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.
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.
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.
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.”
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”.
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.”