Boris Johnson Extends U.K. Pandemic Ban on Evictions to Help Renters

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson extended a ban on evictions in England and Wales for a second time to protect tenants struggling to pay their rent because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The four-week extension announced on Friday by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick means landlords won’t be able to begin proceedings to evict tenants defaulting on their rent until Sep. 20 at the earliest.

Charities and the opposition Labour Party had warned the government that failing to prolong the measure past Aug. 23 risked triggering a wave of homelessness. Housing charity Shelter estimates that almost 230,000 private renters in England have fallen into arrears since the pandemic started.

Jenrick also said a new six-month evictions notice period will be in place in England until at least March 31, providing extra protection to tenants suffering financial hardship. The new notice period won’t apply to serious cases, he said.

“It is right that the most egregious cases, for example those involving anti-social behavior or domestic abuse perpetrators, begin to be heard in court again,” Jenrick said. “So when courts reopen, landlords will once again be able to progress these priority cases.”

‘U-Turn’

Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said the move represents an “eleventh-hour U-turn,” and called on the government to go further.

“Such a brief extension means there is a real risk that this will simply give renters a few more weeks to pack their bags,” Starmer said in a statement. “The ban should not be lifted until the government has a credible plan to ensure that no one loses their home as a result of coronavirus.”

Johnson’s government had added two months to the initial three-month ban on evictions in June, saying its “ultimate ambition is to transition out of these measures at the end of August to allow the market to operate.”

Ministers were trying to balance the demands of landlords who say it’s unfair to expect them to foot the burden of tenants who aren’t paying rent with the need to support renters pushed into economic hardship.

But Ben Beadle, chief executive officer of the National Residential Landlords Association, called the blanket extension “unacceptable, especially so close to the deadline.”

“Landlords have been left powerless in exercising their legal right to deal with significant arrears unrelated to Covid-19,” Beadle said in a statement. “Private landlords cannot be expected to foot the bill for government failure. There must now be a plan to support households to pay their bills and to compensate landlords fully for their lost income.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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