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Charity appeals for urgent change in law to prevent mass evictions

Housing charity Shelter has called for emergency changes to the Housing Act to prevent large numbers of private renters from being evicted when the ban on evictions ends on 23rd August.

The charity has laid out plans to amend section 8 of the Housing Act 1998, under which a judge must grant a possession order if the court is satisfied the tenant has built up eight weeks’ rent arrears. Ground 8 of section 8, Shelter argued, should be disapplied, making an eviction discretionary rather than mandatory in the case of rent arrears, enabling judges to consider if any rent arrears were accrued because of job loss, a drop in working hours or benefit delays.

Additionally, the charity argued that the government’s new pre-action protocol to encourage landlords to work with their tenants to create a repayment plan for any arrears is “meaningless” without amendments to Section 21 to force landlords to follow the pre-action protocol.

These changes, Shelter said, would mean that if a tenant had been served with a section 21 ‘no-fault’ notice because they had accrued arrears following a job loss caused by the pandemic, a judge could refuse to grant a possession order if the landlord had not been willing to agree to a reasonable repayment plan.

Shelter estimates that 227,000 adult private renters (3% of private tenants) have fallen into arrears since the start of the pandemic, meaning they could lose their homes when moratorium on evictions expires next month. The government would need to act quickly, it said, if it is to implement changes the changes in time, as parliament’s summer recess begins 22 July.

Polly Neate, chief executive at Shelter, said: “The Housing Secretary promised no-one would lose their home because of coronavirus. But the financial chaos of Covid-19 means that many private renters are in danger of being evicted when the current ban lifts. Unless he acts now, he will break his promise, and put thousands of renters at risk of homelessness.

“We know people have been doing whatever they can to pay their rent and keep their home safe. Despite this, the minute the evictions ban lifts, the 230,000 already behind withtheir rent could be up for automatic eviction if they’ve built up eight weeks-worth of arrears. And judges will be powerless to help them.

“The Housing Secretary can still prevent these ‘Covid-evictions’ as the pandemic continues and keep families safe in their homes. These changes would give judges the power to ensure that no renter is automatically evicted, and the impact of coronavirus is always considered.”

Adam Carey

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