The government has announced its decision to taper down emergency measures to the private rented sector. Notice periods are set to return to pre-COVID levels from 1 October.
At the start of the first national lockdown in March 2020, the government announced an initial ban on evictions in England and Wales. This was to prevent additional hardship for those directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous extensions pushed the end date to 31 May 2020. However, there have been eviction exemptions for the most serious cases.
Landlords in England have also been required to give tenants’ a six-month notice period of eviction. This was first introduced at the end of August 2020. There will now be a phased approach for notice periods to return to levels from before the pandemic.
Housing minister Christopher Pincher says: “From the beginning of the pandemic, we have taken unprecedented action to protect renters and help keep them in their homes.”
Notice periods and new forms
From 1 June, landlords must give tenants at least four months notice for repossession in most cases. This will include any Section 21 notices served and the majority of Section 8 notices. The changes will not be backdated. This means notices served up to and including 31 May will need to provide a minimum of six months’ notice.
At the beginning of June, there will also be new prescribed forms for Section 8 and 21 notices. These documents will become available on the government’s website. Landlords must use the most up-to-date version for the day the notice counts as served to the tenant.
Keep in mind that most notices usually count as served a couple working days after being posted, so landlords should avoid serving notices in the days leading up to 1 June.
From 1 October, notice periods will then return to pre-pandemic levels. This will be subject to public health advice and progress with the roadmap out of lockdown. Notice periods may be minimised for cases of severe rent arrears.
The government has also announced restrictions will end for bailiff-enforced evictions next month. From 1 June, bailiffs will begin operating again. After restarting, there will be a significant backlog. Courts will prioritise the most serious cases. This includes those involving anti-social behaviour and fraud.
Notice of at least 14 days is required before an eviction can take place. Because of this, no evictions will likely take place before the middle of June, except in the most serious circumstances. Evictions will also not take place if anyone living in the property is self-isolating or has COVID-19 symptoms.
What does this mean for the private rented sector?
The emergency measures in the private rented sector have given thousands of tenants some much-needed stability throughout the pandemic. Many feel it’s important the government is phasing back these measures, so the private rented sector can start to recover.
Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA), comments: “Having operated under emergency conditions for over a year, the announcement from the government is an important step in ensuring the sector’s recovery.
“It does nothing though to address the rent debt crisis. With the number of private tenants in arrears having increased threefold since lockdown measures started, more are at risk of losing their homes as restrictions ease.”
Will the government help tenants in rent arrears?
Many in the industry have called for more support for both tenants and landlords. Despite the fact that the majority of private tenants have been able to keep up with rent payments, some are struggling. In November and December 2020, 9% of private renters, which equates to 353,000 households, were in rent arrears. According to government figures, this is up from 3% in 2019-2020.
For some tenants, these debts have increased with little hope they will be able to pay them back. This can damage their credit scores and could cause tenants challenges when trying to move house.
The majority of landlords have been working with struggling tenants, but many in the industry are calling for the government to help tenants pay off their rental debt. In Scotland and Wales, the government has offered loans to struggling tenants. Many feel England should have a similar support package brought forward.
The chief executive of NRLA concludes: “We want to see tenancies sustained wherever possible and call on the Chancellor to step in and provide affected tenants with the financial support they need to pay off rent arrears built as a result of the pandemic.”