Help with homelessness
People who approach their local council for help with homelessness are routinely being told they cannot get local authority assistance until they are forced out by bailiffs and so should stay in privately rented properties. It has become standard procedure to tell a tenant that if there were no places in the area that they could afford they needed to wait until they were evicted before seeking a council house. This means that tenants have reached crisis point before they are given assistance, and landlords are faced with the cost and time of court proceedings to regain possession of their properties.
The procedure for a landlord seeking to regain possession is to first issue tenants with a Section 21 notice, giving them at least two months to leave. However, if the tenant does not move out, they cannot automatically regain their property at this point. They must go to court to seek a possession order, after which the tenant is required to leave the property on or before the date given. If they still refuse, an eviction order can be granted, giving permission for bailiffs to forcibly regain possession of the property. The whole process can take up to six months and is costly to the landlord.
Fortunately, local authorities have now been advised that they must stop routinely advising tenants to stay put until the bailiffs arrive. Housing Minister Brandon Lewis has written to all chief executives of local councils saying that households should not be put in this position, and clarifying the guidance about homelessness.
In his letter he says: “Authorities should not routinely be advising tenants to stay until the bailiffs arrive; there is no barrier to them assisting the tenant before this. By doing this, local authorities miss a valuable opportunity to prevent homelessness.” He continues: “The statutory Homelessness Code of Guidance, which local authorities are required by law to have regard to, is clear on this matter.”
“It says that housing authorities should not, in every case, insist upon a court order for possession and that no local authority should adopt a blanket policy in this respect”. “Unless a local authority has very good reason to depart from the statutory guidance, then they should not be placing households in this position.”
Mr Lewis has said that he will specifically be looking at the way local authorities deal with Section 21 notices. In the meantime it is hoped that the letter will end what has been a real problem for both tenants and landlords.
Additionally, the House of Commons Library has now published a briefing paper considering the issues around applying as homeless from an assured shorthold tenancy. The paper considers the practice of local authorities requiring tenants to remain in situ until a court order or bailiff warrant has been obtained. They note it appears that local authorities adopt this approach in order to delay the point at which they are obliged to secure temporary/permanent accommodation. They reiterate that local authorities must have regard for the Code of Guidance and again make the point that all the circumstances must be considered and there should not be a general policy.