Government to make it easier for landlords to evict people who fall behind on rent

Housing campaigners have sounded the alarm over government plans to make it easier for landlords to evict tenants who fall behind on their rent.

The government wants to change the law so that evictions can take place if someone repeatedly falls into arrears – even if they catch up on payments.

The plan, part of the Renters Reform Bill, comes as homelessness services brace for a surge in people falling behind on payments this winter because of skyrocketing energy prices.

Under the current rules a court will only grant a possession order to a landlord if their tenant is two months behind on their rent when their case is heard.

This gives time for tenants to make up lost rent ahead of the hearing, to avoid being made homeless.

But the government says this rule represents an “unfair financial burden on landlords” and proposes to change the rules to make them more strict.

Under the new law, which was lobbied for by landlords, courts will have to grant a possession order if someone falls significantly behind their rent three times in a three years period – even if they are paid up when the case comes to court.

The government says it has come forward with the plan in response to concerns raised by landlords, and that it does not want them facing “undue burdens”.

“Landlords have raised concerns that some tenants pay off a small amount of arrears – taking them just below the mandatory repossession threshold of two months’ arrears (which must be demonstrated both at time of serving notice and hearing) – to avoid eviction at a court hearing,” the government’s renting white paper says.

“Where tenants do this repeatedly it represents an unfair financial burden on landlords in lost rent and court costs and indicates that a tenancy may be unsustainable for a tenant.

“We will introduce a new mandatory ground for repeated serious arrears. Eviction will be mandatory where a tenant has been in at least two months’ rent arrears three times within the previous three years, regardless of the arrears balance at hearing.”

But Alicia Kennedy, director of the campaign group Generation Rent, told The Independent that some renters would find themselves in arrears “for reasons out of their control”.

“This is because they might be in precarious work such as zero hours contracts, or be self-employed,” she said.

“Generation Rent do not support this new ground or any mandatory grounds for arrears.

“Renters get into arrears for many different reasons and should not be evicted for reasons outside their control such as due the economic shocks from the pandemic or now the cost-of-living crisis.

“Therefore, all arrears’ grounds should be made discretionary to ensure that the situation and vulnerability of the renter is taken into account.”

The government’s renting bill also plans to abolish “no-fault” Section 21 notices, a step regarded as positive by housing campaigners and widely welcomed by them.

But though that change will mean landlords will have to give a reason to end a tenancy, this is distinct from the process of going to court to get a possession order to physically eject tenants from a property. Currently, housing charities often advise people to remain in their homes until ordered out by a court, to avoid them being made homeless.

An analysis published by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Trust for London in November 2021 warned that the number of people in arrears was expected to triple in 2022, affecting as many as 700,000 people.

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