Insights and Opinions Meera Chindooroy 19/08/2020

Blog: Tsunami of evictions claim stoking unnecessary fear

The courts will now be reopening to hear possession cases from 20th September, marking an end to what will be six-month long emergency measures which have prevented evictions from taking place. 

In July, the NRLA commissioned an independent survey of tenants in England and Wales, which found that 95 percent had either continued to pay their rent as usual, or had come to an arrangement with their landlord about payment, for example a reduced rent, or a repayment plan. 

Just two percent of tenants were building arrears and had been served with notice by their landlord. 

We have therefore argued that the claim a ‘tsunami of evictions’ is on the horizon is stoking unnecessary fear. 

Managing the backlog 

Nevertheless, we know that there will be a backlog of cases for the courts to manage. The closure of the courts stalled all possession proceedings, no matter what stage they had reached. 

This meant that everyone – from those landlords making a claim for a possession order to those applying for bailiff attendance – were in the same boat. 

In January to March this year, there were 24,321 possession claims by social and private landlords. 

This was 20 percent lower than the same period in 2019 – due to the impact of coronavirus. 

Now, not only will many of those cases which had stalled prior to the court closure need to continue, but six months’ worth of possession cases could potentially come before judges. 

The Government has launched 10 ‘Nightingale’ courts across England and Wales – but with the courts already struggling to manage the volume of cases under normal circumstances, and with housing cases continuing to be heard primarily in person, landlords will likely face considerable delays in pursuing possession proceedings. 

Prioritising cases 

The decision to extend the stay on evictions - and introduce a new six month notice period to delay further claims - has been branded unacceptable by the NRLA, which is now stepping up its camapign for a full financial support package for landlords.

We have advocated for prioritisation of urgent cases when the courts reopen – where landlords are seeking possession for anti-social behaviour, instances of domestic violence, and cases of pre-Covid arrears. This is something the government has pledged to do once courts open their doors again. 

It’s already been announced that landlords will need to reactivate existing cases by issuing notice to the tenant and the courts, which must include details of the landlord’s knowledge about the impact of coronavirus on the tenant. Failure to do so would lead to the case being adjourned – an expensive risk as landlords will likely lose weeks, if not months, more rent. 

Have the conversation 

The NRLA’s guidance on Managing rent arrears, produced with a number of partners across the sector, is aimed at supporting both landlords and tenants to work together to address arrears arising as a result of the pandemic. 

Communication is key, and it’s important that landlords are proactive in approaching their tenants and open about any support they can offer.  

Given the pressure on the courts, it will be in both parties’ interests to avoid possession proceedings where possible. 

From a landlord’s perspective, agreeing a repayment plan for outstanding rent can mean an opportunity to sustain the tenancy, avoiding costly void periods, and negating the need to seek action through the courts – which is often expensive, time-consuming and stressful. 

Our guidance provides a framework to help landlords and tenants have an open conversation and reach agreement. With further economic uncertainty on the horizon, it’s wise to familiarise yourself with the steps now. Early engagement could make the difference and help sustain a successful tenancy.