Month: May 2020

TLA: Choosing The Best Energy Supplier For Your Rental Property

If, like many tenants, your rental package is not bills inclusive, it will fall upon you to pick your own energy supplier. But how can you go about picking the best one, with the best value for money and the biggest impact on lowering your carbon footprint?

Below, we outline some top tips on the key things you need to be considering when choosing an energy supplier…

 

Use comparison sites to shop around

For better or worse, the adverts for these sites are now ingrained in our collective consciousness, but they do actually have a use – particularly when it comes to comparing things like the best energy deals on the market.

Picking the right gas and electricity deal could save you considerable amounts of money each year (hundreds of pounds off your energy bills, in many cases), so it’s worth doing your research and shopping around for the best possible package before you commit yourself to a particular provider.

Sites such as Compare The Market and moneysupermarket.com allow you to compare fuel tariffs, while Which? Switch and uSwitch also allow you to compare a range of tariffs in your area.

 

Which tariff should you choose?

There are a number of things you should bear in mind when choosing your energy supplier. Do you want a fixed, variable or green energy deal? Do you want to combine your gas and electricity in a dual fuel package?

Do you want to be on a ‘time of use’ deal, which lowers rates for your electricity in off-peak hours – usually between midnight and 7am? If you use most of your energy during these hours, time of use is something you may want to consider. In most cases peak energy use will be outside these hours, but for some it might represent the right deal.

Meanwhile, in a similar way to mortgages, a fixed energy deal is often cheaper and more secure than a variable one – with prices fixed for the length of the contract, or fixed at different rates, at separate stages of the contract.

However, on a fixed deal, if energy rates go down, your rate will not be reduced. What’s more, while fixed deals are often the cheapest, they don’t tend to offer much flexibility in terms of switching. If you choose to change deals more than 42 days before the end of your contract, you are liable to pay a fee to do so.

A greener approach – Visit Our Green partners, WorldofRenewables.com

With the growth in renewable energy and greater awareness about climate change, many consumers are keen to take a greener approach to many aspects of life. This includes energy deals, where green energy tariffs are an option. These tariffs use more renewable energy than standard gas or electricity deals.

This could cost you more than other tariffs, but there are certain green suppliers – including OVO Energy, Green Network Energy, Green Star Energy and Ecotricity – who offer cheaper green energy deals.

With BP recently suggesting that renewable energy will be the world’s main power source by 2040, greener energy is likely to be more popular than ever in the coming years and is something you may want consider now to help the environment and, in many cases, secure lower bills.

Check out our Going Green section on the homepage.

Switching tariffs or providers

If you’re already on one tariff, and want to switch to a cheaper one to save money on your energy bills, you can ask your supplier to move you to a cheaper tariff. Or, alternatively, you can switch to a totally new provider.

Switching can save you money and can also allow you to source a more energy efficient tariff and enable you to switch more easily at a future juncture.

Assuming you are not in debt to your current supplier, you can switch by phone or online. You can use the sites mentioned above to search for deals by postcode and compare tariffs, inputting your energy usage to ensure you get the most accurate results possible.

If you have a smart meter, information on your energy usage will be provided – or you could simply look at your latest bill.

Once you’ve found the right deal, you can confirm your switch by providing your new supplier with full bank and address details. It should take around three weeks for the switch to take place, and you may have to pay a small cancellation fee (typically £25 to £30 for each service) to your existing supplier, especially if you’re on a fixed deal.

The Big Six – who are they?

When the topic of energy suppliers in the UK is raised, you’ll often hear about the Big Six – the companies responsible for providing approximately 95% of the country’s energy. But who are these firms?

  • British Gas
  • npower
  • ScottishPower
  • SSE
  • EDF Energy
  • E.ON UK

While these companies provide the vast majority of UK homes with gas and electricity, there are a whole host of smaller suppliers on the market who may offer better deals, including local and green providers.

Often, these smaller companies have higher levels of customer satisfaction as they can offer a more personal service.

What’s more, fears about issues being caused by a small supplier going out of business suddenly are misguided, with energy regulator Ofgem recently introducing measures to protect consumers from losing their energy supply if a small supplier goes bust.

Despite the possible benefits of switching suppliers, many are put off by the time, cost and hassle they perceive to be involved. As a result, less than half of the UK’s population has ever switched their energy supplier, even with regular calls from MPs for people to browse around for better deals.

Paying for your energy

In some cases, people opt for a prepayment tariff, whereby you top up your energy using a prepayment meter. This means you pay for your energy in advance and swerve the prospect of monthly and quarterly bills, offering more flexibility and an effective pay as you go approach to energy.

While this ensures you are more likely to only pay for the energy you need, a prepayment meter typically makes gas and electricity more expensive.

If you don’t have a prepayment meter, you can pay your energy bill on a quarterly basis (by cheque, direct debit or BACS transfer), or via a monthly direct debit. The latter option is very often the cheapest, with most suppliers providing discounts for those paying by direct debit.

One other option is to make regular payments via a credit or debit card, which can be done weekly, every two weeks or every month.

Splitting the bill

If you are part of a house share or living in a student property with your friends while at university, you will want to find a way of splitting the bills you owe fairly and easily.

Sites such as Glide simplify bills for students by combining all utilities into an equal monthly split for each tenant, reducing the possibility of disagreements over who owes what and who paid what when. It also means chasing housemates for money becomes less of an issue.

However you do it, you should decide on a system and stick to it. If one or two people use much more energy than others, they may be willing to contribute more to the monthly energy costs. Work things out fairly and remain consistent with this thereafter.

