It was announced this week that the stay on evictions will not be extended beyond the current end date of 23rd August.
A move understandably welcomed by some in the landlord community but just as predictably dreaded by tenants in difficulty and the fallout industry that will be picking up the pieces.
I have spent the last few months dismissing fears of the much predicted “Tsunami of evictions”, saying This would not happen and that we would merely see a Tsunami of possession applications and that the backlog of cases would take at least the rest of 2020 to ease out.
Turns out I was loud, confident and wrong!!!!
Government’s plan is to expedite all the possession cases as quickly as possible by having courts working outside of normal hours, including weekends and to hire “pop up court” buildings to deal with even more cases.
Warrants that have been paused will be listed with bailiffs wearing PPE in attendance.
In July alternative venues for what government are calling “Nightingale courts” (why?) will be sourced to handle the extra court work, which isn’t just for housing cases but guidance doesn’t seem to consider where the extra court staff will come from. I doubt you can just turn to Reed or Hays Recruitment for a judge.
The plans announced by HMCTS state that from the autumn, operational hours will be extended from the current 10am – 4pm but again not much more detail than that, although the announced plans specifically reference the possibility of hearings at weekends.
I recall pre-lockdown that extended hours were already being trialed in some courts and there were grumblings that no extra staff would be taken on, so judges and admin would all be on overtime.
Also of concern on the staffing front is the role of duty solicitors. If so many cases are going to be rushed through the system how are they going to cope with the army of unrepresented people? How will instructed legal aid solicitors, already difficult enough to procure, be able to find capacity?
Lets not forget as well, that so many PRS landlords mess up the applications, even in normal times cases are adjourned or dismissed and warrants suspended pending other action. All of this without the new N5B form or the mooted pre action protocol to cope with.
Now, suppose I am similarly loud, confident and wrong on these problems and the courts cope perfectly well and the evictions go through, where are the newly evicted households going to go?
Many will arrive at the doors of the homelessness unit and even if the reason for possession was rent arrears, they will have a difficult time making a decision of intentional homelessness stick, given Covid related arrears nonsense, so the full housing duty will be owed at great public expense.
Even procuring properties in the PRS for a pre-housing/prevention duty wont be easy for tenants with a rent arrears history, particularly if their employment and financial situation has not stabilised, which is going to be likely for many professions for some time to come.
In a mood of caution and sanity, this weekend also saw the publication of “Arrears management and Coronavirus” by the NRLA in partnership with Chartered Institute of Housing, Property Redress Scheme, My Deposits, the Tenancy Deposit Scheme and ARLA Propertymark.
This guidance sets out considered, practical ways that landlords and tenants can navigate through the arrears problems without evicting tenants, sensibly suggesting “A balance must be struck between relieving the household of debt swiftly and not increasing financial hardship”.
Lets hope this voice and approach becomes the predominant one because if the courts are effective in their intended plans, the homelessness units of the land are going to become probably the UKs biggest growth industry.
By Ben Reeve-Lewis