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Housing rights advice during coronavirus pandemic

With everyone spending more time at home than usual, it's more important than ever that we feel safe and secure where we live — and know our rights and where to turn if something goes wrong.

Temporary measures have been put in place due to the coronavirus outbreak to help you feel more secure at home and to ease some of the financial worries for the time being. 

We've outlined some of these below. 


I rent my home – can I be evicted?

A court ban protecting renters from eviction has ended. This means landlords can take eviction cases to court, but only if certain conditions are met. You do not need to leave your home just because the ban has ended, and there may be steps you can take to prevent eviction.

In most cases, the eviction process has three stages. Taking the case to court is the second stage. The first stage is your landlord giving you a written notice saying they want the property back. The notice must give you a period of time (‘notice period’) before your landlord can take the case to court – six months in most cases.

Once the notice period is up, your landlord can ask the court to decide whether you must leave, which may involve a court hearing. If the court decides you do need to leave, you are given a few weeks to find alternative accommodation. If you do not manage to do this, the landlord must make another application to the court before bailiffs can turn up at your property. This is the third and final stage.

Note that bailiffs are being told not to carry out evictions in certain local lockdown areas – check with your local council if this applies in your area.

How long does this take?

Before the pandemic, eviction through the courts could take many months. It may take even longer now due to a backlog of cases.

Also, if your landlord served a notice while the eviction ban was in place, they may have to ‘reactivate’ the case by letting the court know they still want to go ahead with the eviction. If they don’t, the court should put the case on hold.

What should I do?

The key thing is to seek advice as soon as possible, whatever stage your case has reached.

You do not need to leave your home just because your landlord has told you to, or because the ban has been lifted. You can stay in your property beyond the end of your notice period and wait for the court to decide whether and when you have to leave. This includes if you have a fixed-term tenancy coming up for renewal and your landlord is refusing to renew.

There are disadvantages to doing this, for example you may have to pay your landlord’s court costs and your credit score may be affected. But you may be able to convince the court to let you stay, or at least give yourself more time to explore other options. An adviser can help you understand the pros and cons.

Lodgers and other special cases

Some people are not entitled to a court order before they are evicted. This includes if you live with your landlord (who may be a family member or friend) and share a kitchen, bathroom or living room with them, or if you live rent free. Seek advice if you are in this position and worried about your security.


I'm not sure I'll be able to pay my rent. What can I do?

You are still expected to pay rent during this time, although landlords have been encouraged by government not to serve notices for rent arrears. If you are struggling, government advice is to speak to your landlord as soon as possible and ask them to agree to some form of temporary relief.

This could be a rent reduction, a rent holiday, or an agreement to pay back arrears at a later date. Make sure you claim all benefits you are entitled to and speak to your local authority about whether there is any emergency money available.


I’m homeless/worried about being made homeless

If you are homeless or threatened with homelessness, contact your local authority as soon as possible. They have a duty to help you if:

  • they agree you are homeless or threatened, and
  • you are ‘eligible’ for help because of your nationality and immigration status.

In addition, English local authorities have been told to support people who are sleeping rough or at risk of sleeping rough, even if they would not normally be considered eligible.

A local authority should not refuse to help you because your case is not considered a priority. It can stop helping you after a certain period of time for this reason though. Seek advice if you are in this position.

One way to establish priority need is if you are vulnerable due to your health or age. During the COVID-19 pandemic, you have a strong case for being considered vulnerable and therefore in priority need if you are 70 or over, or in a clinically vulnerable group. 

For more information, see our Factsheet on Homelessness.


Can I have repairs or improvements made on my home?

In England, you should be able to get both essential and non-essential works carried out, unless you are self-isolating or living in a local lockdown area.

This applies if you are in a clinically extremely vulnerable group and have previously been asked to shield, although you are advised to make prior arrangements with a landlord or contractor to ensure appropriate social distancing is maintained during the visit.

The latest government guidance on shielding advises you to keep your overall social interactions low, wash your hands carefully and more frequently than usual, and maintain thorough cleaning of frequently touched areas in your home.

If living in a local lockdown area, check the specific rules applying locally, particularly if you’re in a clinically extremely vulnerable group. Check your local authority website and the latest government guidance on shielding for more information.

If self-isolating, no work should be carried out in your home unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of your household. In such cases, prior arrangements to avoid any face-to-face contact should be made, for example when answering the door.

Tenants may face delays in getting non-essential works carried out, as some landlords have a backlog of repairs. If your household is self-isolating, let your landlord know, so they can delay gas safety checks until it's safe to do so. If it is decided delaying the gas safety check poses a greater risk to your health, it may still go ahead. You can find more information on the Gas Safe Register website


Have there been any changes to mortgage repayments?

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has told lenders not to start or continue court repossession action until at least 31 October 2020. If your lender has already obtained a court order to repossess your property, they should not seek to ‘enforce’ it by evicting you. Unless exceptional circumstances apply, repossession is likely to contravene FCA rules and result in enforcement action being taken against the lender.

You can ask your lender for a three-month payment holiday, or the extension of an existing payment holiday, at any point until at least 31 October 2020. A payment holiday means you stop making payments without going into arrears, although your lender will seek to recover money covered by the holiday at a later date. You may end up paying more each month or paying for longer. Your lender should give you a choice over how you repay the money.

Speak to a debt advice agency such as StepChange or National Debtline if in payment difficulty, as there may be alternatives to a payment holiday that better meet your needs. Your lender should consider other options if you request a holiday, for example reducing or waiving interest.


What if I can’t pay my energy bills?

Emergency measures have been agreed with the energy industry to protect those people most in need during the disruption caused by COVID-19.

These were implemented from 19 March 2020, with industry agreeing to prioritise those already in need, while identifying those whose circumstances may have changed. All UK domestic suppliers have signed up.

Measures include:

  • Customers with pre-payment meters who cannot add credit should speak to their supplier about options to maintain supply, e.g. nominating a third party for credit top-ups, having a discretionary fund added to their credit, or being sent a pre-loaded top-up card.
  • More broadly, any customer in financial distress should be supported by their supplier, which can include debt repayments and bill payments being reassessed, reduced or paused where necessary.
  • The disconnection of credit meters is completely suspended.

We have more information on how you can save money on your energy bills

 

We have more information on how you can save money on your energy bills here.

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Last updated: Sep 21 2020

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