The eviction ban has been extended for four weeks and landlords will have to give the majority of tenants six months’ notice to protect vulnerable renters hit by the coronavirus crisis from a winter eviction.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) announced the move after charities warned there could be mass evictions around Christmas and said tens of thousands of outgoing tenants could be unable to access affordable homes, prompting a “devastating homelessness crisis”.
Renters have been protected during the Covid-19 outbreak by a ban announced in March and extended in June, which was due to end in England and Wales next week.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “I know this year has been challenging and all of us are still living with the effects of Covid-19. That is why today I am announcing a further four-week ban on evictions, meaning no renters will have been evicted for six months.
“I am also increasing protections for renters – six-month notice periods must be given to tenants, supporting renters over winter.
“However it is right that the most egregious cases, for example those involving anti-social behaviour or domestic abuse perpetrators, begin to be heard in court again. So when courts reopen, landlords will once again be able to progress these priority cases.”
The six-month notice periods apply to England only, will remain in place until at least March 31, and will apply to all but the most serious cases.
Writing to judges after a meeting of the civil procedure rule committee (CPRC), which makes rules for county courts, Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton said: “This four-week extension to stay relating to housing possession cases will allow for further work to be done to prepare for the stay to be lifted which in many respects can be welcomed.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer welcomed the “11th hour U-turn” but said Prime Minister Boris Johnson has “stuck his head in the sand” for months,
He added: “The ban should not be lifted until the Government has a credible plan to ensure that no-one loses their home as a result of coronavirus.”
Crisis said the announcement removes the “threat of imminent homelessness” for many but that the Government must also provide financial support to struggling renters to safeguard their long-term prospects.
This has been echoed by Citizens Advice, which called for those in arrears because of the pandemic to be given grants.
Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “The economic impact of the pandemic is likely to sharpen existing inequalities and increase poverty.
“Thousands are likely to struggle to find an affordable, sustainable new tenancy even with six months notice.”
The charity’s director of policy, Matt Downie, criticised the Government for leaving the decision to the eleventh hour, adding: “It’s not a responsible way to go about managing people living in precarious situations up and down the country”.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the extension was announced too late and for too short a period.
He said: “None of this would have been necessary if the last five months had been used to put in place sensible protections for private renters in a time of crisis instead of ministers sitting on their hands.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said: “A bullet may have been dodged with this extension but, as soon as Parliament returns, it must give judges extra powers to stop renters being evicted because of ‘Covid-arrears’.
“Facing eviction this Christmas is not a present anybody wants.”
National Residential Landlords Association chief executive Ben Beadle heavily criticised the extension, saying landlords “cannot be expected to foot the bill for Government failure”.
He continued: “There must now be a plan to support households to pay their bills and to compensate landlords fully for their lost income.”
Politicians, public health organisations, councils and charities all warned of the risks associated with lifting the ban.
Sixteen public health organisations said it could “significantly contribute to a rise in coronavirus infections”, with homeless people more likely to have health conditions that increase their vulnerability.
The government needs to do the right thing. It’s priority when Parliament returns must be to give judges extra powers to stop renters being evicted because of #coronavirus.
Otherwise a devastating homelessness crisis will be heaped on top of economic catastrophe. #newsnight
— Shelter (@Shelter) August 20, 2020
And Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield estimated that 420,000 children will return to school in September with the threat of eviction hanging over them if the ban was not extended.
The Labour Party also called for an extension, in a letter to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland on Friday, saying a “tsunami” of evictions proceedings could overwhelm the courts.
Some 174,000 renters have been warned by their landlord that they are facing eviction, and 58,000 moved out after being asked to leave during lockdown, according to Shelter.
It estimates that almost a quarter of a million renters had fallen behind on their rent by the end of June, while the District Councils Network believes up to half a million people could be at risk of eviction.
But the National Residential Landlords Association said it is wrong to assume that every tenant in arrears due to Covid-19 is at automatic risk of eviction.