If tenants stay beyond their notice period, the landlord can make a claim in the courts to take back the property. They’ve actually been able to do this the whole time – the courts just haven’t been able to do anything with the claims.
The government has added some hoops the landlord need to jump through to pursue an eviction – including providing information about how the pandemic has affected the tenant – and we only got guidance yesterday about what tenants can expect when their notice period expires.
Despite Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick’s promise that “no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home”, renters who have lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home if their landlord is seeking eviction through Section 21 – where they don’t need a reason – or Section 8, Ground 8, where the tenant has more than two months’ rent arrears. In these cases the courts have no choice but to order an eviction, even if the tenant will be made homeless.
If tenants can demonstrate that they are likely to face “extreme hardship”, then courts can postpone proceedings for six weeks. Hardly a source of comfort or an effective way of preventing hardship and homelessness.
Ministers had six months to make good on their promise before opening the courts back up, but they have failed.
We estimate that 55,000 private renter households in England are facing eviction through the courts between Monday and the end of October.
This is based on a YouGov survey carried out at the end of July and start of August. Of 328 adults who are planning to move in the next three months, 4% (13 respondents) said their landlord terminated the tenancy or will not extend it (p13). This is 1.2% of the 1081 respondents who were renting at some point during the pandemic. Scale that up to the 4,552,000 private renter households in England, and that’s 55,000.
Using the same method on figures for people who had already moved on page 7 of the survey findings, a further 63,000 had already moved after their landlord told them to. This reflects stories we’ve heard from renters about landlords evicting them illegally, or moving out before the tenancy ended to avoid becoming liable for the landlord’s legal costs if and when they make a claim.
We can also estimate how many claims are already in the system. In the second and third quarters of 2019, the Ministry of Justice recorded 9,441 Section 21 claims (recorded as “accelerated”) and 11,675 Section 8 claims (private landlord). Recent research suggests that the rent arrears rate is around twice what it was before the pandemic. If this translates into twice as many Section 8 claims, with the same number of Section 21 claims, we could see around 33,000 cases being activated by the end of the month.
The figure might rise substantially in the final quarter – we have heard from many people whose landlords are using the Stamp Duty holiday announced in July as an excuse to put their home on the market and issue a Section 21 notice.
Many eviction cases could be averted if the government increased the benefits available for people to cover their rent. But the government must also introduce legislation to abolish Section 21 and stop renters being evicted for reasons beyond their control or when losing their home will make them destitute. Without urgent action now, the government’s negligence will create a homelessness crisis entirely of its own making.
The full guidance is available here.