As you can see, there is quite a lot to get your head around when it comes to choosing the right energy supplier for your rental property. But there is plenty of help out there to help you pick the right package and provider, and you may want to seek advice from your landlord, friends or parents on which energy supplier they would recommend.

Remember, too, switching isn’t as hard as you probably think it is, so it’s worth regularly reviewing your energy package to ensure you’re getting the best possible deal.

Landlords: How To Become More Environmentally Friendly

In recent years the movement towards leading a sustainable and environmentally-friendly existence has been gathering pace.

Alongside popular TV shows such as Blue Planet highlighting the damage our actions can have on the planet’s oceans, many retailers and supermarkets are aiming to reduce their plastic consumption and there has of course been the successful 5p carrier bag charge, introduced in England in October 2015.

As a population, we’re more invested in eco matters than ever before. As well as through the foods we choose to eat and the brands we choose to buy from, sustainability and green values are shining through in our home life.

In fact, a number of surveys have shown just how important having an environmentally-friendly home is becoming for tenants. For example, a survey of 500 tenants, carried out by YouGov on behalf of PC World, found that 80% of respondents agreed that landlords should consider the environmental impact of their property and undertake measures to ensure that it’s environmentally-friendly.

So, with all of this in mind, what can you do to make your rental property greener and more sustainable?

Composting and waste management

Composting your waste is a great way to be more eco-friendly. All you need to do is buy a compost bin for your garden and then use it to store any fruit and vegetable scraps you produce, plus other compostable items (egg shells, hair and tea bags).

By creating something that goes back into the ground, you are reducing the amount of waste your household produces. Compost will also make it easier for you to grow your own fruit and vegetables, which can save you money and also wins you extra brownie points in the sustainability rankings.

When it comes to other household waste that can’t be composted, make sure you recycle as much as you can and use food waste services if they are available to you. All of this contributes towards making your home more environmentally-friendly and reducing the amount of waste you send to landfill sites.

Plastic and packaging

Overuse of plastic and excess packaging are two of the biggest environmental issues facing the planet. So, to reduce your consumption and lead a more sustainable home life you could purchase products with less plastic and packaging where possible and make sure anything you do use is recycled.

You could also use more natural or upcycled containers to store dry food and other items, with the added bonus that they also look better. Meanwhile, there is also increasing use of natural cleaning products such as vinegar, fruit acid and bicarbonate of soda which, by their very nature, require less packaging.

Insulation and energy bills

It could be hugely beneficial to check if your rental property is insulated as improving insulation of a home will provide a significant boost to its energy efficiency. A well-insulated property will mean lower energy bills for you and it’s also in your landlord’s interest due to recent legislation changes.

pic 2

As of April this year, landlords are no longer able to let properties with a minimum Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of F- or G-. What’s more, this legislation – called Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) – is being extended to all existing tenancies from April 2020.

There are also rules which mean tenants can request energy efficiency improvements from their landlords, which you can read more about here.

Smart meters and electricity

Installing smart meters can reduce energy consumption, making a home more energy efficient and reducing energy bills – particularly in the winter – at the same time. Smart meters record gas and electricity usage and automatically send readings to providers, which makes for more accurate readings and subsequently energy bills.

They show you how much energy you are using in pounds and pence, and how energy efficient your home is – allowing you to monitor your energy consumption more efficiently.

Before getting a smart meter installed, always ask your landlord’s permission. You can find out more about how a smart meter could improve your home’s energy efficiency here.

The importance of water use

Sometimes it can be easy to forget just how important it is to monitor our water consumption. You can take a greener approach to water by notifying your landlord of any leaks or drips so that they can fix them quickly.

You could also ask them to invest in a water-saving showerhead and toilet flush and also reduce your water consumption by taking less baths and more showers.

There we have it, some useful habits which could help you to make your rental property more sustainable, while reducing your energy bills and household costs at the same time.

Remember – before making any significant green changes to your home, you’ll need to ask your landlord’s permission.

Coronavirus Act 2020 – How It Effects Landlords & Tenants

Coronavirus Act 2020 – How It Effects Landlords & Tenants

This note sets out how the Coronavirus Act 2020 (“the Act”) affects both business and residential tenancies taking into account the Governmental advisory guidance to help understand the implications of the Act.

As the situation is subject to change, the Government urges all landlords and tenants to abide by the latest Government guidance on COVID-19, which can be found here.

Business Tenancies

Landlords cannot evict business tenants on the grounds of non-payment of rent whilst the Coronavirus emergency continues. This currently applies from 26 March to 30 June 2020 (“the relevant period”) unless subsequently extended.

Forfeiture for non-payment of rent

During the relevant period the landlord cannot enforce a right of re-entry for non-payment of rent (the definition of rent includes service charge and insurance premium), whether by peaceable re-entry or in court proceedings. To protect the landlord’s position, the right of re-entry can only be waived during the relevant period by an express waiver in writing. These provisions do not apply to any other type of breach of covenant.

Where forfeiture proceedings for non-payment of rent are already on foot, the court cannot make an order for possession which expires before the end of the relevant period. In some cases the court will have made an order for possession which only takes effect if the tenant fails to do something (e.g. pay the arrears or instalments) by a certain date. In the High Court, if the tenant applies to vary the order the court must ensure that the tenant does not have to give possession before the end of the relevant period. In the County Court, the period during which the tenant has to pay cannot be before the last day of the relevant period (as in force at the date of the order). For existing orders, the period within which the tenant must pay the arrears is automatically extended to the end of the relevant period.

Opposing the grant of a new tenancy on the grounds of persistent delay in paying rent

Where a landlord opposes the grant of a new tenancy on the ground of persistent delay in paying rent, any failure to pay rent during the relevant period is to be disregarded.

