The government has extended its ban on evictions in England and Wales by a further two months, prolonging the breathing space for thousands of tenants who have struggled to pay the rent during lockdown.
“Eviction hearings will not be heard in courts until the end of August and no one will be evicted from their home this summer due to coronavirus,” the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, tweeted on Friday evening reports The Guardian. Campaigners had warned that hundreds of thousands of tenants in the private and social sectors faced court action from the end of this month because they had gone into rent arrears after losing work or shielding during the coronavirus pandemic.
The government’s original eviction moratorium, announced in March, was due to end on 25 June, at which point landlords would have been able to continue or institute legal proceedings to remove tenants. The government said it was working with the judiciary to draw up new legal guidance which would ensure the courts were “better able to address the need for appropriate protection of all parties, including those shielding from coronavirus”.
The extension – which will take the moratorium to five months in total – means eviction proceedings will in effect not be able to start up before 1 September. The government said it wanted court to be a last resort; it wanted landlords to “exhaust all possible options”, such as agreeing flexible rent payment plans with tenants, to minimise the likelihood of eviction proceedings.
The housing charity Shelter said the extension merely delayed the eviction problem until the end of August, and that the government should act quickly to change the law to prevent a “tidal wave of homelessness after the end of August”. Polly Neate, Shelter’s chief executive, said: “The government has reset the clock on the evictions ban, buying the families who were only weeks away from losing their homes, a vital stay of execution. But it’s only a stop-gap. The ban hasn’t stopped people who’ve lost their jobs during this pandemic from racking up rent arrears. Even if they have a plan to pay them back, these debts will throw struggling renters straight back into the firing line of an automatic eviction as soon as the ban does lift.”
Amina Gichinga, of the London Renters Union, said: “Unless it takes action to cancel the debt that hundreds of thousands of renters are in because of the coronavirus pandemic, today’s announcement simply kicks the can down the road. We are still heading for a chaotic rent debt and eviction crisis this summer unless the government cancels rent debt and makes the eviction ban permanent.”
Dame Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said the pause was a welcome breathing space, but added: “Simply extending the pause of repossession is a sticking plaster not a cure. People who have fallen behind on rent arrears and those who have been furloughed or lost their jobs will need the security of proper reform to the rules governing evictions.”
Dan Wilson-Craw of the campaign group Generation Rent said: “The government must use the time it has bought itself to develop a long term solution to provide rent relief and end unfair evictions for good.”
Campaigners are sceptical that many landlords will voluntarily agree to rent renegotiations with tenants in arrears. Some surveys show approximately half of tenants who asked their landlord for a rent holiday in recent weeks have been refused. There are about 8 million renters in the UK, of whom 4.5 million have private landlords, with the remainder renting from social landlords such as councils and housing associations.