Government announces Christmas ‘truce’ on evictions for renters in England and Wales

Shelter warns the measure may not protect people served notice before August, who face eviction when the government’s ban ends this month

A 'winter truce' has been imposed
A 'winter truce' has been imposed

Bailiffs have been told they cannot evict people over Christmas in a “winter truce” announced by the government.

A ban on eviction enforcement in the run up to and during the festival will hold in England and Wales except in the "most serious circumstances", such as anti-social behaviour or domestic abuse, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said on Thursday.

Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, added that bailiffs cannot enforce evictions in regions under local lockdowns at any time, where those conditions include restrictions on gathering in homes.

He said: "We have protected renters during the pandemic by banning evictions for six months - the longest eviction ban in the UK. To further support renters, we have increased notice periods to six months, an unprecedented measure to help keep people in their homes over the winter months

"It's right that we strike a balance between protecting vulnerable renters and ensuring landlords whose tenants have behaved in illegal or anti-social ways have access to justice. Our legislation means such cases will be subject to shorter notice periods and then prioritised through the judiciary's new court processes."

The six-month notice period was announced as part of the government’s extension of its eviction ban last month. The measure will be in place until at least March next year.

Shelter, the homelessness charity, welcomed Mr Jenrick’s announcement as “a step in the right direction” but warned that it would not help people who had been served notice before August - who may still face automatic eviction after the ban on evictions ends in 10 days’ time.

Chief executive Polly Neate added: "For renters served notice after August, the measures simply delay the threat of homelessness."

Labour said the ban on evictions must not end until ministers had a "credible plan" to keep its promise that no renter should lose their home because of coronavirus.

Shadow housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire said: "The announcement shows that the government is gearing up for a drastic increase in evictions this winter, just as coronavirus cases are rising.

"They are threatening public health and putting lives at risk. They have failed to prepare for this crisis, and must urgently change course."

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said it would constantly review its eviction policy in light of public health advice.

From 21 September courts will begin hearing possession hearings again, prioritising cases involving anti-social behaviour and other crimes as well as rent arrears, the department said.

No cases from before 3 August will immediately proceed to a hearing but will have to be reactivated by the landlord and subject to a review hearing, it added. Landlords will also have to provide the courts and judges with information about how tenants have been affected by the pandemic. Proceedings can be adjourned until the information is provided.

The MHCLG added: "No landlord, including those who only rent out a single property, has had access to the courts since March, including to regain possession in cases where the tenant has broken the law.

"So it is right that landlords are able to access justice, alongside measures to protect the vulnerable. The government would like to thank landlords for their forbearance during this difficult time."

Additional reporting by Press Association

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