Residential Tenancies

The Government has brought in several restrictions in relation to residential possession. Firstly, the Act lengthens the notice period required during the relevant period. For residential tenancies, the “relevant period” set out in the Act is from 26 March to 30 September 2020; unless subsequently extended.

Section 8 Notices

Possession proceedings under section 8 of the Housing Act 1988 have always required the service of a notice of intention to bring proceedings for possession. The minimum period of the notice depended on the particular ground for possession relied on – from immediately, in the case of an occupier who has committed an indictable offence, to two months in the case of a former owner-occupier who wants his home back. During the relevant period, all notice periods are extended to three months. The court retains its power to dispense with service of a notice or to abridge the time.

Section 21 Notices

The Act extends the minimum notice period under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 (no fault eviction) from two months to three months.

Other Private Sector Tenancies

No amendments have been made to the law affecting private sector tenancies which do not fall within the Rent Acts or the Housing Act – essentially tenancies at a very low rent (less than £1,000 pa in Greater London, £250 elsewhere) or a very high rent (in excess of £100,000 pa).

Possession claims suspended

From 27 March 2020 for a period of 90 days (i.e. up to 25 June 2020) there is a suspension of housing possession cases in the Court. This affects new or existing claims, so effectively they cannot be progressed during this period. This is in line with current public health advice to stop all non-essential movement. The Government’s strong advice to landlords is not to commence new notices seeking possession during the current time without a “very good reason” for doing so.

Maintenance and safety

Landlords should still carry out essential and urgent work to ensure that rented properties are safe. Examples given in the Governmental guidance include testing the fire alarm, roof repairs where there is a leak, boiler and plumbing repairs, broken white goods and security problems e.g. a broken window or door. Landlords should take a “pragmatic, common sense approach” to resolving issues. Where COVID-19 restrictions prevent landlords from meeting routine obligations they should not be unfairly penalised. However, the guidance specifically refers to landlords making every effort to abide by existing gas safety and electrical safety regulations (the latter comes into effect for new tenancies from 1 July 2020). Landlords must demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with the law. If landlords are not able to engage a contractor or gain access to the property due to COVID-19 restrictions they should document their attempts and any responses. The relevant legislation already contains provisions where the landlord will not have breached his duty if he has taken all reasonable steps.

General governmental guidance

The general message is that the landlord and tenant relationship should continue as normal as far as is possible i.e. the tenant should continue to pay rent and adhere to all other terms in the tenancy agreement. Landlords should continue to comply with their obligations as well. Where the tenant is unable to pay rent due to Coronavirus related difficulties, the tenant should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity. Landlords are requested to be flexible and offer support and understanding to their tenants as part of the national effort during this national emergency. Both parties are encouraged to agree a sensible way forward including for example, to agree a lower rent and a payment plan going forward.

Where there are financial difficulties for the landlord where the tenant is not able to pay rent due to Coronavirus related difficulties, mortgage lenders have agreed to offer payment holidays of up to three months including for buy-to-let mortgages.

The future

There may well be further changes depending on how the situation develops. The Government has the power to alter the notice period required by substituting a period of up to six months. They may well also extend the suspension period on possession claims.

Rent and coronavirus: What comes next for UK landlords and tenants affected by Covid-19?

The coronavirus crisis is now fast-approaching its fourth month and we’re only just starting to see the economic impact. The spectre of a severe recession, the likes of which, in the words of Chancellor Rishi Sunak, “we have not seen” looms large. His words are unambiguous: we are awaiting the biggest economic shock in recent history.

There is rightful concern from one demographic in particular: private renters. This is a group thought to contain about 20 million people who rely on private landlords to keep a roof over their heads. It has grown rapidly over the last decade or so because getting on the housing ladder has become increasingly unaffordable while social housing has been in increasingly short supply.

This pandemic has exposed the precariousness of Britain’s private rented sector for what it is: a national emergency. Before Covid-19 disrupted life as we knew it, renters were already worse off than homeowners, spending a higher proportion of their earnings on housing. Sixty three per cent of them had no savings and almost half of working renters were just one paycheck away from losing their home. Think of them as the “squeezed middle” Ed Miliband once tried to champion – they were already stretching themselves to cover the most essential cost of all: housing.

The Government clocked this would be a huge problem early on. In late March, they announced a three-month suspension of evictions and the restoration of Local Housing Allowance to the lowest third of market rents which renters could access by applying for Universal Credit. These measures went hand in hand with the Job Retention Scheme which, they hoped, would tide anyone whose job was at risk over.

Now, as furloughs are extended, business closures are prolonged and redundancies registered, the housing charity Shelter estimates that around 1.7 million renters expect to lose their job. Early tremors revealed by the latest Office for National Statistics employment data – a 69 per cent increase in people applying to Universal Credit – point to a storm ahead. Citizens Advice estimates that 2.6m renters are behind on rent or expect to be as a result of this pandemic.

As we approach the end of that three-month period, questions are being asked about what the plan is for renters now. Will the evictions suspension be extended or will we, as the London Councils Group has warned, see an “avalanche” of them when it is lifted? Will the increase to Local Housing Allowance continue?

Left-leaning social media accounts are awash with calls for a “rent strike”. Labour’s shadow housing secretary, Thangam Debbonaire, has published a five-point plan for renters which includes protecting them from bankruptcy as a result of any rent arrears. Meanwhile, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has said the Government is still “thinking carefully” about what to do next and “developing a much more credible plan to protect renters and to help to shield them through this crisis.”

