Although landlords don't need a reason to evict you in England and Wales, they must still follow certain rules. If you don't move out after your notice period ends, the landlord must apply for a possession order in court, then only bailiffs appointed by the court can physically remove you from your home.
If the landlord tries to evict you themselves, it's a criminal offence under the 1977 Protection from Eviction Act. That includes changing the locks, dumping your belongings outside, cutting off the electricity or water supply and other types of harassment. The penalties include paying back up to a year's rent.
Unfortunately, this law is not nearly enforced as much as it should be. In 2019-20, 1040 households were made homeless as a result of an illegal eviction. Between 2016 and 2019, there were an average of 24 prosecutions per year for unlawful eviction in the whole of England and Wales (full data). The total number of illegal evictions is likely much higher than the homelessness figures suggest as councils only record cases of people who seek their help and qualify for support. But even a prosecution rate as high as 2% would be pitiful - it lets criminal landlords act with impunity, and shatters any confidence renters have in the legal system.
The risk of landlords using illegal methods to remove occupants is rising due to the restrictions on eviction during the pandemic, and the prospect of reforms to abolish Section 21, which will require landlords to give and prove their reason for an eviction.
Local authorities and police officers have powers to stop illegal eviction and prosecute offenders. But few councils have fully-funded tenancy relations officers to perform this role. And too often police officers attending illegal evictions are unaware of the Protection from Eviction Act: a 2020 report by Safer Renting found that in incidents of illegal evictions “police tended to side with the landlord”. Illegal evictions get dismissed as "civil matters" despite being clearly criminal acts.
As voters in England and Wales elect Police and Crime Commissioners on 6 May, we are calling on candidates to reset police attitudes to illegal eviction and commit to:
- Better training of police officers so they know when a renter is being illegally evicted
- Work with local councils to prevent illegal evictions, and
- Record and publish data on incidents between landlords and tenants
You can ask your local candidates for commissioner to back our demands here.
But a shift in the Police's approach to illegal eviction is not enough. Councils are better-placed to enforce housing law than cops but they don't have an explicit duty to take action in cases of illegal eviction. So we also need a change to the law to give councils the duties and powers they need to bring criminal landlords to justice - and the funding to employ full-time Tenancy Relations Officers.
Finally, the penalties for illegal eviction must be much higher. Magistrates courts have been known to fine landlords puny amounts for illegal eviction offences - instead landlords should face a higher price including the costs of rehousing tenants and having their properties seized, as Safer Renting has proposed.
You can add your voice to these demands by signing our petition to the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick here.
Our Manifesto for the Police & Crime Commissioner elections contains our proposals in full.
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