We are a generation of renters. While some people really do prefer the flexibility of private renting, the truth is that for most people it’s just too hard to get on the property ladder. Even before the pandemic, renters were spending 40% of their income on rent (the affordability benchmark is 30%). And, according to the Office of National Statistics, just over a third (36%) of private renters have said they have savings or money invested to buy a property.
Campaigning group Generation Rent recently told Stylist that one in five renters are struggling to pay rent are at risk of eviction, and the recession is only set to make that worse unless the government takes bigger action. And, with the government’s six-month “evictions ban” ending last week, the group predicts that around 55,000 private renters who were served eviction notices between March and August are now at risk of being homeless.
While these numbers are deeply concerning, the National Emergencies Trust (NET) has announced a new £1.47million partnership with housing charity Shelter to help provide advice and information for private renters this winter.
Like most things in this pandemic, the rules and guidance around private renting keep being updated. But Shelter has answered the most common questions asked by private renters right now, on local lockdowns, eviction notices and the “winter truce”.
How much notice does my landlord need to give for eviction now the ban has ended?
“The evictions process takes time. Even though the evictions ban has now ended, landlords must still follow proper procedures – they can’t just kick their tenants out,” says Andy Parnell, housing adviser at Shelter. “Landlords have to give their tenants written notice to leave in line with the latest government legislation, and it’s only when that notice period expires that a landlord can apply to the courts to evict them.
“The amount of notice a landlord has to give depends on the type of tenancy. For most private renters with live-out landlords and social tenants the current notice period is six months if the eviction notice was issued after 29 August 2020 – and it is three months if the notice was issued before 29 August 2020. However, you could be given just four weeks’ notice if you have more than six months’ rent arrears, and little or no notice if you’re facing eviction for antisocial behaviour.
What if my landlord is pressurising me to leave?
“It’s illegal for your landlord to harass you, lock you out of your home or force you to leave without giving you the required notice or having a court order,” says Parnell. “This behaviour is not acceptable. If you’re being pressurised by your landlord, you can and have every right to stay in your home, especially if you have nowhere else to stay.
“Seek help from your local council or the courts if your landlord stops you from accessing your home. It is also a good idea to get legal advice before leaving your home voluntarily, even if being evicted seems unavoidable.”
Can I be evicted if there is a local lockdown in my area?
“So far, the government has said it plans to publish exact guidance instructing bailiffs not to carry out evictions in areas where local lockdowns are in place because of coronavirus. But until the guidance is published it’s not clear which areas are currently covered by this rule, and in what situations,” says Parnell.
“If you live in an area where a local lockdown is in place and you get an eviction notice from bailiffs, make sure you contact them in the first instance to find out what’s happening.”
When is the “winter truce” on evictions and how will it work?
“The dates for the ‘winter truce’ will be from 11 December 2020 to 11 January 2021, and the government has said it will publish guidance to bailiffs instructing them not to carry out evictions during this time,” says Parnell.
“However, it is important to remember that other parts of the eviction process – such as the issuing of eviction notices and scheduling court hearings – might still continue during this period. But you should always get at least two weeks written notice of an eviction date from the bailiffs, before an eviction can take place.”
What happens if I can’t pay my rent?
“The first thing you should do is speak to your landlord or letting agent as soon as possible, as they may be willing to agree a repayment plan, reduced rent or accept a late payment,” explains Parnell. “If you can, it may help to let them know what measures you are taking to deal with the situation too. Just be sure to get the details of any agreement in writing.
“On Shelter’s website we also have a template letter tool to help people negotiate a rent reduction. Some people may also be able to claim benefits like Universal Credit to help with housing costs, so if you’re struggling don’t be afraid to find out what your options are.”
What help is available if I am falling behind on your rent?
“As well as speaking to your landlord or letting agent about what flexibility they can offer, looking at the financial help available through benefits would be the next step,” adds Parnell. “People on lower incomes may be able to claim Universal Credit to help with their housing costs. Other options include discretionary housing payments from your local council if you already receive certain benefits, grants from some charities, and help with other bills like council tax.”
If you need more guidance or information on private renting, Shelter has launched a new section about coronavirus on its website. There is also a specific page for people who need advice on housing and domestic abuse. Alternatively, you can call the helpline, chat with an adviser online or find a local service.