So where does that leave private renters who are, completely understandably, very worried?

What could happen with evictions and rent arrears?

As things stand, all evictions proceedings are suspended. This was initially done for a 90-day period and takes us up until the end of June. Last week Jenrick told Parliament a decision would be made on the future of the ban shortly before then. One of the suggestions in Labour’s five-point plan is extending it for six months.

Giles Peaker, an expert housing solicitor and partner at Anthony Gold explains: “The Government has increased the periods for notices seeking possession, and the courts have currently put all possession claims on hold until 25 June. But unless this is extended, or other measures are brought in by the Government, there is a real risk that people will face possession claims for rent arrears in a month or two, or possession claims after a section 21 notice. Tenants (and their guarantors) may also face money claims for arrears.”

One of the issues on the horizon, he adds, is that legally, as things stand, having been impacted by the crisis is not a defence for not paying rent for anyone challenging an eviction order in court.

It’s worth noting that, before Covid-19 took over every aspect of public life, we were expecting legislation to ban Section 21 evictions (also known as unfair or revenge evictions). It’s likely this will return to Parliament at some point. However, as Peaker notes, this wouldn’t protect those who haven’t been able to pay their rent.

What help can I get with rent because of coronavirus?

Back in March the Government announced that landlords could take a “mortgage holiday” if their tenants were unable to pay rent and encouraged them to be “compassionate” in such situations. Some didn’t feel this went far enough.

The Government also increased Local Housing Allowance (LHA) so that it covers the lowest third of market rents. This can be accessed by renters who find themselves unemployed because of this crisis via Universal Credit. However, not everyone will be eligible for this.

There is good news, though. When asked by i whether this change to LHA was permanent a spokesperson for the Treasury said: “This will apply for the 2020-21 financial year. There are no plans to reverse the increase.”

However, rents fluctuate. So, while the increase to LHA may be here to stay for now, if we saw rents rise, this wouldn’t stay in line with them and would continue to only cover the lowest third of market rents.

What ideas are being proposed to help renters pay their rent?

Labour’s plan to help renters was criticised by some because it proposed giving those who fall behind on rent a two-year period to pay back rent arrears which would leave them indebted to their landlord.

In Spain, a low-interest loan system has been introduced to help renters honour their payments. When Labour MP Clive Betts asked Jenrick if we would consider something similar, he didn’t dismiss the idea.

However, this would likely attract similar criticism to that thrown at Labour’s plan. Renters are already worse off than homeowners and saddling them with debt during an economic crisis will undoubtedly harm their prospects moving forward.

Caitlin Wilkinson, Policy Manager at Generation Rent, tells i that the rent strike being encouraged on social media by some is not the answer. “Suspending rents temporarily could put renters at risk of debt once the freeze is lifted,” she explains. “If we had a functional welfare system this wouldn’t be an issue, so fixing that should be our priority. Generation Rent is calling on the Government to remove the benefit caps, increase local housing allowance, and expand eligibility.”

So, what’s the alternative? Increasing the generosity of the housing benefits would be one place to start – this is something the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has already called for. JRF told i in April that the current increase to covering the lowest third of market rents just doesn’t go far enough and won’t break the fall of those who were already over-stretched. Shelter is calling for it to be increased further so that it covers “average rents” in any given area.

It’s really important that the Government comes up with an adequate plan to support renters who suffer financially in the coming months. As Peaker warns, a tenant not paying rent, regardless of the reason, could have serious implications. A tenancy agreement is a legal contract which means that “tenants are still obliged under their tenancy agreement to pay the rent, no matter what has changed in their circumstances.”

The Government, Peaker notes, have so far stopped short of telling landlords what to do. “While some landlords have agreed to waive rent, or reduce it, or for repayment plans in the future, there is currently no obligation on them to do this.”

Because so many people now rely on the private rented sector, an increase in the benefits available to renters is, in effect, going to result in a mammoth public bailout of private landlords on a scale never seen before. Building the social housing we’ve lost through Right to Buy is an obvious way out of this long-term but, in the short-term, renters can be reassured that the Local Housing Allowance increase isn’t going anywhere and wait for the Government’s next announcement.

What Boris’s new lockdown guidance means for UK housing market

On Sunday, Boris Johnson revealed the UK government’s “lockdown easing plan”. Some things will be changing from tomorrow, but how will this affect the property sector?

Boris Johnson’s speech at the weekend was unsurprisingly met with a range of reactions from members of parliament, business leaders and members of the public. Much of the criticism pointed to a lack of clarity in the plans, with a number of gaps and uncertainties in the new information. However, the government has stated that more details will soon follow.

On Monday, the government released a paper, titled ‘OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy‘. The document covers what lockdown restrictions will be lifted and when, although it does not go into specifics for many industries. The housing sector, like many others, is awaiting more clarity on how it can continue to operate. Here’s what we know so far.

Will the market reopen on 1st June?

In the government’s new plan, it states that ‘Step Two’ will see a number of changes taking place “no earlier than Monday 1 June”. The changes at this point include reopening “non-essential retail”.

According to Chris Pincher, many aspects of the property sector – such as those related to buying and selling – are included under the definition of retail. We can expect the government to reveal more details on this at a later date, according to its latest statement. However, it seems this could be a key date to note, which is just three weeks away.

Last week, NAEA Propertymark’s chief executive, Mark Hayward, also revealed his predictions on the property market reopening in June.

Property viewings

The latest announcement made no specific mention of changes to property viewings during lockdown. This means that, for the time being, the vast majority will take place remotely, using video technology. Those who are keen to get on with planned purchases can still use this option to “view” properties in advance. The same applies for prospective tenants, where possible.

