Extension of the Eviction ban: protection or purgatory for renters?

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This post discusses the Government’s new announcement of an extended eviction ban and discusses the impact this is having on renters who are accruing rent arrears.

What is the eviction ban?

The government currently has a ban in place which prevents any eviction by bailiffs to take place against private renters until 31st March 2021. In other words, as a renter, you cannot be forced to leave your home until the end of this month. A landlord can still provide notice that they want you to leave and a court hearing may take place, but the physical act of eviction is banned. This ban prevents all evictions except the most serious of cases, which include:

  • accruing at least 6 months’ rent arrears, or
  • there has been antisocial behaviour.

It’s also worth noting there are two distinct routes for an eviction. Either through a s21 or s8 notice:

Section 21 Notice

A landlord does not need to provide a reason for eviction if serving this notice. Currently a landlord must give at least 6 months’ notice if serving after 29th August 2020. They can only apply to court after the notice period ends.

Section 8 Notice

To use a section 8 notice a landlord needs a legal reason for eviction which they must prove in court, called ‘grounds for possession’. The most common reasoning is for rent arrears. Currently, landlords must provide 6 months’ notice, however if the renter has accrued more than 6 months’ rent arrears, only 4 weeks’ notice is necessary.

Comment

There is a perception that this extension is one of grace and support for renters with the government aiming to ‘protect’ them during this difficult time. Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing has said: “We have taken unprecedented action to support renters during the pandemic…our measures strike the right balance between protecting tenants and enabling landlords to exercise their right to justice.”

However, the reality of these constant extensions is merely a painful prolonging of the inevitable. There is a gaping financial wound for many renters, which is continually growing, and ultimately many will not be able to repay the debt. This is not protection for renters, but a form of purgatory. For many renters who have lost their income but are forced to pay full rent, they are in a state of suffering, but without any clear way out. For most, the option of moving somewhere cheaper is also out, as many landlords are asking for 6 months rent in advance.

The effect of rent arrears does not affect all renters equally. In recent Guardian articles, figures suggest ‘800,000 private renters have built up arrears since the ban came into force’. Furthermore, every region has seen substantial increases in tenants applying for universal credit since March. with 46% of renters in the North West now reliant on state support and 40% of households in privately rented accommodation in London receiving the benefit.

The rent arrears crisis is also having a highly disproportionate effect on female renters. Prior to Covid-19, women spent a higher percentage of their wages on rent, with a report by Women’s Housing Forum ‘A Home of her own, women and housing’ stated thar average rents in England took 43% of women’s median earnings compared to 28% of men’s in 2018. This inequality is now coupled with the fact that around 133,000 more women were furloughed than men across the UK during the first wave of coronavirus, according to a report by the Women’s Budget Group which all the while reinforces fears the crisis is hitting women hardest.  

What’s the solution?

Further extensions of the eviction ban do not get to the core issue of rising rent arrears. If the government really want to ‘protect’ renters, they need to take decisive action and provide financial assistance. As Ben Beadle, the Chief Executive of the National Residential Landlords Association said: ‘A package of hardship loans and grants is needed as a matter of urgency. To expect landlords and tenants simply to muddle through without further support is a strategy that has passed its sell by date.’ Financial assistance has been provided by both Scotland and Wales in the form of ‘Tenancy Saver Loans’ and ‘Tenant Hardships Loans’ but nothing available as of yet for English tenants.

As it stands, the government have the next two weeks to start taking definitive and supportive action to provide genuine protection for renters. Otherwise renters are going to be suffering long beyond March 31st.  

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