From the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 to the end of the eviction ban at the start of June this year, landlords and letting agents had effectively been prevented from evicting tenants except in the most serious of circumstances.
The ban on bailiff-enforced evictions had a huge impact on the number of repossessions taking place. It has also led to calls from many for a new, better, more streamlined system, as well as better relationships between the main component parts of the PRS – tenants, landlords and agents – to ensure evictions are less necessary.
Here, we take a look at the impact of the ban, what has now changed and what the future of evictions could look like.
What effect did the eviction ban have?
Figures published by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) on 13 May 2021 show a dramatic decline in mortgage and landlord possessions from January to March 2021.
With the eviction ban making it close to impossible for landlords to evict other than in the most severe cases, the number of landlord possession actions for all court stages fell substantially for the most recent quarter in which figures are available. All stages were down at least 72% and repossessions declined by 96% when compared to the same quarter of last year (Jan-March 2020), just before the pandemic took hold in the UK.
In addition, claims (6,377), orders for possession (5,427), warrants (2,480) and repossessions (262) all fell compared to last year, declining by 85%, 96%, 99% and almost 100% respectively.
Landlord possession actions have fallen substantially, too, with landlord possession claims, orders, warrants and repossessions by county court bailiffs dropping by 74%, 72%, 80% and 96% respectively (compared to Q1 last year).
Median timeliness for landlord repossessions, meanwhile, has risen to 57.6 weeks, a rise from 21.1 weeks in the same period in 2020.
The findings also showed that 40% (2,542) of all landlord possession claims were from social landlords, while 16% (1,002) were accelerated claims. The group making up the largest number of landlord claims (44% or 2,833), however, were private landlords – a change from previous quarters.
For example, in January to March 2020, the last quarter to include months which could be counted as pre-Covid-19, most (58% or 14,119) landlord possession claims were from social landlords. In contrast, the MoJ report revealed that accelerated claims and private landlord claims made up just 18% and 24% of all landlord claims, respectively.
In the most recent data, the fall in claim and orders volumes was seen across all geographical regions. Unsurprisingly, though, the main cluster of claims was observed in London, in line with previous quarters.
The capital saw 1,965 landlord claims and 1,152 landlord orders at courts. This made up 31% and 21% of all landlord possession claims and orders, respectively.
Despite this, London still saw a drop of 67% (down from 5,984) for landlord claims and a fall of 71% for landlord orders (down from 3,928 in January to March 2020).
Furthermore, there was an 80% decline in landlord warrants when compared with January to March 2020. Similarly, this was accompanied by large drops across all regions, with London again accounting for the largest regional number of warrants (683), or 28% of all landlord warrants.
Even then, there was still a decline of 79% for landlord warrants in London (down from 3,198 in January to March 2020 to 683 in January to March 2021).
What has changed?
The lifting of the ban on bailiff-enforced evictions eventually happened on May 31 2021, with the notice period that landlords need to give tenants also reducing from six months to four months.
If all goes well with the easing of restrictions, it’s expected that this will fall again to pre-coronavirus levels – typically two months’ notice – by October.
Still, despite the end of the ban, there is a huge backlog of cases for the courts to work through, which is likely to slow things down for many landlords and agents.
While the figures are expected to rise again from unprecedently low levels, with the ban ended and restrictions loosening across the country, the figures for Q2 (when released) are still likely to be low, given that two of the months will still have been under the eviction ban. The figures for Q3 will help paint a more accurate picture of how things have bounced back from the eviction ban, or whether there are considerable blockages in the court pipeline.
What are the alternatives?
The unprecedented drop of evictions caused by the ban has served to highlight problems in the system. Consequently, there have been calls to reform the eviction process to find ways of cutting the number of cases that reach that stage.
Evictions are sometimes necessary – whether because of anti-social behaviour, severe rental arrears, criminal activity or simply because the landlord wants to regain control of their home. However, the huge number of cases going to court is a problem for the justice system.
In April, the Government launched a landlord-tenant mediation pilot scheme to try and cut the number of cases reaching court. The scheme is free to use for landlords or their agents, and tenants, and utilises an independent, trained, neutral mediator to help identify issues.
Under the mediation service, a housing possession case will be listed by the court for review, before any substantive court hearing.
When tenants attend their review appointment, they will have access to free legal advice from the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme. At this point, if the duty solicitor believes that the case would benefit from mediation, they will recommend this to the tenant and landlord.
If both parties agree, the case is then referred to the Society of Mediators, with a mediator then getting in touch to arrange a suitable time for the mediation to occur.
If an agreement is reached during mediation, the case will not require a substantive hearing and the outcome will be confirmed to the court. However, if an agreement cannot be reached, then the substantive hearing will take place as planned.
Timothy Douglas, ARLA Propertymark’s policy director, said: “When landlords and tenants are involved in a housing possession court case, it is important that they are able to identify issues and have the additional resources necessary to help resolve them.
“For this reason, we recognise the role that mediation can play in dispute resolution.
“However, it is essential that we see the results of the pilot and outcomes of reviews to determine whether it can take the pressure off the court system and be a viable option for the private rented sector in the long run, especially with the court backlog caused by the crisis.”
However, there so far appears to be no evidence as to the efficacy or otherwise of the scheme, with trade body ARLA Propertymark – backers of the initial pilot – demanding to see the results.
At present, the Government has not responded to ARLA’s call.
There had been speculation, too, that mandatory mediation over Covid-related arrears would be introduced for the private residential market as well as the commercial one, but the Government has made no commitment on this.
What is the future for evictions?
One of the Government’s long-term commitments is to scrap Section 21, so-called no-fault evictions as part of the Renters’ Reform Bill. This was put on hold due to the pandemic, but was back on the agenda at the recent Queen’s Speech, where hints were given that rental reform would be made a priority in the upcoming session of Parliament.
There are plans for a white paper consultation on the Renters’ Reform Bill later this year, after which it’s expected official legislation will be brought before the Houses. But there is no set timetable for this to take place and the Bill is still likely some way off.