, such as anti-social behaviour or extreme rent arrears. Notice periods had previously been three months for notices issued between 26 March and 28 August 2020.
During the stay on possession proceedings, most repossessions were not being enforced by bailiffs (except for trespass). There have been further restrictions on bailiff enforcement. Landlords have been able to apply for a warrant of possession where they have a valid possession order, but bailiffs have not been allowed to carry out most repossessions. Legislation has been in force since 17 November 2020 which prevents bailiffs from serving notices of eviction or carrying out an eviction. However, there are some exemptions for serious cases such as anti-social behaviour, domestic abuse in social tenancies, and extreme rent arrears. The restriction has been renewed three times and the current regulations are due to expire on 31 May 2021.
The Government has also released statistics showing that 9% of private renters and 11% of social renters are currently in arrears with their rent. The main reasons for being in arrears were due to being furloughed, unemployment and having their working hours reduced. With a significant proportion of tenants being affected by the pandemic and being in rent arrears, there is an expected increase in possession claims with the lifting of stays on possession proceedings and evictions.
Landlord possession actions – post 31 May 2021
The current restrictions expire on 31 May 2021. But this does not mean we will go back to the pre- Covid-19 rules thereafter. Government guidance has recently been released which details the possession proceedings going forward.
From 1 June 2021, notice periods must be at least four months in most cases, including where the tenant has less than four months’ rent arrears. From 1 August 2021, the notice period for cases where there are less than four months of unpaid rent, will further reduce to two months’ notice. Notice periods for the most serious cases are lower with most requiring two or four weeks’ notice. The notice period for ‘serious arrears’ is four weeks’ notice and the threshold for what constitutes ‘serious arrears’ is ‘arrears equivalent to four or more months’ rent.
The restrictions previously put on bailiff enforcement will also end at the end of 31 May. From 1 June, bailiffs can send out eviction notices and enforce evictions. As there is a requirement to provide 14 days’ notice, no evictions are expected until mid-June, except in the most egregious cases. Bailiffs have also been asked not to carry out an eviction if anyone living in the property has Covid-19 symptoms or is self-isolating.
Examples of the most serious cases, in which restrictions on possession claims and bailiff enforcement will not (and have not) applied in full, include: illegal occupation, false statement, anti-social behaviour, perpetrators of domestic abuse in the social rented sector, where a property is unoccupied following death of a tenant and serious rent arrears greater than 6 months’ rent.
Whilst the Covid-19 stay on possession proceedings expired on 20 September 2020, with landlords once again able to progress their possession claim through the courts; it must be noted that there is a significant backlog in cases and as such the Courts will carefully prioritise the most egregious cases, such as those involving anti-social behaviour and other crimes.
We are seeing a significant rise in the numbers of people contacting our Housing Team for support. If you are affected and need our support, please contact the Housing Team on 020 8492 2290.
David Still, Solicitor
Posted on Friday, 28th May 2021