Last updated: 15 September 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.
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
- Welfare remains in Westminster control so the benefits system is the same for those in England and Wales.
The Welsh Government has introduced lockdowns for certain local authorities. These counties are Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taf. From 6pm on Tuesday 22 September, Bridgend, Blaenau Gwent, Newport, and Merthyr Tydfil will also go into lockdown. These four will be the same measures as in Rhondda Cynon Taf. People would not be allowed to leave or enter the areas without a reasonable excuse and will only be able to meet outdoors. All licenced premises would close at 11pm.
Details for these local lockdown can be found on the Welsh Government website here.
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.
Councils have been told to adopt a pragmatic, risk-based approach to enforcement. Councils are following the Welsh Government guidance, but you can see more detail on how they responded to our request for information here.
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’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan, and Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme are open to residents across the UK. However, the Welsh Government’s Economic Resilience Fund provides 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, links, and information on local licensing schemes can be found here.
Marketing a property in Wales
On June 22nd and July 28th, the rules in Wales changed to lift the restrictions on the housing market. Guidance on this can be viewed on the Welsh Government’s website. Guidance on facilitating property viewings for the public is a follows:
- A physical viewing of a property should not go ahead if any of those involved, including the current occupant or occupants, prospective viewer or viewers and landlord or agent accompanying the viewing are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or self-isolating. Contact details should be obtained for all viewers in case of necessity to cancel at short notice and for contact tracing purposes.
- Marketing of properties can take place but landlords and agents are responsible for ensuring every effort is made to minimise risk. We would encourage all property viewings to take place virtually in the first instance. Where a physical viewing of a property is required this should be by appointment only and be attended by people from the same household and, where possible, only by the adult members of that household (or one adult member from each household if the home move involves the household and extended household). The aim is to limit the number of visitors, including children, when viewing a property.
- The property should be thoroughly cleaned before the viewing goes ahead. This should include high touch surfaces, such as door handles, being cleaned with standard household cleaning products. Any towels and cloths used in the process should be safely disposed of or washed as appropriate. Shared access areas, for example shared front door access, should also be cleaned. You can get more information about cleaning in non-healthcare settings on GOV.UK.
- No spontaneous viewings should take place, all viewings should be by appointment only and should be strictly limited to serious prospective buyers.
- Open house viewings are not permissible.
- Viewings should be organised with sufficient time for cleaning in between: back to back viewings are not permissible.
- No one should be part of a property viewing if they have been displaying coronavirus symptoms or are self-isolating.
- Estate and letting agents should follow the workplace guidance for employers and employees.
- Any work in someone’s home connected to home moves should be carried out in line with Keep Wales Safe – at work in other people’s homes guidance.
- We would encourage landlords or agents to accompany viewings, whilst complying with the social distancing requirements throughout the viewing.
- Where viewings are unaccompanied, landlords and agents should make sure viewers and occupiers understand in advance how they should conduct themselves.
- Agents or landlords should not drive current or prospective tenants and prospective owners to or from the property viewing. Prior to the viewing, the agent or landlord should make sure that all lights are turned on in the property and that doors are open, to prevent property viewers from inadvertently touching surfaces.
- If a tenant currently resides at the property where the viewing is taking place, the landlord or agent should contact the tenant with sufficient advance notice to explain the process and how the viewing will take place safely. This should be managed sensitively. The tenant is able to refuse consent for the viewing to proceed, should it negatively impact their health and wellbeing. If the tenant is displaying symptoms or is self-isolating visits should not take place until their self-isolation period is complete.
- Landlords and agents should make efforts to agree with the current occupier or occupiers how the property viewing will take place before the appointment is booked. This should include asking whether the property occupier or occupiers are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or self-isolating and if they are, the property viewing should not go ahead. Landlord and agents should make efforts to agree whether Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will be used by the landlord or agent, and whether it will also be distributed to those currently occupying the property, as well as those viewing the property.
