New eviction rules must support tenants and ensure access to justice

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New housing possession rules unveiled by the government must protect vulnerable tenants, ensure access to justice and prevent a spike in homelessness, the Law Society of England and Wales warned today.

On 20 September, the UK government lifted its stay on housing possession proceedings, which were put in place in March in response to COVID-19.

“Possession proceedings must be made more workable in anticipation of the huge increase in cases, the established backlog and the difficult circumstances facing landlords and tenants,” said Law Society president Simon Davis

“However, in order to protect vulnerable tenants, it is vital that legal advice is available to all tenants.”

Changes to the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme (HPCDS)* do not go far enough in ensuring all tenants are afforded the legal protections available through the scheme. Legal aid deserts persist in Cornwall and Telford, and the sector maintains its concerns about the sustainability of the scheme.

Unless these long-standing issues are resolved, it is likely that fewer organisations will be able to offer the scheme, resulting in a reduced provision of the HPCDS and therefore less access to advice for the public.

Simon Davis added: “It is unacceptable that, in the face of a pandemic and difficult economic prospects, tenants are being left without representation during possession proceedings.

“The changes to the possessions procedures are a positive step, but they cannot replace legal advice in achieving access to justice. More needs to be done by government departments to support tenants at this time, to prevent them losing their homes and to stop an increase in homelessness.

“They will also have a limited impact where mandatory evictions, such as section 21s**, remain available to landlords.

“Allowing judicial discretion in all current possession proceedings will help to reduce homelessness and encourage better relationships between tenants and landlords. This must be considered if these changes are going to have the intended impact.”

These new rules sit alongside additional measures outlined by the government on 11 September, which sought to protect tenants during winter.

“Tenants are still required to pay their rent and many are therefore accruing significant rent arrears, despite the looming end to the furlough scheme and employment prospects continuing to dwindle,” said Simon Davis.

“The government also needs to resolve the legal advice deserts currently preventing tenants in some areas from receiving legal advice and understanding the services available to them.”

Notes to editors

*In October 2019, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) consulted on proposals to change the HPCDS, with its stated aim to ensure the scheme is sustainable in the long-term and can maintain this vital service for those who need it.

In January 2020, we responded to the consultation, welcoming many of the proposals. There has been no response from the MoJ to that consultation or implementation of proposals.

In April 2019, the government announced it will end ‘no-fault’ evictions by repealing section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.

**Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 allows landlords to end assured shorthold tenancies (AST) without having to give a reason, provided the correct procedure is followed and proper notice is given.

In July 2019, the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government launched a consultation: A new deal for renting, which sought views on how section 21 has been used in the past and how landlords should be able to regain possession once it has been abolished.

Our Housing Law Committee backed government moves to abolish ‘no-fault’ evictions in January 2020.

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