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Generation Rent urges government to protect renters from eviction

Written by: Emma Lunn
Private renter sector evictions will restart on 23 August with new civil procedure rules.

Tenants campaign group Generation Rent has written an open letter to housing minister Robert Jenrick, warning that renters could lose their homes when the rental eviction ban lifts on 23 August.

The group has joined forces with debt charity StepChange to urge the government to ensure that no one who has lost income because of coronavirus will be evicted from their home.

The government temporarily banned evictions when lockdown began in March. It extended the ban in June, meaning that eviction claims will not be heard in court until 23 August.

But the organisations warn that unless temporary adjustments to the eviction process are accompanied by legal changes giving tenants more time to pay down arrears, many people risk losing their homes when the rental eviction ban is lifted.

Rent arrears

Generation Rent estimates that 590,000 people have fallen into rent arrears during the pandemic.

To give people space to recover, the letter to Jenrick recommends that plans to end section 21 evictions must be accelerated, as well as urging temporary changes to ground 8 to give courts discretion to suspend a possession order in cases where arrears have built up.

Alicia Kennedy, Generation Rent director, said: “Over half a million households are behind on their rent and people are terrified about losing their homes. The government must prevent section 21 no fault evictions or section 8 evictions for rent arrears built up during the pandemic. Renters urgently need reassurance that they will not lose their home due to the economic shock of coronavirus, as the government promised in March. The government must use the final days of parliament to ensure that no home is at risk.”

Phil Andrew, StepChange CEO, said: “The coronavirus emergency has wreaked havoc on people’s finances – it’s not right that this turmoil should be accompanied by the threat of eviction. The government has shown through the announcement of its Breathing Space scheme, that it recognises the importance of allowing those in financial difficulty the space to recover. People who have fallen into rent arrears during the pandemic need the same respite.”

Civil procedure rules

When evictions restart from 23 August landlords will have to adhere to new civil procedure rules. These rules require landlords seeking possession of their property to submit a ‘reactivation notice’.

In this they must set out any relevant information about a tenant’s circumstances, including whether coronavirus has affected their ability to pay rent, or whether the tenant is vulnerable.

Judges will be able to adjourn proceedings if the information is not provided. However, if information is provided, judges will have no legal means to prevent section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, or section 8 evictions for rent arrears built up due to coronavirus, despite evidence that the tenant has been affected by the pandemic or is vulnerable.

Kennedy said: “The civil procedure rules state that landlords must provide information on a tenant’s circumstances to avoid delays, but as long as information is provided, it appears evictions will go ahead.

“These rules alone are worthless and will not help the vast majority of renters who are at risk of losing their home, as judges will not have the legal powers necessary to prevent section 21 no fault evictions or section 8 evictions for rent arrears built up during the pandemic.

“Coronavirus has created a rent debt crisis, which is set to get worse as the furlough scheme is wound down. Renters who have been left out of government support schemes have now been left in the dark.”

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