Oxford City Council is urging the government to provide better support for private tenants and prevent a surge in homelessness once the eviction ban ends next week.
The ban is set to lapse on Tuesday 1 June, and the council believes this could have a “catastrophic” effect in Oxford, where nearly half of homes are privately rented. The council says that government should implement the recommendations of a Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee (HCLGC) report calling for a financial support package to protect private tenants as lockdown measures come to an end.
The eviction ban
Most bailiff evictions are now on pause until 1 June, and this includes all section 21 (‘no fault’) evictions. Bailiffs can only evict tenants if a hearing has already taken place, and there are at least six months’ rent arrears, or there has been antisocial behaviour. Since August last year, most tenants have also been entitled to at least six months’ notice of court action to evict them.
From 1 June, bailiff evictions will resume for cases that have reached this stage. The notice period before court cases can start will drop from six months to four months. Landlords will also be able to give four weeks’ notice of court action for tenants with four months’ rent arrears – as opposed to six months’ arrears now.
A new Breathing Space scheme preventing landlords from giving notice for rent arrears for up to 60 days does not apply to ‘no fault’ evictions.
Potential impact in Oxford
Shelter research published earlier this year showed that in December, nearly 445,000 private tenants in England were in rent arrears or had received some form of eviction notice in the previous month.
Almost half (49%) of Oxford’s homes are in the private rented sector – by some distance the largest proportion of housing in the city. Oxford is the least affordable city in the UK, and the economic impact of the pandemic means that resuming evictions will put many private tenants at risk of homelessness.
This would also undermine efforts to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping in Oxford. Since the pandemic hit, the council has provided emergency accommodation for 355 people at risk of or experiencing rough sleeping – with 196 people subsequently helped into more permanent homes.
The council has previously warned of the local impact of resuming evictions, calling for delivery of a Renters Reform Bill first promised in 2019 and an end to ‘no fault’ evictions. The council is now endorsing a March report by the HCLGC calling for a £300m support package for private tenants who have run up significant rent arrears as a result of the pandemic.
Support for private renters
The council provides advice and support for private tenants, although it doesn’t have powers over landlords or to intervene in eviction proceedings. The Tenancy Relations Officer can help and advise tenants whose landlords threaten them with eviction – since April 2020, she has helped prevent homelessness for 185 households.
The welfare reform team gives expert advice and support for any tenant having problems paying their rent. The team helps tenants to find work, access training and get other support they may need to improve their situation for the long term. This can include temporary financial help to pay the rent.
The council also provides grants of more than £500,000 a year to Oxford’s independent advice centres to help people with issues like housing, benefits, debt and money management.
Councillor Alex Hollingsworth, cabinet member for planning and housing delivery, said: “The resumption of evictions could be catastrophic in Oxford as nearly half of our city’s homes are privately rented and the economic impact of COVID-19 will last long after the end of the eviction ban. The government needs to take action now to prevent a potential wave of homelessness among private tenants who have fallen into arrears through no fault of their own.
“Prevention is always better and more cost-effective than cure. Helping tenants pay their rent arrears would be the easiest and most straightforward way to avoid evictions and prevent homelessness. It would also ensure that landlords receive the rent they are due. The HCLGC is absolutely right in calling for an urgent financial package to deliver this much-needed support for landlords and tenants.
“Last year, we said that the government should end ‘no fault’ evictions and deliver on the promise they made in 2019 to bring in a Renters Reform Bill. The HCLGC has endorsed our call and I would urge the government to take action to make this happen now.”