Whether you occupy social housing or private rented accommodation, early intervention is absolutely key to staving off the threat of eviction.
The Coronavirus Act 2020
In response to COVID-19, the Government passed emergency legislation on 25th March 2020 (‘The Coronavirus Act 2020’), which, amongst other things, increased the statutory notice period for the majority of housing possession matters to 3 months. This includes notices served under Sections 8 and 21 Housing Act 1988. The 3 months period applies to all notices served between 26th March 2020 and 30th September 2020.
Tenants need to think ahead
Whilst the Coronavirus Act 2020 provides some extra protection against eviction, it is fair to say that in some instances it will only delay the inevitable. Tenants are still liable for rent and if there has been loss of income by reason of COVID-19, arrears are likely to accrue as a result. Tenants should therefore think ahead to try to safeguard their long-term housing position.
If you are a tenant facing a loss of income due to the pandemic, you ought to:-
Seek to negotiate a short-term rent decrease with your landlord, or see what other help they may be able to offer. Some landlords will be understanding, and if you have so far been a good tenant it could be in the landlord’s interest to give you a bit of time to get back on your feet.
Check whether you are eligible for Housing Benefit / the housing element of Universal Credit, to help to pay your rent.
If you are already receiving a welfare benefit to help to pay your rent, but there is a shortfall in your entitlement, you could also apply to your local Council for Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP), which is designed for short-term difficulties such as those presented by COVID-19.
Explore ways to reduce expenditure, such as by applying for Council Tax Reduction, changing to cheaper energy suppliers, considering if all monthly, weekly and day-to-day expenses are necessary etc.
If you have been served with a notice, contact housing legal aid solicitors to see whether you are eligible for free advice and assistance under legal aid.
The threat of an unlawful eviction
Sadly, even during a pandemic, a small minority of landlords will flout the Protection from Eviction legislation and unlawfully evict tenants. However, the Courts will not take this lightly. I would therefore urge anyone facing the prospect of an unlawful eviction, or those who have been unlawfully evicted, to seek legal advice and assistance straightaway. The Court has the power to order your landlord to allow you to re-enter the premises, and/or to award high levels of compensation for loss incurred and inconvenience, distress and discomfort suffered.
I would add that if your landlord is pursuing a course of conduct that might amount to harassment, which could be in an attempt to make you vacate the premises, you should again immediately seek legal advice and assistance. If necessary, an action could be brought under the Protection from Harassment legislation, for an injunction to protect you, and compensation for distress caused.
Invalid notices & defences to claims
If you are served with a possession notice, a housing solicitor would be able to advise upon:
Whether the notice is valid. It is not uncommon for landlords to serve defective notices, particularly under s.21 Housing Act 1988 where substantial requirements must be met for notices to be valid.
How to go about improving your position in advance of prospective possession proceedings.
Whether to negotiate with the landlord, and if so on what basis.
Whether you would have a defence to a possession claim, and if so what your prospects of success would be.
Whether there would be grounds to bring a counterclaim against your landlord, for instance if there is disrepair or if your deposit is not protected in a registered scheme.
Time is of the essence as sometimes investigatory work is required to be able to advise on the validity of notices served and prospective defences and/or counterclaims. After a possession claim is issued at Court and served on you, any defence should usually be filed within 14 days.
Advice & assistance under legal aid
If financially eligible, advice and assistance is available under legal aid as soon as there is a risk of loss to someone’s home. Legal aid is also available to someone who has been unlawfully evicted from their home and wishes to seek an injunction to return, and/or to claim compensation against the perpetrator landlord. You will certainly benefit from having a professional on board to advise, defend your position and enforce your legal rights.
There are steps you can take to stop your eviction and retain your home.