read in the mirror online: https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/im-being-kicked-out-because-22521394
Many people over the next few weeks may find themselves facing a perfect storm as redundancies continue, payment holidays and Government support expire and most worryingly, the ban on evictions ends.
This isn’t the cheeriest of looks into the future, but a bit of forward planning can help you face down your fears and hopefully avoid many problems with your landlord or mortgage provider.
Why is August a problem?
When it became apparent that the lockdown was going to have a huge impact on society, the Government brought in or proposed emergency legislation to cover a huge range of situations. One of the most significant was the ban on evictions.
Initially announced on the 18th March 2020, the (complete) ban applied to England and Wales for three months but was extended to 23 August 2020 afterward. The initial press release is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/complete-ban-on-evictions-and-additional-protection-for-renters
Payment holidays were also extended to buy-to-let mortgages to ensure that overstretched landlords also had an outlet if they were struggling to meet mortgages.
But with the ban expiring in just a few weeks, what will happen next?
Private landlords will be able to go to the courts to start eviction procedures from 24 August 2020. It’s unclear how many people will find themselves on the receiving end of such procedures, but I’ve been hearing many, many stories of rent increases, threatened evictions and more. From the landlord perspective, some tenants have stopped paying rent over lockdown (breaking contracts) and that’s led to some properties potentially facing repossession.
There seems to be a lot of urban myths doing the rounds about evictions, squatters rights, mortgage payment holidays and various laws too. Needless to say, believing spurious social media content on these subjects is dangerous if you are potentially about to lose your home or property.
The problem with renting before the coronavirus was the complexity of rules, lack of appeals processes and the fact that you landlord can just give you notice if they want to end the tenancy, even if you’ve done nothing wrong or missed a payment. The rules vary depending on your tenancy agreement and can be found in summary here: https://www.gov.uk/private-renting-evictions
In short though, you must be given notice by the landlord, though this period varies, depending on what your tenancy says. You deposit must be protected according to the Tenancy Deposit Scheme (https://www.gov.uk/tenancy-deposit-protection) and the landlord must abide by the terms of the contract which must be fair and comply with the law.
The Government guidance on renting is set out here: https://www.gov.uk/private-renting
If you are in a dispute over rent increases you can take the matter up with the (deep breath) First-Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber – Residential Property) – Here’s how to get started: https://www.gov.uk/courts-tribunals/first-tier-tribunal-property-chamber
How does eviction work?
It depends on whether you are a private or a council/housing association tenant. But in brief:
- The landlord must give three months’ notice before applying to court.
- Expect a backlog but don’t get complacent – with emergency legislation and rules being drafted about all kinds of things, we may see ‘fast-track’ processes to deal with disputes of this nature.
- Private renters don’t stand much chance of winning in court if their landlord has followed the correct process, though council or housing association tenants may be able to appeal. It’s really complicated though. Shelter cover the process here: https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/eviction/eviction_of_council_tenants
If your landlord got an eviction notice before the lockdown then your situation is the most severe. You will need to get urgent legal advice as bailiffs can start operating from 24 August 2020, though the landlord must still give you two weeks’ notice before you are due to be evicted.
Shelter has a great page full of legal advice and helplines here: https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/complaints,_courts_and_tribunals/legal_aid_and_free_legal_advice
How to complain
Keep everything in writing where you can and get the landlord to put their responses in writing too.
Firstly, make a formal complaint to the landlord setting out why you think you’ve been treated unfairly. Make it clear if it’s rent increases, eviction with or without breach of contract or health and safety objections.
If that doesn’t resolve the matter, your local council may be able to mediate on:
- Illegal eviction
- Harassment or dishonest or unfair behaviour
- Failure to conduct dangerous repairs.
You will need to go through your local council to find out about the process but make sure you notify your landlord and the courts if an eviction notice has been served or sought.
The big problem though, is the fact that the landlord can evict you if your contract is up and there’s not much you can do about it if they follow the rules.
What can I do if I’m worried about being evicted?
- Don’t wait for it to happen. If you are behind on your rent, or your contact is due to end soon, get in touch with your landlord or letting agents now so you can pre-empt what might happen later.
- Are you in arrears? If you’ve entered into a payment plan with your landlord or they’ve agreed to defer payments, you then make sure you have it in writing. If you’re worried about not being able to make payments, speak to the landlord now and see if you can agree terms and timescales.
- Claim Universal Credit now. The Government’s ‘all in one’ benefits scheme has had a bad rep but the fact of the matter is it’s there and essential if you’ve been made unemployed and the sooner you apply the better. For those who haven’t claimed in years (or ever) the payment for rent goes direct to you, not your landlord, so you don’t necessarily need to tell them. However, if you’re applying to rent a property, you may need to get extra references and some landlords are refusing to take people on benefits.
- Plan a move. If it’s looking like you’ll be asked to leave or might get priced out, don’t delay, shop around now. There are actually some quite good deals post lockdown but bear in mind the longer you leave it, the more competition there will be for the better lets. Work out what you’ll need cost-wise for a deposit and the cost of moving your stuff.
- If you’re in financial difficulties, speak to free debt charity StepChange for help with your creditors. They will work out what you can afford to pay and may help you free up some cash to stay afloat.· Resolver has tons of advice for people who need to free up some cash, find work or claim benefits here: https://news.resolver.co.uk/if-youve-been-made-redundant-what-next/
What will happen next?
It looks like both Scotland and Northern Ireland will extend the ban of evictions for a longer period. I’ve heard nothing to indicate England and Wales will do the same but it’s possible that aggressive evictions or repossessions might prompt the Government into action.
The most important thing to do is to tackle concerns about rent or mortgage arrears with your landlord or buy-to-let mortgage provider before the situation gets out of control. Seek help before the situation is desperate.