At Shelter Cymru we share the disappointment of our sister organisation about the UK Government’s over-hyped measures to prevent evictions during the coronavirus outbreak. Rather than banning all evictions as promised, the emergency legislation will simply extend the current notice period for a section 21 eviction from two months to three.
Over the last week Shelter Cymru has advised many private renters seeking help after being handed a section 21 notice to quit.
There is a wave of evictions taking place directly due to the outbreak. However the UK Government’s legislation isn’t backdated, so none of these people will be helped.
It doesn’t help people whose accommodation is linked to their employment – vital for the many workers currently being laid off due to holiday parks shutting.
One glimmer of hope is that the legislation allows Wales to put in place a longer notice period of up to six months. We’re hopeful that the Welsh Government will take this step and give tenants some much-needed breathing space. The Scottish Government is currently taking steps to introduce a similar notice period.
We also hope that all housing possession court duty listings will be suspended, ending the current postcode lottery due to some courts being open, some closed, and some hearing oral evidence by telephone only.
The last thing we want to see is people at their wits’ end because they need to go house-hunting or to raise money and they can’t because of the lockdown. Sadly this is the reality for many people currently contacting our advisors.
In the meantime there are other steps that can be taken to help people.
Local authorities should follow the example of Torfaen and Monmouthshire: the two councils announced an automatic extension until October for everyone currently receiving Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs).
DHPs are a vital source of help to keep people in their home, and we’ll be asking the UK Government to make them more flexible so that anyone can apply, not just people receiving housing benefits.
We also need to ensure tenants are made aware that if they are handed a notice to quit, they don’t have to move out by the expiry date.
Not enough tenants understand their rights. Even though there’s a risk of court costs, during lockdown it is vital that people stay safe even if that means remaining in the home past the expiry date on the notice.
We all have a shared responsibility to ensure people seek advice on their rights. If you are in a position to help, please share our advice page. The wider we can spread this message, the better chance we have of preventing a wave of homelessness in three months’ time.