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Bans on eviction enforcement - an update for social workers

During the pandemic, the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments all placed limits on enforcement of evictions in recognition of the number of people who were struggling with the financial consequences of the widespread economic shutdown

The people and families with whom social workers often work may find themselves homeless or at risk of homelessness. Homelessness can be a complex and entrenched problem that may be linked to multiple issues, including mental ill-health, in-work poverty, substance misuse and No Recourse to Public Funds.

During the pandemic, the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments all placed limits on enforcement of evictions in recognition of the number of people who were struggling with the financial consequences of the widespread economic shutdown. There was no explicit restriction imposed in Northern Ireland. These bans have been extended previously but are now starting to come to an end, prompting concerns of a sharp rise in the number of households losing their homes. Policy on housing and homelessness is devolved and the situation with regard to enforcement of evictions varies across the UK.

The ending of bans on eviction enforcement has potential implications for the number of people presenting as homeless or at risk of homelessness to their local authorities. A survey conducted on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests 400,000 renting households have been issued with an eviction notice or told they may be evicted, with a disproportionate impact on families with three or more children, those from black or minority ethnic backgrounds and those on lower incomes. StepChange, the debt advice charity, has estimated that as many as 150,000 could be at risk of eviction in England alone, with Citizens Advice calculating that there are half a million private renters who are behind with rent payments.

England

Even with the restrictions on enforced eviction, it has been estimated that around 130 000 households were made homeless in England during the pandemic, according to figures calculated by The Observer using government statistics and Freedom of Information requests. A further 106 000 were assessed as being owed ‘prevention duty’.

On 31 May 2021, the ban on eviction enforcement introduced during the pandemic came to an end in England. As of 1 June, bailiffs are once again able to enforce evictions, although they are asked not to do so if someone in the property is self-isolating or has symptoms of Covid-19.

Scotland

In Scotland, the Scottish Parliament voted to extend the potential for a ban on enforcement of eviction orders until 31 March 2022 for all areas under Level 3 or Level 4 restrictions, reviewed every two months. Prior to this vote, it had been due to expire on 30 September 2021. In most circumstances, landlords must give 6 months’ notice. At the time of writing, all council areas in Scotland are level 2 or below which means the ban on enforcing eviction orders does not apply.

Wales

In Wales, the ban on enforced evictions was due to be lifted on 30 June 2021, but this has now been extended to 30 September 2021. Landlords who start eviction proceedings must give six months’ notice except in cases of anti-social behaviour or domestic violence which are treated in the same way as pre-pandemic.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland there is no ban on eviction enforcement. Landlords must give tenants 12 weeks’ notice before starting eviction proceedings until 30 September 2021.

In addition to the eviction enforcement ban coming to an end in England, the UK Government has reduced the amount of funding available for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) by local authorities in England and Wales. Although this allocation was increased during the pandemic in 2020/21, it has now been decreased to a level lower than the DHP budget for either 2017/18 or 2018/19. Welsh Government has announced it will provide an extra £4.1m to Welsh local authorities.

Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates are the basis for calculating how much private sector renters receive towards their housing costs if they are receiving either Universal Credit or Housing Benefit. Prior to the pandemic, these rates had been frozen for five years, creating a gap between housing support received and the private rental rates in any local area. In April 2020, they were restored to cover the lowest 30% of rents in a local area. However, they have now been frozen again in England, Scotland and Wales. LHA rates also remain unchanged from 2020/21 in Northern Ireland.

With the prospect of last year’s £20 increase to Universal Credit being removed in September 2021, concerns are heightened that households that are already struggling financially will be pushed to the brink of homelessness.

Signposting to services

If you are working with someone who is homeless or at risk of homelessness, they are able to turn to their local authority housing department for advice. 

Shelter has information on their website for those facing the prospect of eviction which is tailored by location.

Advice on managing finances and debt is also available from a range of sources including Citizens Advice across the UK and Advice NI in Northern Ireland.