In Mark Hayward’s seminar on reopening the housing market, he set out a number of likely measures for viewings. This includes viewings lasting no longer than 15 minutes, and PPE being worn at all times. Sellers will also need to wear PPE and disinfect the property before the viewing. Only two adults will be able to view, and open days will not be possible.

However, according to The Negotiator, it is possible that new-build viewings could take place sooner. This is presumably because no one is living in them so it could be done with very minimal human interaction. Again, this could be good news for the construction industry as properties being built can get sales underway.

Moving house

If a house move can happen while maintaining social distancing rules, then it can technically go ahead. The same rules apply as before, although the government is due to follow up on this.

That means buyers should only proceed with purchases if moving into an empty property. However, people should only go ahead if the move can’t be delayed. Also, “critical” home moves can proceed if absolutely necessary, but everyone must stick to social distancing rules. Home removal firms can honour existing agreements if it is safe and necessary, too.

However, some in the industry argue it is definitely possible to move house while sticking to lockdown rules.

Ed Mead from Viewber says: “Common sense is obviously going to be necessary. Empty properties don’t present a problem and occupied properties can be turned in to empty ones for the duration of a viewing. If sensible social distancing and PPE guidelines are followed there shouldn’t be an issue.

Government announces mass testing plan for Covid-19 ‘Exit Strategy’

Ministers have finally revealed a long-demanded “exit strategy” from the coronavirus lockdown with a plan to recruit an army of 18,000 people to trace and isolate infected people – allowing restrictions to be eased, they hope.

Five weeks after the World Health Organisation urged all nations to “test, test, test” – a plea rejected by the UK at the time – it was announced that the mass contact tracing programme would begin “in a matter of weeks”.

Ministers have finally revealed a long-demanded “exit strategy” from the coronavirus lockdown with a plan to recruit an army of 18,000 people to trace and isolate infected people – allowing restrictions to be eased, they hope.

Five weeks after the World Health Organisation urged all nations to “test, test, test” – a plea rejected by the UK at the time – it was announced that the mass contact tracing programme would begin “in a matter of weeks”.

The move was greeted with relief by Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary and a leading voice demanding mass testing in the community, rather than simply in hospitals and of NHS and care workers.

* Essential workers, including supermarket workers, bus drivers and teachers, and their household members were told that, from tomorrow, they will be able book a test on the gov.uk website – potentially benefiting 10 million staff if the rest of the UK follows England.

* Continuing problems with the current testing programme were laid bare – with only 23,560 carried out on Wednesday, less than half the capacity of 51,000.

* London was described as “two or three weeks” ahead of other parts of the country – with Manchester and Liverpool now the focus of the pandemic, according to a Health Service Journal analysis.

* “New and better” blood tests were promised – not requiring the chemical reagents that have been in short supply.

He sought to deflect criticism of delay, arguing he had had to wait until the pandemic had peaked, saying: “Critically, test, track and trace works more effectively when the rate of new cases is lower.

“So, the lower the rate of new cases, the more effectively you can keep it down using test, track and trace rather than having to use heavier social-distancing measures.”

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, criticised “confusion” at the heart of government, pointing out the deputy chief medical officer, Jenny Harries, had dismissed the idea only days ago.

And he said Mr Hancock had to be held to his original pledge, saying: “We were promised 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month. Not testing capacity at 100,000.

“We’re still not carrying out the numbers of tests we need to. In particular we should be doing so much more to test care workers. They shouldn’t have to travel miles for a test.

Property market open after lockdown measures lifted

As of today (Wednesday 13th May 2020) the property market has been given the green light to open for business again by the government. This means buyers and sellers are able to move home now which is important for those who are already in the process of either selling or buying.

Viewings are allowed to take place again as long as they are conducted in a safe manner and keeping to the social distancing 2m rule.

For those who wish to sell their property you are now oermitted to visit your property for valuation and marketing, whilst doing so keeping to the social distancing 2m rule. There are further safety measures such as gloves, masks and hand sanitiser that should be worn by all visiting parties.

Covid-19: TLA House Price Forecast

Property prices are being forecast to drop by a whopping 10 per cent during 2020 owing to the coronavirus lockdown – with a majority of that forecasted decline already happening over the past 8 weeks.

Property Prices are preedicted to have fallen by around 6 per cent since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis as the market came to a sudden stop.

Since the Government announcement that Britain will fully exit lockdown only by the end of July at the earliest, TLA now expects a much bigger drop than those waving ‘the recovery flags’ in order to bring about some calm in the wake of a economic sledge-hammer blow across the market.

The TLA is now forecasting a 9% overall decrease, compared with a previous 4 per cent fall, and a 5 per cent fall in prime London locations.

Since Sunday night it’s become clearer that some lockdown measures will remain in place into July and that social distancing rules governing day-to-day life, including property transactions, may remain in place beyond that.

If we allow for the fact that some asking prices have come down since March, then we might conclude that prices are off by at least 5 per cent already since the beginning of the crisis.

Five per cent seems like a reasonable starting point, and it is increasingly clear that prime London’s five-year decline doesn’t means it is immune from price falls.

‘We do not expect prices to keep falling at the same speed as they have in the past couple of months’ said TLA Chairman, Mr D T Evans.

‘The key question is will vendors accept discounts of more than 5 per cent? Some will, but there is growing evidence from the widening spread between average offers and the offers that are being accepted that many simply won’t.

If the lockdown is indeed lifted in July and the housing market can begin to function again, with people being allowed to view properties, then downward pressure on prices ‘should be limited’.

And in prime London locations, it’s possible to see prices pick up again in the second half of the year.

