Industry News James Wood 02/02/2024

Does your local authority tell tenants to wait for a bailiff? An update

Recently, the NRLA raised the issue of local authorities telling tenants to stay put and wait for the bailiffs when served with a Section 21 notice. 

This practice should no longer be common.

Both the Homelessness code of practice and the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 mean that most local authorities should take a Section 21 notice as the trigger to support tenants with a homelessness action plan.  

This action plan involves working with the tenant to ensure they have accommodation and contacting the existing landlord to see whether the tenancy can be sustained.

If not, then the local authority should work with the tenant to find suitable accommodation for them, either in the PRS or in social housing.  

Usually all of this should happen before the court order, and the homelessness code of practice makes it clear that in most cases it would be unreasonable for a tenant to stay beyond the expiry of the section 21 notice.

As a result, local authorities should never have a blanket policy of refusing to help the tenant until a possession order has been granted or a bailiff has arrived.  

Landlord experiences 

However, since this article was published, we have been inundated with case studies from landlords across England and Wales telling us that their tenants were told to stay put and wait for the bailiff, often leading to increased court costs for tenants or increased arrears for the landlord. 

Many experienced landlords said the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 hadn't in seen any change in their local authorities practices, with ‘wait for the bailiff’ common advice for all of the evictions they have had to perform.  

Others pointed out that they had had no contact from the local authority to try to sustain the tenancy.

For tenants, many local authorities waited until the last possible moment to provide advice, increasing uncertainty and worry. 

Many respondents reported errors in the guidance provided to their tenants. In Wales for example, some local authorities told tenants to stay put until they had been served a Section 21 notice, even though Section 21 notices have not been valid notices in Wales for more than a year.

For tenants there were clearly problems as well.

Most of the tenants in the case studies could now face court costs as a result of the local authority guidance.  

More generally, a number of respondents said they would no longer accept tenants who were referred to them via the local authority due to the poor experience, reducing the supply of available homes for those on low incomes. 

In one specific case, a landlord had let the property to a local authority under a social leasing scheme.

In this case, the local authority had guaranteed the rent initially but then stopped payment. When the tenant fell into rent arrears the local authority advised the tenant to stay put, but refused to discuss matters with the landlord. As a result, the landlord had accrued over £10,000 in costs rectifying the situation. 

The previous article also explained the procedure for making a complaint where the landlord feels the local authority has not met their homelessness duty.

A number of respondents had now started this process. In fact, one respondent was offered compensation by the local authority within five minutes of the complaint being lodged. 

Next steps 

Using the case studies we have now compiled a list of local authorities that may not be following the homelessness code of practice. We will be sharing this information with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities so they can look into the matter further. 

In the meantime, if you know your tenants have been served with a valid warrant and have not been given a personalised housing plan, or have been told that nothing will be done until a warrant is issued, then we would still like to hear from you.

Please email into [email protected] with details of: 

  • The local authority; 

  • Whether they have contacted you, and the outcome of that conversation; 

  • What prompted you to serve the notice. 

Should you wish to raise a complaint about the local authority’s response then you must raise it first with the local authority.

If the complaint is not resolved, and relates to an issue from the last 12 months then you can also take it up to the Local Government Ombudsman. Help on making a complaint can be found on the LGO website.   

James Wood

James Wood Head of Policy

James Wood, LLB, is the NRLA’s Head of Policy. James has provided legally sound advice to thousands of landlords for more than six years, along with producing the organisation’s guides and documents and training the organisation’s highly rated advice service.

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