HOMELESSNESS charity Shelter has welcomed the Government’s decision to halt all eviction proceedings while the coronavirus crisis continues.
Last night, communities secretary Robert Jenrick announced new guidance intended to protect social and private renters from losing their home while the country is in lockdown.
Furthermore, from today, the Government has announced, the court service has suspended all ongoing possession action. This means that cases currently in the system, or those about to enter it, are now blocked from progressing to eviction.
Shelter says this provides “reassurances to the thousands of renters who will be in their notice periods that they do not have to leave in the midst of this public health crisis”. The suspension of housing possessions action will initially last for 90 days, but this can be extended if needed.
Earlier this week the Government extended eviction notice periods to three months, but no provision was made for renters whose notice periods are due to expire in the next few months, or for those who are currently being evicted through the courts.
“We’re very glad to see the Government has changed its approach and is now introducing a full ban on evictions, giving much-needed protection for renters at this critical time,” said Polly Neate, Shelter’s chief executive. “Robert Jenrick should take a lot of credit for having listened and taken further action — as a result many thousands of people can now stay safe in their homes.
“For the past few weeks our advisers and lawyers have been helping desperate people with looming evictions. We’ve heard from NHS staff and key workers who faced losing their home imminently, who told us they didn’t know how they would keep a roof over their heads.
“Now that we know courts will not take forward any evictions, it is crucial that renters know that they are protected and that they can stay put. Even if they do receive an eviction notice they should not feel pressured to leave whilst this crisis is ongoing.”
Labour’s shadow housing secretary, John Healey also welcomed the Government’s announcement, taking to Twitter to say:
A welcome step in the right direction, and recognition that the flawed evictions legislation wasn’t up to the job.
But to keep people in their homes in the period ahead, more is needed: to suspend rents beyond the crisis and to shore up the threadbare social security safety net. https://t.co/7Vzm28nhiX
— John Healey MP (@JohnHealey_MP) March 27, 2020
According to the new guidance, “the court service will suspend all ongoing housing possession action – this means that neither cases currently in the or any about to go in the system can progress to the stage where someone could be evicted.
“This suspension of housing possessions action will initially last for 90 days, but this can be extended if needed. This measure will protect all private and social renters, as well as those with mortgages and those with licenses covered by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. This will apply to both England and Wales.”
However, the guidance notes: “Tenants are still liable for their rent and should pay this as usual. If they face financial hardship and struggle to pay this, support is available. In the first instance they should speak to their landlord if they think they will have difficulty meeting a rental payment, and in this unique context we would encourage tenants and landlords to work together to put in place a rent payment scheme.”
But for renters at the sharp end of this, welcome breathing space though it is, the key question, surely – is this just a stay of execution?