Our forecast is slightly higher than most of other major bodies with Savills alighning figures with the TLA with predicted falls between 5 per cent to 10 per cent this year amid thin sales.

Similarly, Lloyds revealed in its quarterly results that has a base case scenario prediction that house prices will fall 5 per cent this year.

It said that property prices would then rise 2 per cent next year and be down 0.7 per cent between 2020 and 2022.

The Bank of England, however, has forecast a bigger slump as it said it expects house prices to fall 16 per cent due to the coronavirus crisis and lockdown, before gradually recovering as economic activity picks up.

The BoE said prices would be pushed lower by rising unemployment, but propped up in part by ‘persistently’ low mortgage rates.

The latest monthly data by Halifax for April shows house prices were still 2.7 per cent higher compared to the same time last year despite the coronavirus outbreak.

However, property values were down by 0.6 per cent in April compared to in March, the biggest monthly fall in two years, according to the lending giant.

Government support available for landlords and renters reflecting the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

The government has brought forward a package of measures to protect renters affected by coronavirus (COVID-19). With these in force, no renter in either social or private accommodation will be forced out of their home.

To ensure all renters are clear on the full package of support that is currently available to them, we are bringing this together into one place.

From today (26 March 2020) landlords will have to give all renters 3 months’ notice if they intend to seek possession (i.e. serve notice that they want to end the tenancy) – this means the landlord can’t apply to start the court process until after this period.

This extended buffer period will apply in law until 30 September 2020 and both the end point, and the 3 month notice period can be extended if needed.

This protection covers most tenants in the private and social rented sectors in England and Wales, and all grounds of evictions. This includes possession of tenancies in the Rent Act 1977, the Housing Act 1985, the Housing Act 1996 and the Housing Act 1988. After 3 months if the tenant has not moved a landlord needs to apply to court in order to proceed.

From tomorrow (27 March 2020) following a decision by the Master of the Rolls with the Lord Chancellor’s agreement the court service will suspend all ongoing housing possession action – this means that neither cases currently in the system or any about to go in to it 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.

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. However we have also put specific measures in place:

  • We are working with the Master of Rolls to strengthen the pre-action protocol requirement and also extend this to the private rented sector. This will help landlords and tenants to agree reasonable repayment plans where rent arrears may have arisen.
  • We have already made £500 million available to fund households experiencing financial hardship.
  • As part of the workers’ support package, the Chancellor announced the government will pay up to 80% of a worker’s wages, up to a total of £2,500 per month, where workers are placed on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
  • Both Universal Credit and Housing Benefit will increase and from April, Local Housing Allowance rates will pay for at least 30% of market rents in each area.

The government is also committed to supporting landlords, and maintaining the positive partnership between tenants and their landlords. That is why, in addition to the measures outlined above, we have also agreed with lenders that they will ensure support is available where it is needed for landlords. Landlords will also be protected by a 3 month mortgage payment holiday where they have a Buy to Let mortgages.

Landlords remain legally obligated to ensure properties meet the required standard – urgent, essential health and safety repairs should be made.

An agreement for non-urgent repairs to be done later should be made between tenants and landlords. Local authorities are also encouraged to take a pragmatic, risk-based approach to enforcement.

COVID-19 and renting: guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities

Non-statutory guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities in the private and social rented sectors in the context of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Consolidated_Landlord_and_Tenant_Guidance_COVID_and_the_PRS_v4.2

Details

This guidance provides advice to landlords and tenants on the provisions in the Coronavirus Act 2020, and further advice for landlords, tenants and local authorities more broadly about their rights and responsibilities during the COVID-19 outbreak.

 

BBC: Renters need more help to ‘ride out crisis’

Thousands of private renters who have lost their jobs could be facing eviction when the coronavirus lockdown ends, the government has been warned.

Almost half a million people are at “high risk” of homelessness, according to 187 local councils across England.

And charity Shelter says first time benefit claimants face falling behind with payments and ending up in debt.

The government has made housing benefits more generous to help those most in need during the pandemic.

It has also suspended evictions for the duration of the crisis.

Temporary increase

But Shelter says many of the nearly two million people who are applying for universal credit to help them through the crisis are finding that it does not come close to covering their rent.

Many are in a double bind because they can’t move to cheaper accommodation, or get a new job, due to the lockdown.

The charity is calling on the government to temporarily increase the housing element of the benefit – the Local Housing Allowance – to match 50% of the average rent in an area.

At the moment, payments are based on the bottom 30% of rents in an area.

Amy Corker, 32, lost her job as an account executive at a printing firm, when the company was forced to lay off staff just before the start of the lockdown.

She applied for universal credit to cover the £425 a month rent on her two-bedroom house in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, but was “shocked” to receive just £141 in total, including housing allowance, and minus three days pay from her final wage, for the month. Her landlord, who knew she was struggling, waived her rent for a month, but she has now run out of money.

“I have always paid my rent. I have always paid my bills,” said Amy.

“It is not my fault I have lost my job if I didn’t have an understanding landlord I don’t know what would have happened. I don’t know what’s going to happen next month.”

Amy, who had only started her job at the printing firm in January, is now doing a commission-only telesales job from home and is trying hard to find another full-time role.

“I am coming to terms with it. That this is what is. But these past seven weeks have been immensely tough mentally. Sometimes I can laugh about it. Sometimes I get really upset and emotional. I start thinking ‘am I going to have pack everything up and leave?’, or will I be able to find a job and stop that?”

Shelter says hard-hit renters relying on universal credit must find an estimated £13m a week in total to keep up with their rent payments, which could add up to a £660m black hole in their finances over the next 12 months if the government fails to act.

