On 5 June 2020 the Government announced that it had extended the “ban” on evictions by 2 months to further protect renters in arrears as a result of the pandemic. This means that renters cannot now be evicted until 23 August 2020. For many struggling to pay their rent in the face of job losses, furlough and pay cuts, this announcement will have led to an immediate sigh of relief. But what does this actually mean? And are landlords actually prohibited from taking any action to evict residential tenants?
On 27 March 2020, an emergency measure to stay all ongoing possession claims for 90 days was put in place. This meant that where landlords had already taken steps to start the eviction process by issuing proceedings, that process was automatically paused. The measures announced by the Government, which will come into force on 25 June 2020, will mean that those cases cannot be progressed until 23 August 2020.
That does not mean that landlords cannot take any steps to commence the eviction process. The first step a landlord needs to take is serving notice. In the case of rent arrears, this is a “section 8 notice” under the Housing Act 1988 (also known as Form 3). Ordinarily in many cases, a landlord could serve a notice based on rent arrears and then issue proceedings just 2 weeks after. During the pandemic, the Government has extended the notice period required where a landlord relies on recovery of possession based on rent arrears to 3 months. However, critically this notice can still be served in order to start time running. Once the notice period expires, landlords can then apply to court for a possession order, albeit that currently it is automatic for such a claim to be stayed. If a landlord served a notice before lockdown which has expired or will expire before 23 August 2020, again, they can still issue a claim.
So whilst the extra protection is good news and provides some security for the next few weeks, the effect of the Government’s measures is merely a delay in the process but not the total cure. The arrears are still outstanding and landlords can still take some steps to progress the possession process, even during lockdown.
Further announcements are expected and no doubt guidance will be issued regarding how the courts should handle Covid-19 arrears cases. A judiciary-led working group has been created to prepare for how best to support parties, including vulnerable renters, when the suspension is lifted. Watch this space for further updates.
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