Housing update: evictions and Social Housing White Paper

November 18, 2020

This week has already seen two important developments for social housing practitioners. The first, saw the laying before parliament of regulations dealing with, inter alia, the suspension of evictions from residential tenancies. The second, was the publication of the long-awaited Social Housing White Paper.

Evictions

The Public Health (Coronavirus) (Protection from Eviction and Taking Control of Goods) (England) Regulations 2020, applying to England only, came into force  on Tuesday 17 November 2020.

Regulation 2, which remains in force until 11 January 2021, deals with “Residential Tenancies (Protection from Eviction)”.

The regulations provide that, subject to certain exceptions, no-one may attend a dwelling house may for the purpose of:

  • executing a writ or warrant of possession
  • executing a writ or warrant of restitution, or
  • delivering a notice of eviction.

The exceptions reflect some of the types of cases prioritised under the Overall Arrangements for possession proceedings in England and Wales.

Circumstances in which evictions are currently allowed

The prohibition on evictions does not apply where the court is satisfied that the notice, writ or warrant relates to an order for possession made:

  • against trespassers pursuant to a claim to which rule 55.6 (service of claims against trespassers) of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 applies;
  • wholly or partly under section 84A (absolute ground for possession for anti-social behaviour) of the Housing Act 1985;
  • wholly or partly on Ground 2, Ground 2A or Ground 5 in Schedule 2 (grounds for possession of dwelling houses let under secure tenancies) to the Housing Act 1985;
  • wholly or partly on Ground 7A, Ground 14, Ground 14A or Ground 17 in Schedule 2 (grounds for possession of dwelling houses let on assured tenancies) to the Housing Act 1988; or
  • wholly or partly under case 2 of Schedule 15 (grounds for possession of dwelling-houses let on or subject to protected or statutory tenancies) to the Rent Act 1977.

Additionally, execution of a relevant writ or warrant and the delivery of a notice of eviction where the court is satisfied that the notice, writ or warrant relates to an order for possession made wholly or partly on Ground 7 in Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988 (death of an assured tenant) is allowed.

Where this exemption is relied upon, the regulations provide that the person attending must take reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that the property is unoccupied before:

  • delivering a notice of eviction
  • executing a writ or warrant of possession, or
  • executing a writ or warrant of restitution.

Finally, evictions are permitted in cases that involve “substantial rent arrears” AND where the notice, writ or warrant relates to an order for possession made wholly or partly (i) on Ground 1 in Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1985; on Ground 8, Ground 10 or Ground 11 in Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988; or, (iii) under case 1 of Schedule 15 to the Rent Act 1977.

‘Substantial rent arrears’ are defined as those cases where the amount of unpaid rent arrears outstanding at the date on which the order for possession is granted is at least an amount equivalent to 9 months’ rent. However, unpaid rent arrears that have accrued after 23 March 2020, must be disregarded.

What does this mean for landlords?

Although it is unlikely a landlord will be enforcing a possession order based on rent arrears granted after 23 March 2020, given the stay on possession proceedings and the delay in getting claims back before the court, landlords will need to be careful when they seek to enforce a warrant under this provision which, it seems, could cause problems in practice.

A landlord will need to be clear of the figure for arrears in the possession order itself (as the relevant date is when the possession order was granted). If the order was granted after 23 March 2020, landlords will need to be sure that it is not arrears that have accrued after that date that make up the 9 months’ figure.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in practice and how the court/bailiffs deal with requests.

Publication of the Social Housing White Paper

The Social Housing White Paper opens with an Executive Summary which provides:

“A home should provide safety, security and dignity. An opportunity to put down roots and contribute to our community so we can enjoy social and civic lives. Regardless of who you rent from, your landlord should treat you fairly and with respect. And if things go wrong there should be a swift and effective means of redress”.

It then sets a new Charter as to what every resident of a social landlord should expect. There is a lot to digest and plenty to think about. Below is a very brief summary of what is promised.

To be safe in your home.

This is dealt with in chapter 1 with building safety as a top priority. The other focus is on engagement on safety and bringing standards on smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and electrical safety in line with the legal protections afforded to private sector tenants.

To know how your landlord is performing, including on repairs, complaints and safety, and how it spends its money, so you can hold it to account.

Holding social landlords to account is set out in chapter 2 with the Government saying it will:

  • Expect the Regulator of Social Housing to bring in a set of tenant satisfaction measures for all landlords on things that matter to tenants.
  • Introduce a new access to information scheme for social housing tenants of housing associations and other private registered providers of social housing, so that information is easily accessible by tenants.
  • Ensure landlords provide a clear breakdown of how their income is being spent to be published alongside their tenant satisfaction measures.
  • Require landlords to identify a senior person in their organisation who is responsible for ensuring they comply with the consumer standards set by the Regulator.
  • Expect landlords to report to every tenant on such matters at least once a year, if not continuously, using technology.

To have your complaints dealt with promptly and fairly, with access to a strong Ombudsman who will give you swift and fair redress when needed.

Chapter 3 deals with reducing times for complaints to be dealt with specifically when complaints are made to the Housing Ombudsman. It also calls for stronger action from the Housing Ombudsman in holding landlords to account.

To be treated with respect, backed by a strong consumer regulator and improved consumer standards for tenants.

The plan is to, amongst other things, transform the Regulator of Social Housing so it proactively monitors and drives landlords’ compliance with its consumer standards and introduce routine inspections for the largest landlords (with over 1,000 homes) every four years. The Regulator of Social Housing is also to be given the power to publish a Code of Practice on the consumer standards to be clearer on what landlords are required to deliver and strengthen its enforcement powers.

To have your voice heard by your landlord.

Chapter 5 sets out the plan to improve engagement between social landlords and their tenants, for example through regular meetings, scrutiny panels or being on its Board. The Government intends, amongst other things, to deliver a new opportunities and empowerment programme for social housing residents, to support more effective engagement between landlords and residents, and to give residents tools to influence their landlords and hold them to account. It will also review professional training and development.

To have a good quality home and neighbourhood to live in, with your landlord keeping your home in good repair.

The Government will review the Decent Homes Standard, seen as outdated, to consider if it should be updated, including how it can better support the decarbonisation and energy efficiency of social homes, and improve communal and green spaces. The Government will also:

  • engage with how the impact of housing conditions on health can be mitigated;
  • review professionalisation to consider how well housing staff are equipped to work with people with mental health needs and encourage best practice;
  • clarify the roles of agencies involved in tackling anti-social behaviour and signpost tenants to those agencies who can give them the most appropriate support and assistance when faced with antisocial behaviour; and,
  • consider the results of the allocations evidence collection exercise findings to ensure that housing is allocated in the fairest way possible and achieves the best outcomes for local places and communities.
  • To be supported to take your first step to ownership, so it is a ladder to other opportunities, should your circumstances allow.

Chapter 7 outlines what has been done and what will be done concerning affordable homes and shared ownership. It sets out that the Government is committed to supporting people who want to own a home to do so.