Reprieve for renters facing eviction in England and Wales


Renters facing eviction have been offered a reprieve – but only if they live in areas under local coronavirus lockdowns.

Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, confirmed that court proceedings for evictions would restart in England and Wales on 21 September after being suspended early in the pandemic.

But he said that if an area was in a local lockdown that included a restriction on gathering in homes, evictions would not be enforced by bailiffs.

Jenrick also announced a “truce” on enforcement action this Christmas, with no evictions permitted in England and Wales in the run-up to and over the holiday except in the most serious circumstances, such as cases involving antisocial behaviour or domestic abuse.

The measures appeared to confirm fears among homelessness and renter campaign groups that the government would not be persuaded into a more permanent U-turn to protect renters who lost income during the spring and summer lockdown and so were issued eviction notices by their landlords.

District councils have said that up to half a million people could be at risk, while the housing charity Shelter said by the end of June, about 174,000 renters had been warned by their landlords that they were facing eviction. Shelter estimated that a quarter of a million renters were in arrears.

As states across the world ordered citizens to “stay home” in February, the UN housing rapporteur was unequivocal. “Housing has become a frontline defence against coronavirus,” said Leilani Farha. She called on states to “declare an end to all evictions of anyone, anywhere for any reason until the end of the pandemic.”

Four months later, and as parts of the world emerge into the so-called new normal, her successor, Balakrishnan Rajagopal, is warning of an “impending tsunami” of evictions. In the US, a majority of states have resumed evictions, leaving as many as 40 million – disproportionately people of colour – vulnerable to homelessness due to rent arrears.

Bailiffs are back in business across the channel, too, after an extension to France’s winter eviction ban expired last month. In Paris, the mayor, Anne Hidalgo, has protected social renters by extending the eviction ban on public housing to 31 October – protecting them until next summer by segueing into next winter’s trêve hivernale.

Some countries are doing more. In Spain, where the leftwing Podemost party are part of a governing coalition, the government has introduced an eviction ban that will remain in force until six months after the end of the state of emergency. An interest-free micro-loan scheme is open to renters who have lost income due to the pandemic.

Strong protections are also in place in Germany, where renting is widespread and renters’ unions are well-established and powerful. In March the federal government banned the eviction of tenants who fall behind in rent between April and the end of September, while giving itself the discretion to extend the measure for another six months. Landlords can still take tenants to court to recover lost rent.

For millions, though, the situation remains bleak and uncertain. Thousands in poorer countries such as Kenya and Brazil were being thrown out of their homes even as the pandemic raged, Rajagopal reported. He warned that when people are deprived of shelter, they become more vulnerable to COVID-19 “and this heightens the risk of widespread contagion.”

“I call upon all States to comply with their human rights obligations and ensure that no one is left in a position of increased vulnerability to Covid-19,” he said.

Damien Gayle

Ministers have already changed the law to increase notice periods to six months, meaning renters served notice now can stay in their homes over winter. The only exceptions are cases where tenants have demonstrated antisocial behaviour or committed fraud, and the landlord would like to let their property to another tenant.

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“We have protected renters during the pandemic by banning evictions for six months – the longest eviction ban in the UK,” Jenrick said. “To further support renters, we have increased notice periods to six months – an unprecedented measure to help keep people in their homes over the winter months.”

The campaign group Generation Rent had welcomed the one-month extension to the eviction ban, but called for a long-term plan to protect renters’ homes with emergency legislation to restrict the use of section 21 “no-fault” evictions, as well as eviction for rent arrears.


Labour’s shadow housing secretary, Thangam Debbonaire, said the announcement showed that the government was “gearing up for a drastic increase in evictions this winter, just as coronavirus cases are rising”.

“They are threatening public health and putting lives at risk,” she said. “The ban on evictions cannot end until they have a credible plan to keep their promise that no renter should lose their home because of coronavirus.”



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