09 Jun 2020

On 5 June 2020 the housing minister, Robert Jenrick, announced a 2 month extension to the current moratorium on residential possession claims and evictions to run from the expiry of the current moratorium until 23 August 2020. The extension will apply to both private sector and public sector landlords. In order to implement this extension changes will be made to the Civil Procedure Rules – which sets down the rules by which Courts operate. 

Given concerns raised about the limited protection for renters the current moratorium provides, namely, that without additional protections, once the moratorium ends, Courts will be swamped with a deluge of mandatory possession claims and large numbers of renters will be made homeless as a result of arrears accrued due to COVID-19 - is this extension simply kicking the can down the road? The announcement appears to acknowledge such concerns as it confirms:

"We are also working with the judiciary on proposals to ensure that when evictions proceedings do recommence, arrangements, including rules, are in place to assist the court in giving appropriate protections for those who have been particularly affected by coronavirus – including those tenants who have been shielding."

Whilst the announcement does not provide any detail about the form such additional measures will take, it does however again intimate at the possibility of the extension of the Pre-Action Protocol for Possession Claims to include private sector landlords. On its own, such a measure would not provide protection for renters, as landlords seeking possession via the Section 21 route do not presently need to specify the reason(s) for seeking to recover possession. As such, without fundamental changes to the Section 21 process (or perhaps even its abolition), the government's desire for landlords and tenants to work together to agree flexible repayment plans could not be implemented (other than on a voluntary basis) or assessed by the Courts. Other measures and changes will therefore be needed if the government's desire to protect renters once the extended moratorium is over, is to be achieved. 

Whilst the extension to the moratorium may give renters some comfort, and provides the necessary breathing space for additional measures and changes to be developed, it invariably increases the pressure on residential landlords faced with growing arrears and uncertainty about what the future operating environment will look like.