January 2021: A further update on evictions in the UK
Since England entered the latest lockdown early in the New Year, the Private Rented Sector has been watching and waiting to see whether there would be an announcement impacting evictions.
The eviction ban was introduced in March 2020, and there have since been several extensions. The most recent extension was due to be lifted on 11th January. However, again; as expected, an announcement was made on Friday 8th January delaying evictions until 21st February.
Although the courts finally re-opened in September last year and hearings do occur; bailiffs have been unable to undertake an eviction in all apart from certain exceptional cases.
However, with Friday's announcement came a critical change to those 'exceptional cases', offering a glimmer of hope for landlords with a tenant in long-term arrears.
The exceptional circumstances when an eviction can take place include:
- Where the tenant has displayed severe anti-social behaviour
- If it transpires they made a false statement in their original application
- Where the 'Right to Rent' rules have been breached
- When convicted of domestic abuse
However, the previous rule was that a tenant needed to have accrued nine months' worth of arrears; and that those arrears must have been incurred before 23rd March 2020. This has been replaced. Now, an eviction can take place by a court-appointed bailiff if the rent arrears are more than six months.
This relatively small amendment would appear to be a positive move for landlords.
Although there is a backlog, the courts have now been open for several months, and cases are being heard. Therefore, if you have both an order and more than six months of arrears, then finally – possession could be gained in as little as two weeks.
For those cases with less than six months' arrears; or where there are no arrears, but the tenant has refused to leave, then enforcement action is due to restart on 21st February; although we have to expect this date may be kept under review.
To serve, or not to serve
Meanwhile, what about landlords who are yet to serve notice; for example, those whose circumstances have changed. The question is whether to issue now or to wait.
Provided the fixed term tenancy has either ended or is due to end within the following two months the notice must provide the tenant with six months' notice.
However, that temporary six months' notice rule is due to end on 31st March, when it is due to revert to two months.
For example: If a landlord serves a Section 21 Notice to a tenant on the 18th January, then they should expect the tenant to return the property on or before 18th July.
However, if a landlord waits until 1st April, then as the rules currently stand, the tenancy would expire on 1st May.
This presents a delicate balance for landlords. On the one hand, the strange scenario is that a landlord who waits could get their property returned sooner than one who issues the notice today. However, the ever-changing rules over the last ten months mean that landlords should expect the 31st March date could also be extended.
Staying within the Law
Whilst some of the measures brought in by the government feel weighed towards tenants, we would urge landlords to remain within the law.
The risks of breaching the rules and undertaking an illegal eviction are too high. We always recommend speaking to tenants about their options. Tenants who default on the rent and remain in the property longer than they are legally entitled to will struggle to move into another privately rented home in future, and the debt could stay with them for years.
If a tenant cannot pay their rent and has been served with an Eviction Notice, we will talk to them about their options. If they serve notice on their own terms they can leave before the problem spirals out of control. Provided the tenancy has moved onto a periodic arrangement the tenant only needs to give one months' notice. So ending their tenancy before they are taken to court will limit their liability and help them move on more quickly.
We hope this explains the latest position on evictions, and how we're doing everything we can to help you navigate these new rules. If you have any further questions or concerns about evictions, please speak to your local haart branch.