Last updated: 22 December 2020
When the Covid-19 outbreak came to the UK, the devolved administrations followed the steps of the UK Government fairly closely. However, there has recently been some divergence between the UK Government and the Welsh Government in dealing with the pandemic.
Here, we detail some of the key differences and give further information on what the Welsh Government and local authorities are doing that landlords should know during the pandemic.
Remember, if you decide to write to your representatives, you have five Members of the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) - one constituency and four regional - in addition to your Member of the UK Parliament.
The Welsh Government have moved Wales into "alert level 4". Guidance issued on 8 January states that:
- House moves can start again with appropriate hygiene and distancing measures in place. Moving homes guidance can be read here.
- Property viewings can continue, though virtual viewings are encouraged.
- Repairs, maintenance, cleaning and gardening services can continue with appropriate hygiene and distancing measures in place.
- Possession notices can still be served but the possession ban remains in place until 31 March. Read more below
More details about the general measures being taken can be read here.
The Welsh Government have announced that the suspension on eviction enforcement – due to end on 11 January – will be extended to the end of March 2021. The Welsh Government will review this every three weeks.
The suspension does not stop possession proceedings continuing through the courts, but it does prevent bailiff enforcement action in all cases except antisocial behaviour, trespass, and abandonment.
It follows the same-day announcement by the UK Government of the extension of the ban by six weeks in England.
Wales has not followed England in making one of the exemptions to the ban those with arrears in excess of six months.
Read more here.
England & Wales
What are the similarities in housing?
The Welsh Government’s approach to the private rented sector is not too dissimilar to the UK Government’s. Particular points to note include:
- Justice is not devolved so the suspension of possession cases is the same across England and Wales. Possession cases were scheduled to be heard again from 24 August. This has now been extended to 21 September.
- Like in England, landlords in Wales will have to follow the pre-action protocol before taking possession. However, this is not yet in place in either nation.
- Rules surrounding Energy Performance Certificates. If a new tenancy is about to start in Wales, you should see whether or not the new tenancy can be delayed until after the restrictions are lifted.
- Mortgage holidays arrangements are UK-wide - these are coming to an end in October.
- Welfare remains in Westminster control so the benefits system is the same for those in England and Wales.
What’s happened to possession in Wales?
On 23 July, the Welsh Government announced that possession notices served on 24 July and onwards will be six months – aside from on grounds on anti-social behaviour which remain at three months – for private rented sector dwellings in Wales.
These changes are not retroactive, so if a landlord has already served notice since the Coronavirus Act 2020 passed, then the notice period is still three months.
The change has been brought into to counter the spread of Covid-19 and is currently scheduled to end on 31 March 2021.
On 15 September, it was announced that on 1 October 2020, notices to quit citing anti-social behaviour and domestic violence will revert to pre-pandemic lengths. This means for a S8 notice in Wales, the notice period will be a one month for Ground 7a and immediately for Ground 14. Read more via the Welsh Government's FAQs here.
Tenancy Saver Loans
The Welsh Government has introduced a loan for tenants to cover their arrears. The loan will cover arrears that appeared because of coronavirus (since 1 March) and will be paid directly to the landlord. The tenants will have five years to repay the loans will come at 1% APR interest. The scheme will be administered by the Wales Council of Voluntary Action, delivered by credit unions, and funded by a £8m Welsh Government pot. We will update this page when more details arise.
This has been something the NRLA has campaigned for throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. We believe this is a fair settlement that gives the tenant a sustainable means to pay back their arrears without shifting the debt onto the landlord. We are warning landlords who benefit from the loan not to evict their tenant as a result.
What guidance has the Welsh Government published?
The Welsh Government has published guidance for private landlords, tenants, and local authorities. Make sure to look at this yourself so you can see what Ministers are asking you to do and how councils have been told they should approach enforcement of standards in the private rented sector.
Welsh Government guidance changed on 2 July to reflect that landlords can now undertake less urgent work in their rented properties. However, tenants are urged to use their own judgement for letting someone into their home. However, the Welsh Government recommends “no work should be carried out in any household which is self-isolating or where a person who is classed as extremely vulnerable is undertaking ‘shielding’ measures, unless it is to repair a fault which poses a direct risk to people’s safety, for example emergency plumbing”.
Inspectors or maintenance workers can still visit properties to do a gas or electrical safety check. For flats, they can also visit to inspect and test fire alarm and emergency lighting systems. In both cases social distancing guidance must be followed.There is also information that your tenants might find useful in terms of signposting to financial support, encouraging them to stay in touch with you, and reminding them of their obligation to pay rent.
What Wales-specific financial support is there?
The UK Government support for businesses and employees are open to residents across the UK. However, the Welsh Government’s Economic Resilience Fund has provided additional support to businesses in Wales. However, landlords are unable to secure support through these schemes in their capacity as landlords. You might still be eligible depending on your circumstances.
Local authorities are encouraging anybody with a property in their area to contact them if they are struggling with council tax, as many landlords will be as they find themselves unable to fill an empty property due to Coronavirus-tackling measures. You will be able to apply for the Council Tax Reduction Scheme. If unsuccessful, the council may be able to offer discretionary assistance. Contact details for local authority council tax and enforcement departments across Wales can be found here.
Implications for On-Going Legislation
What does this mean for the possession reform Bill?
Prior to the outbreak, the Renting Homes (Amendment) Bill was progressing through the Senedd. The Bill’s purpose was the amend the as-of-yet implemented Renting Homes Act 2016 and involved a significant reform to possession – creating year-long tenancies and extending the Section 21 notice (Section 173 under the 2016 Act) period from two to six months.
In April, the Welsh Government announced it will pause the passage of the Renting Homes (Amendment) Bill to focus on priority legislation during the pandemic. However, on 15 July, the First Minister confirmed the Welsh Government intends to restart the legislative process. The Equality, Local Government, and Communities Committee reported back on their scrutiny in October, which was followed by the completion of stage 2 in December. Stage 3 amendments will be debated by the whole Senedd in late January 2021.
Implementing the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016
Once the amendment Bill is passed in Spring 2021, the Welsh Government will give the sector six months’ notice on the amended 2016 Act’s implementation. The Welsh Government has said this will be around October 2021. However, in addition to amending the Act, the Welsh Government still needs to bring in model contracts and Fitness for Human Habitation standards for the 2016 Act to take its full effect. The Welsh Government said it will consult on this near the end of this year or the beginning of next year.
The Welsh Govenrment have sinced confirmed another delay to the 2016 Act, naming Spring 2022 as the new target date for implementation.
The latest Wales webinar, covering new coronavirus measures, aired on Tuesday 27 October. You can watch it back here.