Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 4) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020 - Motion for an humble Address

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:31 pm on 23rd September 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Grender Baroness Grender Liberal Democrat 1:31 pm, 23rd September 2020

My Lords, in the last general election this Government promised to scrap Section 21 evictions—evictions that are mandatory and require no explanation from the landlord. In March, the Government promised that

“no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home”.

This Motion, with your Lordships’ support, will achieve those objectives—those two promises from this Government—for thousands of renters who face the pandemic second wave and a bleak winter.

I thank all Peers who have joined me in discussions about this debate in advance. I recognise that this afternoon we may well tour a multitude of issues faced by both tenants and landlords, and many valid points will be made, but I urge Peers to comment on the significant loophole as a result of this statutory instrument, namely the Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 4) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020, laid before Parliament on 17 July. Its welcome baby sister, the Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020, was laid on 28 August, introducing six-month notice periods for tenants, unless there are serious issues such as domestic violence and anti-social behaviour or significant rent arrears.

My only question to the Minister today is: why can we not explore methods to apply longer notice periods to ensure parity between those served notice before and after 29 August? This request was shared with the Government yesterday, and I gave the Minister notice of it this morning. I hope that he will answer this specific question. The letter sent to all Peers by the Government yesterday dwelled almost entirely on the second statutory instrument, not the first, which is the subject of today’s debate.

As a result of this identified loophole, an estimated 55,000 households, according to Generation Rent, will not have six months’ notice, so if a landlord served a Section 21 notice to their tenant during the height of lockdown, they could be coming to the end of their tenancy now. Indeed, many notices served at the height of the pandemic have already expired, or the best-case scenario is three months’ notice.

I have asked many parliamentary Questions about how many people will be impacted by this loophole. The MHCLG has answered each request for data with verbal claims of “unprecedented packages”, instead of answering my questions. It has put some data out on Twitter suggesting that the official statistics show that only 3,022 private and social sector landlords applied to the courts for possession of their property between April and June. Perhaps the MHCLG should heed the warning of the Ministry of Justice, which says that

“the data is unlikely to be representative of general trends in possession actions.”

Most Peers involved in this debate will be only too well aware that tenants subject to a Section 21 eviction rarely make it to court, knowing that it is mandatory, requires no explanation from the landlord, has no discretionary role for the judges and leaves the tenant with the bill to pay for both the landlord and themselves.

The 55,000 households teetering on the brink of eviction are the subject of this vote today. That figure is calculated using widely accepted methodology based on population levels and numbers of private tenants. Given that Shelter has already said that by the end of June, 174,000 households had been warned that they would face eviction, we can safely assume that we are talking about tens of thousands having been served with an eviction notice between March and August of this year. All it takes is for a landlord to now reinvoke that eviction notice and during the second wave of an epidemic, in the run up to winter, these families will be searching for a new home. Some will face homelessness and many the misery of temporary accommodation, supported by local authorities that are struggling every day to help. My noble friend Lady Thornhill will elaborate. The winter truce was welcome, but it is too late for these tenants—tenants such as Kevin from Kendal, who told Generation Rent:

“Our landlord has decided to sell their house, no doubt to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday. We have paid our rent on time and in full for almost 4 years, even with the reduced income over Covid-19, but we received a Section 21 Notice. We’re struggling to find a suitable home in our town and are now having to consider moving away and changing our kids’ schools. My eldest son should be starting Year 7 at the local secondary in September. I was a child when I was evicted from my home 24 years ago. I never thought my kids would go through this.”

We must vote down this statutory instrument today to help tenants such as Kevin. The Government were warned and had time to prepare. They could have used the recommendations of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee back in May to give judges more discretion or to accelerate the abolition of Section 21, but they did not. In this debate, some will want to talk about how difficult it has been for many landlords. I agree, and I wholeheartedly support the package of proposals for tenants and landlords drawn up by the National Residential Landlords Association, Shelter, Crisis, Generation Rent and others, but that is not the subject of the vote today. If we vote against this statutory instrument, will landlords still be able to take action regarding more serious eviction cases? Yes, they will, because of the second statutory instrument. This Motion ensures that there is fairness between those threatened with eviction before August and those threatened with eviction after August. That is all.

I recognise that this House does not like to vote down statutory instruments—it is not a good precedent—but this Government have already abandoned due process. The Commons did not do its job and properly scrutinise this SI. The Government did not comply with the 21-day rule of having 21 sitting days before it was enacted. This week, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, set Parliament the challenge of not surrendering our role because of Covid-19. This is not comfortable parliamentary business, but neither is it comfortable for the tens of thousands threatened with eviction.

As for the Motion to Regret, clearly, I agree with its laudable aims, but if we vote for that, nothing happens. We will come back tomorrow to discuss more Covid-19 regulations, but we will not have changed the law. We must vote down this SI and change the law. The sky will not fall in. Serious evictions will still happen, but thousands of families threatened with eviction, with no cash and no options, will have your Lordships to thank for changing the law and giving them the reprieve that they need in these terrifying times.