Chief executive Polly Neate said she hoped the government would listen because the country needed people to get back on their feet to help economic recovery, rather than being crippled by debt and insecure accommodation.

“With just a bit of help, they can ride out this crisis, they get can get a new job, and move somewhere cheaper.

“Without that help, we are just going to see a tsunami of evictions once the lockdown ends.”

‘Over the edge’

Ms Neate is delivering a 140,000 signature petition, compiled jointly with campaign site 38 Degrees, to Downing Street on Thursday, calling on the chancellor to take action.

The District Councils Network has, meanwhile, produced research which suggests more than 486,242 households are spending over half their income on private rented housing, and which could be at risk when the evictions ban is lifted.

The network, which represents 187 local authorities in England, says lone parents with children, young people and households on low incomes are particularly in danger of being tipped “over the edge” into homelessness.

It is calling for a permanent boost to housing benefits for those in private rented homes, and more funding for councils to fight homelessness, build homes and create jobs.

Councillor Giles Archibald, the network’s Better Lives spokesman, said: “The government has already rightly acted to support businesses and residents, but to avert a huge rise in homelessness it must now put the housing crisis at the centre of its exit strategy and recovery effort to support people as the scale of the economic impact becomes clearer.”

Government support

A government spokesperson said: “We’re committed to supporting all those affected by Covid-19 through these unprecedented times and we’ve implemented an enormous package of measures to do so.

“We’ve injected more than £6.5bn into the welfare system, including helping over one million households by raising Local Housing Allowance rates for universal credit and housing benefit claimants.

“And we’ve increased protections for renters to prevent evictions due to difficulties caused by Covid-19.

“We’ve also provided £180m in Discretionary Housing Payments to local authorities this year to further support those most in need.”

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said at Wednesday’s Downing Street press conference the government would ensure councils “have the resources that they need to carry out the absolutely critical functions that they are playing in our national response to coronavirus”.

Millions in UK having to choose between paying rent and eating, poll suggests

Renters’ unions are calling on the government to suspend rents for the duration of the coronavirus crisis, as research suggests millions are having to choose between paying landlords and putting food on the table, or have already been forced to leave their homes.

Polling conducted last weekend, after rent payments came due for many renters for the first time since the coronavirus shutdown began to affect incomes across the country, showed many renters were either already in or on the brink of crisis, with one in six forced to seek extra financial help to stay afloat.

About one in five UK households – 4.5 million families – live in private rented accommodation, with a similar amount in social housing, according to the most recent figures.

According to research carried out for the Guardian by Opinium, six in 10 renters said they had suffered financially as a result of the UK-wide shutdown that began three weeks ago. Of those, one in five had been forced to choose between food and bills or paying rent, and one in four said they had already had to voluntarily leave their home, move in with friends or parents, or request an earlier end to their tenancy because of the crisis.

The findings of the survey throw into doubt the efficacy and reach of government measures to support people who rent their homes, with almost half saying they were worried about the stability of their living situation despite increases to housing benefit and a temporary ban on evictions. “With these in force,” the government has promised, “no renter … will be forced out of their home.”

But while homeowners – including buy-to-let landlords – are able to take advantage of government-mandated mortgage holidays, advice for renters tells them they remain liable for their rent throughout the crisis. Kat Wright, national organiser for Acorn, which campaigns for tenants’ rights, said this stored up problems for the future.

“We’re facing a huge surge in evictions once restrictions are lifted, and renters across the UK are already unable to pay their rent,” she said. “Tenants need protection from evictions post-emergency and from rent debt accrued during the crisis.”

Despite the government’s measures, and guidance to landlords asking them to “be compassionate”, tenants who spoke to the Guardian said they had already faced threats of punitive action from their landlords. One self-employed renter, who preferred to remain unnamed, told the Guardian that when he approached his landlord to ask for a deferment of rent, he was served with an eviction notice in reply.

Others who have lost income are being forced into taking whatever work they can in order to continue to pay their rents, often in front line jobs in the gig economy, such as driving taxis or delivering takeaway food, potentially exposing themselves to infection with coronavirus.

“Many renters feel they have no choice but to break social distancing guidelines and go out to work, just so their landlords can continue to profit,” said Amina Gichinga of the London Renters Union. “How are people supposed to pay rent with no income and at least a month’s wait for any government assistance? How are people in low-paid jobs meant to clear hundreds or thousands of pounds of rent arrears in the future?

“During this global pandemic, people should be able to prioritise their safety and paying for food and other essentials. All rent payments need to be suspended and rent arrears need to be waived urgently to keep renters safe from eviction and from debt, and to prevent the further spread of the virus.”

An online petition calling for rents to be suspended has already reached 100,000 signatures, and the LRU wrote to Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, at the end of March calling him to act on its demands. Opinium’s polling found overwhelming support for a rent suspension, with three in four renters – and even a slight majority of landlords – in support.

A spokesman for Jenrick’s department, the ministry of housing, communities and local government, said: “We understand that the Covid-19 outbreak has left many facing uncertainty and feeling worried. Emergency legislation and the suspension of housing possession action means that no tenant in either a social or private rented home will be forced out.”

 

Calls for coronavirus rent freeze: rents can be increased by landlords during lockdown, housing minister confirms

Renters’ groups are calling on the Government to implement a rent freeze for a year, after the housing minister confirmed on Friday that rent increases were permitted during coronavirus lockdown.

Christopher Pincher said a ban on rent rises was not being considered by the Government and that the Coronavirus Act 2020 already contained measures to protect private and social tenants.

