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Housing issues surge as end of the eviction ban nears

Written by: Emma Lunn
The ban on most bailiff-enforced evictions in England comes to an end on 31 May, while the notice period landlords need to give their tenants will be reduced from six to four months.

The imminent end of the eviction ban means increasing numbers of private tenants are turning to Citizens Advice for help. The charity’s online housing advice has been viewed more than 2 million times in the first four months of the year.

Citizens Advice data shows that in January to April 2021 there has been a 17% increase in people with eviction issues compared to the same period in 2020. There has also been a 36% increase in the number of people seeking help with all types of problem in the private rented sector (31,700 in January to April 2021 vs 23,400 people in January to April 2020).

Polling conducted by ICM Unlimited for Citizens Advice also shows that, in the UK, almost one in 10 (8%) private renters are behind on their rent. This equates to more than 350,000 tenants across the country. The poll also found that the average amount of arrears owed has risen by 24% in the past few months from £730 in November 2020 to £907 in April 2021.

Meanwhile, research by Generation Rent has estimated that ‘unfair’ evictions cost local councils £161m a year.

Can tenants be evicted in June?

It was announced in March that tenants couldn’t be removed from their homes by bailiffs until 31 May at the earliest. The requirement for landlords to provide six-month notice periods to tenants before they evict was also extended until at least 31 May. It was previously due to end on 31 March.

The rules change from 1 June but it doesn’t mean that tenants can be evicted immediately. For most tenants, only those at the end of a long legal process will face imminent eviction. Then there is still 14 days’ notice before the final stage, which is the bailiffs attending. A landlord who carries out or threatens an eviction without following this process is likely to be committing a criminal offence.

So, what should tenants do if they are issued with a notice seeking possession by their landlord? Amy Hughes, Citizens Advice’s senior housing expert, says the first thing is to get some advice about whether the notice is valid, or any help that might be available.

She said: “A landlord notice is step one – it doesn’t mean an eviction can go ahead. If the landlord doesn’t follow the process to the letter of the law tenants may be able to successfully fight an eviction. If that’s not possible, a court may make an order for possession.

“Only when the date set for possession by the court has passed, can the landlord apply for bailiffs to carry out an eviction. This stage is also an opportunity for both sides to sort out their differences.”

There were some circumstances in which evictions were allowed to take place while the ban was in place – including more than six months of rent arrears. But if you are being evicted due to one of these reasons, you will still get 14 days’ notice.

Hughes said: “Once again, seek advice. In some cases the local council will have a duty to provide alternative accommodation. Citizens Advice and other housing charities can also help people find an alternative place to live, or even delay the eviction at this late stage.”

Citizens Advice is calling on the government to provide a package of financial support, delivered through grants and government-backed loans, for renters in England facing arrears due to the economic effects of the pandemic.

A group of MPs has also called for the same action, while renters campaign group Generation Rent has called for a Covid Rent Debt Fund to clear arrears built up in the pandemic.

Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Next week, the sticking plaster applied to the English private rented sector during the pandemic will be ripped off. Ending the eviction ban puts thousands of renters at risk of losing their home. The government should put in place a system of grants and government-backed loans for renters in England who are still financially struggling because of Covid-19.

“The lack of security renters in England will face from Monday is a symptom of a longer term problem where tenants can be evicted without cause. The government has committed to ending no-fault evictions and it’s vital this is urgently enshrined in law in their forthcoming reforms to the private rented sector.”

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