Just days before the ban on enforcing evictions was due to be lifted, the Government announced that it would be extended for another six weeks as a result of the latest national lockdown. The new ban on evictions will apply to all except the most extreme cases, such as anti-social behaviour or those cases involving substantial rent arrears.
Although this extension is clearly to be welcomed by everyone involved – no one could argue for increasing homelessness when the law requires us to stay at home – there are serious concerns that it doesn’t go far enough in protecting those in danger of losing their home as a result of the pandemic. Housing solicitor Jeinsen Lam commented:
“The Government’s decision to allow renters with at least six months of rent arrears to be evicted is not only unjustifiable from a public health perspective but will also be considered an affront to tenants who had been promised ‘no one should lose their home as a result of the coronavirus epidemic’.”Jeinsen Lam
The pandemic has highlighted how the social security safety net is often inadequate to help people meet their rent and keep their homes. For example, the decision to limit help with housing cost in the private sector to 35% of the market rent and impose policies such as the benefit cap often traps people into a cycle of eviction and homelessness.
As a Law Centre we would call on the Government to use the time afforded them by the temporary ban on eviction to urgently provide financial support to those already in rent arrears and invest in homelessness prevention so that possession cases are actively diverted away from court. No one should face eviction during a pandemic for financial/personal reasons beyond their control.
Review date advice
The Law Centre operates the county court possession duty scheme at Kingston County Court, Wandsworth County Court and Croydon County Court. The purpose of the scheme is to provide emergency legal advice and representation to those facing eviction from their homes, whose cases have been listed for review or substantive hearings.
Since the general stay on possession proceedings was lifted in September 2020, tenants and borrowers have been given the chance to access duty advice when their cases are initially reviewed by a judge, but also at their face-to-face substantive hearing, if the judge deems such a hearing necessary.
Three months following their introduction of review date advice, the Law Centre has noticed that take-up of telephone advice at the review stage has been low. Additionally, the number of people attending face-to-face substantive hearings and accessing the county court duty scheme has been poor. In our experience, failing to access legal advice and/or attending hearings significantly increases the risk of eviction for tenants/borrowers.
We would urge anyone who is notified by the court that their case has been listed for a review or a substantive hearings to make use of the opportunity to access the duty scheme. The earlier tenants and borrowers get advice the better chance they have of saving their home. Duty advisers can help identify potential defences, explain how to challenge arrears and allay your concerns about the court process.
You can hear from some of the clients we’ve been able to help through the duty scheme here.
Details of how to access our duty scheme are normally sent out when tenants/borrowers are notified of their case being listed for review but you can also find details here.
Please note, we are unable to give review date advice on any other day than your review date. Similarly we can only provide advice representation for substantive hearings on the day of the hearing itself.