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Housing

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

With Covid-19 measures all but gone around the UK, protections for renters are being relaxed alongside them. 

It remains a precarious and worrying time for many tenants who have seen their incomes slashed since March 2020. Up until October 2021, many had been relying on the furlough scheme to make ends meet while others have lost jobs and have been forced to turn to universal credit to keep up with their rent. Both of these lifelines are set to be watered down.

The Big Issue has been warning of rising homelesness in the autumn of 2021 as a result.

Our Stop Mass Homelessness campaign is calling for the £20 universal credit cut introduced during the lockdown to be extended and the Westminster government to deliver on its promise to end no-fault evictions – when a landlord can evict a tenant without giving a reason. A call to pay off renters’ debts, which have left many to accrue significant arrears throughout the pandemic, is also key to The Big Issue’s plan, as is an investment in green jobs and retraining people to fill them.

The Big Issue is not alone in calling for renters to be protected.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee echoed campaigners in late March, urging the UK Government to spend between £200m and £300m to pay off arrears as part of a “coherent exit plan” for renters. The committee warned this was a cheaper option than picking up the bill for homelessness assistance later.

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A group of 20 housing campaigners, think tanks and tenants groups called the Renters’ Reform Coalition is also calling for no fault evictions to be suspended.

Chair of the Renters’ Reform Coalition, Sue James, said: “Private renters face high rents, poor living conditions and perpetual instability. This causes needless disruption to people’s lives: their finances, work, health and their children’s education. Renters need certainty to enable them to put down roots in communities and create real homes in rented properties.”

The current state of play means it is vital to know your rights if you are renting. 

What protections do renters have through the pandemic? 

Eviction protections have been lifted in England after being in place for the majority of the pandemic.

Bailiff-enforced evictions were given the green light to return after restrictions were lifted on May 31 2021.

The ban had been in place since England went back into lockdown at the start of 2021 with ministers also introducing six-month notice periods to prevent immediate evictions.

The notice periods were the last protection to be lifted. As of October 1, notice periods reverted to back to two months for no-fault evictions – also known as section 21 evictions that don’t require a landlord to give a reason – and two weeks for section 8 evictions where a tenant has more than two months of rent arrears.

The Westminster government’s decision to end the extended notice periods comes amid a warning of rising homelessness in the autumn of 2021, amid cuts to universal credit, rising energy prices, a national insurance tax rise and other challenges for low-income households.

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Housing is a devolved issue, meaning the rules vary between nations.

In Scotland, extended notice periods remain in place until March 31 2022 meaning a tenant must be given six months notice of an eviction.

As for Wales, eviction protections were lifted on June 30 but six-month notice periods are in place there too, running until December 31 2021.

The Welsh government has announced a £10 million Tenancy Hardship Fund to cover rent arrears accrued during the pandemic. Replacing the Tenant Saver Loan scheme introduced last year, private renters will be able to apply for grants to pay off arrears if they are behind on rent by more than eight weeks. Climate change minister Julie James. “This grant helps to prevent homelessness by helping people address their rent arrears and keep their tenancies.”

Protections for renters have reduced around the UK throughout the pandemic. The total eviction ban in place in England during the first six months of the pandemic gave way to a ‘winter truce’ preventing families losing their homes over Christmas 2020.

Once these measures expired and England moved into a third national Covid-19 lockdown, further protections for renters were announced, but stopped short of a full eviction ban. 

With nothing to stop tenants being evicted from their homes across large areas of the UK, there have been calls for the UK government to follow Wales and Scotland in giving renters direct support to pay off rent arrears. Westminster ministers have pointed to local authority discretionary housing payments as support for renters.

Reacting to the announcement of Wales’ Tenancy Hardship Fund, Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, said: “This help in Wales follows that of Scotland, and exposes England as being the poor relation when it comes to support for the private rented sector. It is time for the Chancellor to provide similar assistance for landlords and tenants in England.”

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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 an online benefits calculator to find out what you’re entitled to. 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.

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 has launched a Stop Mass Homelessness campaign to prevent thousands of people from losing their home this autumn. Sign The Big Issue’s petition and find out how you can take action here.

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