These include an extension of the time before a landlord is allowed to file an eviction notice against tenants from two months to three, rent holidays and the unfreezing of the Local Housing Allowance. Landlords are also being supported with three-month mortgage holidays available on buy-to-let loans.

However, many renters looking beyond lockdown are concerned about falling into debt to pay back missed rent, while campaign groups predict a spike in homelessness as tenants could be evicted as a result of arrears.

A significant number of private tenants have also fallen through the gaps for both the furlough scheme and Universal Credit, finding themselves with no income and no access to government support.

Caitlin Wilkinson, policy manager at campaign group Generation Rent, said: “Landlords should not be allowed to raise rents in the midst of a pandemic. The Government’s own advice is to stay home and avoid moving house if possible – meaning tenants faced with a rent hike have very little choice but to stay put and accept it.

“The Government should introduce a 12-month freeze on in-tenancy rent increases, to ensure tenants are able to stay in their homes for the duration of this crisis.”

Responding on Friday to a written question from Labour MP for Huddersfield, Barry Sheerman, Mr Pincher said: “The Government has no plans to ban rent increases during the Covid-19 outbreak, as we have already announced extensive measures to protect renters affected by coronavirus.

“Through the Coronavirus Act 2020 we have introduced legislation to delay when landlords are able to evict tenants.

“All tenants remain liable for their rent and those who can afford to should continue to pay it.

“At the end of this period, if arrears have built up, landlords and tenants will be expected to work together to establish an affordable repayment plan, taking into account the tenants’ individual circumstances.”

Mr Pincher also mentioned other measures including the Job Retention Scheme and a £7 billion boost to Universal Credit.

“These significant financial measures will help to support tenants to continue to pay their living costs, including rental payments,” he said.

 

 

Thousands of renters could be evicted in June. Will the government protect them?

When the lockdown ends what will happen to tenants? Almost nine million households, more than a third of all families in Britain, rent from a private landlord, a council or a housing association.

Because of coronavirus, many are now in financial need. Nearly two million claims for universal credit have been made since lockdown measures were announced in the UK. Welfare claimants are entitled to payments equivalent to housing benefit. But, as a result of changes made to benefits over the last decade (like the bedroom tax and restrictions to local housing allowance), it is increasingly rare for housing benefit to pay all of a tenant’s rent.

Others, although ineligible for universal credit, are also in difficulty: because they have received a redundancy cheque that will soon be spent, or their self-employed grant hasn’t arrived yet. Then there are furloughed workers, paid now, but waiting for news of redundancies from their employer.

Right now, all possession hearings – the main step in evicting a tenant – are “stayed”. This is the legal equivalent of putting food in a freezer. The cases are still there, ready to be thawed out at any moment.

Where a tenant is behind with their rent, landlords can issue them with a notice instructing them to leave, but (for the moment) the tenant can ignore it. On 25 June the housing courts will reopen for business. Judges will have to determine thousands of stayed pre-coronavirus cases, and the even greater number of new claims for possession arising from the lockdown.

Ministers have grasped that hundreds of thousands of homes are at risk. Earlier this week the housing minister, Robert Jenrick, announced that the government was working closely with judges to draft a “pre-action protocol” for when the stay is lifted.

He told MPs that the protocol will “enable tenants to have an added degree of protection, because instead of embarking upon the eviction proceedings immediately, there will be a duty upon their landlords to reach out to them, discuss their situation, and try to find an affordable repayment plan”.

The problem with the protocol is that it is toothless – essentially depending on the benevolence of landlords.

The two most common ways landlords seek possession are under “section 21” and “ground 8”. Section 21 provides that where a landlord has complied with certain procedural requirements (like issuing a notice using the correct form and waiting for a prescribed time before applying to court) the court must order possession.

The statute does not require a landlord to have complied with the government’s proposed pre-action protocol. For that reason, even where landlords have rushed to issue proceedings, and have ignored requests from tenants to defer payments for a short time, judges will be required to approve evictions.

Ground 8 provides that where a tenant is in rent arrears (eight weeks if the rent is due weekly), both when the landlord serves a notice on them and when the hearing takes place, the court must order possession.

Again, the court takes no account of the landlord’s conduct; it focuses simply on the amount of the tenant’s arrears. In these circumstances, if the new protocol is as the minister describes it, it will not protect tenants at all.

There are alternatives. In last year’s general election, the Conservatives committed to abolish section 21 as part of their “better deal for renters”. The government reaffirmed that commitment in the Queen’s speech, announcing a renters’ reform bill to include the abolition of section 21. They should be held to that promise. As for ground 8, it too needs to be abolished. Or, if that is impossible, rescinded for such time until tenants have had a chance to reduce their debts once they’re able to go back to work.

Abolishing or rescinding ground 8 would not prevent landlords relying on other grounds of possession. But, without it in place, judges will be free to order possession only if reasonable – thereby giving effect to the tenant defences the government says that it wants in place. One further advantage of abolishing ground 8 is that courts can turn to other possession proceedings in which possession orders are made but suspended, while tenants are given the chance to repay arrears to a realistic plan.

Muddling on without the abolition of section 21 and ground 8 will lead to millions of people forced out of their homes. It will send those evicted scattering – some to stay with elderly relatives, some into local authority housing (although it is at breaking point) and many into homelessness.

The government accepts that street homelessness speeds the transmission of coronavirus: this is the grim calculation that underpins the government’s granting of resources to councils to house rough sleepers. Drifting into a future where huge numbers of people lose their homes needlessly would be just as dangerous – for those who are evicted, and for everyone else.

 David Renton is a housing barrister at Garden Court Chambers