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.
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.
“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.”