- If a viewing is accompanied by a landlord or agent, we recommend that the property occupier vacates the property whilst viewings are taking place, to minimise their contact with those not in their household. If they remain on the grounds of their property, for example in a garden or driveway, they should maintain social distancing whilst other people are shown around the property.
- If it is not appropriate for the property occupier to vacate their current property, even for a short time, they should make efforts to minimise contact with those outside their household by, for example, being in a different room from the individuals viewing the property and the landlord or agent accompanying the viewings. Social distancing should be maintained at all times.
- Property viewers should be advised against touching surfaces throughout the property viewing, unless absolutely necessary. This is particularly relevant in furnished properties, where the risk of contamination of surfaces may be higher.
- Property viewers, landlords and agents should be encouraged to bring hand sanitiser with them and use it frequently during the property viewing.
- The length of time that a property viewing is carried out should be minimised.
- Once the viewing has taken place, the landlord or agent responsible for accompanying the viewing should ensure high touch surfaces, such as door handles, are cleaned with standard household cleaning products, with towels disposed of safely or washed as appropriate. Shared access areas, for example shared front door access, should also be cleaned.
- Workplace guidance for employers and employees should be considered at all times.
You can read the guidance in full via Welsh Government guidance for house moves online. Where you must meet a tenant, limit the number of people involved. Consider whether you can arrange to have a lead person appointed that could be your point of contact. Where you are meeting them you must ensure you are following social distancing practices.
Moving home is not appropriate whilst you pose a direct risk of transmitting coronavirus. People who have coronavirus or are self-isolating with other members of their household should not leave their home to either move home, or undertake property viewings in person. They should strictly follow the self-isolation guidance.
What about HMOs?
Viewings of empty rooms in otherwise occupied HMOs or shared accommodation settings can take place. In addition to Welsh Government guidance, you should:
- make attempts to agree with other residents who live in the accommodation a time for the property viewing to take place
- where feasible, it should be agreed for the other residents to avoid being in shared spaces, for example kitchens, bathrooms, living area, whilst the property viewing is taking place
Home moves into HMOs and shared accommodation settings are allowed, but:
- tenants should not move into an HMO or other shared accommodation settings if they themselves or any of the current tenants are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or self-isolating. Wherever possible, you should support tenants to verify this
- tenants who are shielding should consider whether it is appropriate to move into an HMO or other shared accommodation based on their medical needs and seek medical advice if required
Where a home move into an HMO or shared accommodation setting is necessary and other people already reside at the property, additional precautions are necessary:
- good hand washing and respiratory hygiene practices should be followed, and you should wash your hands regularly
- all hard surfaces should be cleaned with normal disinfectant, especially door handles, window handles, WC handles, taps, basins and work surfaces
- you should refer to the GOV.UK advice on cleaning and disinfection
Additionally, when it comes to extended households during the pandemic, each household within an HMO can enter into separate extended households, but because of the higher potential that coronavirus could be spread throughout the house, these households should be aware that they are potentially putting themselves and others at increased risk and they should think carefully about forming an extended household with people not living in their house.
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 have been told to report back on their scrutiny by October and for the Senedd to complete stage 2 proceedings before December.
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 NRLA Wales team are in regular contact with Welsh Government and local authority officials, Rent Smart Wales, and third sector organisations.
We have submitted a proposal to the Welsh Government detailing how the private rented sector should be supported through the Covid-19 pandemic, sent briefing notes to non-government Members of the Senedd, and communicated our concerns regarding non-devolved areas to the UK Government.
NRLA Wales has also written to councils calling for the waiving of council tax for landlords on empty properties and shared resources with partner organisations.
The NRLA held a webinar on what landlords in Wales need to know about Coronavirus on 23 April. Members and website guests can watch this here.
A short update on Coronavirus and the Welsh PRS was included in this Wales webinar on a recent court case judgment, broadcast on 14 July. Watch it here.