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Know your rights as a tenant during Covid-19

With Covid-19 putting incomes at risk across the country, we explain your protections in the face of eviction
7. Which UK town has seen more council houses sold to private landlords than any other? a) Middlesbrough b) Motherwell c) Milton Keynes

The furlough scheme has been extended until the end of March next year but is doing little to allay fears of mass redundancies. As households across the country worry about how they’ll pay rent, it’s vital to know what your rights as a tenant are if you’re at risk of losing your home.

When the Government lifted the eviction ban in England and Wales at the end of September, Ride Out Recession Alliance members Generation Rent said it meant Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick had “[torn] up his pledge to protect renters”. 

An estimated 55,000 households were given notice by private landlords during the pandemic, the campaigners said, but have not yet moved out of their homes. There could be as many as 700,000 tenants falling into rent arrears in the next 12 months according to the London School of Economics.

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Ministers did introduce new measures to reduce the immediate impact of the pandemic on tenants, like the requirement for landlords to give six months’ notice of an eviction. But while mortgage holidays were extended for another six months, eviction continues to be a threat to tenants. 

There are exceptions to the six months’ notice policy which still put many at risk – like those who started accruing rent debt before lockdown. Legal aid deserts persist in areas such as Cornwall and Telford, which hit renters’ ability to battle eviction notices.

Housing is a devolved issue, meaning the rules vary slightly between nations. In Scotland, an eviction ban is in place until March next year, but it was lifted in England and Wales.

So what can you do? 

How can I keep my home if I lose income?

First check your redundancy rights and look at how likely you are to be eligible for the Job Support Scheme. You can read our guide here.

If you’re struggling to pay rent, you can apply for Universal Credit which includes housing benefit. There are free services for estimating how much you could be paid, such as online benefits calculator entitledto. If housing benefit still doesn’t cover your rent, you may be eligible for a discretionary housing payment from your local authority.

Remember you could face up to a five-week wait for Universal Credit payments to start – let your landlord know as soon as you think you could be in this position. You will still be liable for rent but the Government has encouraged landlords to work with tenants and come to an agreement that works for both parties where possible. Read Shelter’s guide on negotiating a rent reduction during the Covid-19 crisis.

My landlord isn’t giving me six months’ notice of eviction

It depends on the reason for eviction. If you have rent arrears which started building up before March, your landlord is only required to give you four weeks’ notice. And if you’re facing eviction for antisocial behaviour, current legislation means you can receive little or no notice.

If you have received a Section 21 “no fault” eviction notice, you could still face eviction before Spring next year if you received a valid notice before August 29, and/or if your landlord started court action before or during the ban.

Landlords must now provide information about how tenants have been impacted by Covid-19 if they pursue an eviction through the courts, while tenants can give details on a defence form.

If you’re a lodger living with a resident landlord, you could be evicted without a court order once your notice period or agreement ends.

Remember your tenancy rights and responsibilities continue throughout the legal eviction process. You should continue to pay rent during this time.

I don’t think my eviction is legal. What are my rights?

If your landlord is trying to evict you illegally, RORA members Shelter say you can and should stay in your home and avoid signing documents which contain a date for you to leave by.

A court can usually only stop a Section 21 eviction if there is a problem with the notice you were given. It can be invalidated if your landlord:

  • has not protected your deposit correctly
  • has not licensed the property correctly
  • failed to fix dangerous disrepair in your home
  • has taken an illegal fee from you
  • did not provide you with a gas safety certificate or energy performance certificate at the start of your tenancy

If you refuse to leave your home, a landlord must apply for a possession order through the courts and only court-appointed bailiffs can make you leave. But you could be liable for your landlord’s court costs.

Under new government measures to keep people in their homes through the coldest months, bailiffs have been told not to enforce evictions between December 11 and January 11 and in areas where local lockdown rules stop people entering other homes, including tier 2 and tier 3 areas of England.

I’m coming up to the end of my lease but my circumstances could change soon so I don’t want to commit to another year. Do I have to?

No. If you are on an assured shorthold tenancy and are at the end of your fixed term, you can renew for another six or 12 months or move onto a periodic tenancy, where you pay monthly and give notice (normally a month) when you want to leave.

Your letting agent may not offer information on periodic tenancies of their own accord. If you request it and are refused, or try to pressure you into renewing for another year, seek out help.

Where can I go for legal advice?

Unions and housing charities such as Generation Rent and Shelter can provide expert tips on your rights as well as directing you to more support. You can also contact your council’s tenancy relations officer.

You could be eligible for free legal aid if your total monthly income is less than £2,657. You can get legal advice over the phone if you contact Civil Legal Advice on 0345 345 4 345  (ask them to call you back if you don’t want to pay for the call).

Shelter’s free housing advice helpline runs 365 days a year on 0808 800 4444, while Citizens Advice can help you ascertain what your rights are particularly if you are negotiating a payment plan with your landlord.

Advice4Renters can provide free or cheap legal advice plus representation from specialists.

Get Rent Back can help you claim money back from a landlord who broke terms of your agreement while Justice For Tenants can support you in getting an unprotected deposit back.

The Big Issue is fighting the housing and unemployment crisis through the Ride Out Recession Alliance, bringing together the most innovative ideas and experts to help keep people in work and in their homes during the recession.

Share your story or get in touch with what you think can be done to support those in need by emailing