I wish to update the House on the Government’s continuing commitment to protecting tenants over the national lockdown period, whilst ensuring landlords can access justice in the most serious cases.
Preventing the enforcement of evictions against residential tenants
The Government laid a Statutory Instrument on 19 February which extends existing protections for renters by continuing to prevent enforcement agents (bailiffs) from attending residential premises to enforce a writ or warrant of possession except in the most serious circumstances. This measure will continue to protect public health by preventing people being evicted from their homes by enforcement agents, at a time when the risk of virus transmission remains high, and to avoid placing additional burdens on the NHS and local authorities.
Exemptions continue to be in place for the most serious cases that present the most strain on landlords and on local communities. These circumstances are illegal occupation, false statement, anti-social behaviour, perpetrators of domestic abuse in the social sector, where a property is unoccupied following death of a tenant and serious rent arrears of 6 months’ rent or more. The SI applies to England only and expires at the end of 31 March 2021. Given that 14 days’ notice is required before an eviction can take place, no evictions are expected before 14 April except in the most serious circumstances.
The requirement on landlords to provide tenants with six months’ notice before starting formal possession proceedings continues to apply in all but the most serious cases until at least 31 March 2021. This means that most renters served notice today can stay in their homes until August 2021, with time to find alternative support or accommodation. We will keep these measures under review.
Most tenants are continuing to pay their rent as normal. However, we recognise that a small proportion are experiencing trouble paying their rent. The Government has put in place a significant financial package to support them.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has offered support for businesses to pay staff salaries, enabling people to continue to pay their rent and has been extended until April 2021. The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme is also available.
In addition, the Government has put in place an unprecedented amount of financial support to ensure tenants can continue to pay their rent. Notably, we have increased the local housing allowance rate (LHA) to the 30th percentile. The increased LHA rates are expected to provide 1.5 million claimants with around £600 per year of housing support more than they would otherwise have received. This measure maintains that significant increase for all rates, by protecting the rates at the current levels in cash terms in 2021/22, even in areas where the 30th percentile of local rents has gone down. This continued investment in LHA will support claimants in the private rented sector to manage housing costs. We have also increased Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by up to £1,040 for the year. We spend around £30 billion a year on housing benefits – and spend more than any other OECD country as a proportion of GDP on housing support (2018 data).
We have updated our guidance to support landlords and tenants in the social and private rented sectors navigate the possessions process, which can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/understanding-the-possession-action-process-guidance-for-landlords-and-tenants.
We have also recently updated our COVID renting guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities to ensure it reflects the latest information. It can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-and-renting-guidance-for-landlords-tenants-and-local-authorities/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-landlords-and-tenants