As anticipated, with the eviction ban due to come to an end on Monday 11th January 2021, the Government announced on the afternoon of Friday 8th January 2021, again at the last minute, that the eviction ban will be extended in England for a further six weeks to 21st February 2021. They also emphasised that they would keep the measures under review and that evictions would not be expected to recommence until at least 8 March 2021, which suggests there may be yet more extensions to come.
In Wales amore pragmatic approach has been taken extending the ban to 31st March 2021. This lines up with the current end date for other restrictions on enforcement provisions. While the extension is longer it presents what is probably a more realistic view of the earliest juncture at which evictions for arrears are likely to be allowed to proceed.
The additional Court rules and procedures introduced in September 2020 will continue and the Courts will prioritise cases, such as those involving anti-social behaviour, illegal occupation and perpetrators of domestic abuse when listing cases. Landlords of residential property will also continue to be required to give six months’ notice in most cases up until at least 31st March 2021.
A further £10 million of funding has been made available to local authorities who have been asked to redouble their efforts to help accommodate all those currently sleeping rough and ensure that they are swiftly registered with a GP, where they are not already covered. This is with a view to protecting them from the virus and ensuring they are contactable to receive vaccinations in line with the priority groups outlined by the Joint Committee on Vaccination Immunisation. Councils are also being asked to reach out again to those who previously refused help, given the rising infection rates and the colder winter months.
It is intended that a new mediation pilot will be put in place to support Landlords and Tenants involved in Court procedure and potential eviction from February 2021. They will offer mediation as part of the possession process to try to help Landlords and Tenants to meet a mutual agreement and to keep people in their homes. While mediation is an effective tool in general, the likelihood of it having a significant impact in cases where there are substantive rent arrears, the tenant has no way of paying and the landlord is under their own financial pressures, is nominal. In reality this may just represent another step in the process, pushing up costs and using additional Court resources simply to delay the inevitable outcome.
While the Government remains adamant that protection for renters is top of their agenda none of the provisions that have been put in place to date do anything to address the underlying issue of substantive arrears which continue to accrue. Until support is given to address that issue then significant numbers of landlords and tenants continue to face financial hardship and the number of pending evictions will continue to increase. Although the ban has been extended in reality all the provisions at present seem to be doing is kicking the can further along the road and, in doing so, allowing the underlying problems around arrears to escalate and the crisis continue to snowball.
The latest analysis by LSE London suggests that the numbers of tenants in private rented accommodation who will find themselves struggling with arrears in the coming year could top 700,000. Measures are being called for to increase or extend protection to renters. It is also clear that local authorities, despite additional funding, would be ill equipped to house such significant additional numbers. While bans can be extended, and the Court can and is delaying hearings, this ultimately does little to address the real issue.
Frustratingly, there appears to be a widely held misconception both in the eyes of the public and the Government that private landlords consist predominantly of large corporates or slum running profiteers, who should be able to shoulder the debt. This is simply not the reality. Many private landlords are small investors with only a few properties and are, themselves, reliant on that income. They have financial liabilities personally and many have Buy to Let Mortgages on their properties. Access to payment holidays for that type of mortgage has been more difficult and, ultimately, the payments need to be made up to the lenders. They have also been expected to upkeep properties and expend money adhering to the array of regulations on private rented properties without any income for several months if not longer. These landlords are being pressured to write off months, if not years of arrears, to stave off the looming eviction crisis. However, they themselves have received no Government support. Many are simply not in a position to write off significant arrears or to continue letting out their property free of charge.
Calls are increasing on the Government to take action to provide real support to tenants by helping them address the arrears they have accrued and ensuring they are in a position going forward to be able to afford to pay to keep their homes.