*Updated 15 February 2021*

With England still in lockdown for the next few weeks at least, the Government announced that the ban on evictions of residential tenants would be extended until 31 March 2021. Of course, the Government will want to protect tenants struggling financially as a result of the Covid pandemic. However, many landlords are also under financial pressure. It will come as some relief to those landlords who have not received rent for a long period, that the Government has relaxed the rules relating to tenants with ‘substantial arrears’.

Recap on the law

We looked previously at the measures in place to protect tenants during the pandemic. The law has changed frequently to reflect the changing situation in the country. In brief, the current situation is:

  1. You will need to give more notice of your intention to start possession proceedings. In most cases this is six months. There are exceptions to this which include: tenants with ‘substantial arrears’; where the tenant has died; anti-social behaviour and domestic violence.
  2. The courts stopped dealing with possession proceedings between March and September 2020. You may now issue possession proceedings, but there is likely to be a delay with the court dealing with this due to the backlog. Further, you will need to explain to the Court how the pandemic has affected you and/or your tenant.
  3. The Government has stopped evictions taking place until 31 March 2021. There are exemptions for urgent cases such as antisocial behaviour, trespassers and domestic violence. And in this latest extension, there is an exemption for tenants with over six months’ rent arrears.

‘Substantial arrears’

In allowing exceptions for tenants with ‘substantial arrears’, the Government recognises that it is not just tenants that are suffering financial hardship as a result of the pandemic. While many landlords and tenants will have come to an arrangement over rental payments (something which is specifically encouraged by the Government), there will be some tenants who have accrued many months of rent arrears. This may leave the landlord with little choice but to seek possession of the property.

Serving a notice on a tenant with substantial arrears

The usual options of types of notice are available. If you serve a s21 notice, you will need to give six months’ notice. If you decide to serve a s8 notice, however, where the tenant has at least six months’ rent arrears, you will only need to give four weeks’ notice before issuing possession proceedings.

This is the case until 31 March 2021, when the legislation will be reviewed. We will endeavour to keep our blog updated in this regard.

Evictions of tenants with substantial arrears

With the current ban on residential evictions extended to 31 March 2021, comes a new exemption: an eviction may go ahead if the tenant has over six months’ arrears.

Until this recent update, an eviction could only go ahead during lockdown if the tenant had over nine months’ pre-Covid arrears. The new update (which is in force until 21 February) allows landlords to take into consideration arrears accrued at any time. It is therefore significant for both landlords and tenants.

According to the notes accompanying the legislation, the Government has changed the rules relating to evicting tenants with substantial arrears so that the no evictions policy “does not disproportionately negatively impact on landlords and enable them to re-let their properties to tenants in need”.

Our advice

As the legislation is constantly changing, we recommend that you instruct a solicitor to assist you with your possession claim. Contact our property disputes team on 0800 988 7756 for a free initial discussion.