With the fear of unknown spreading as fast as the Coronavirus itself in these unprecedented times, any and all positivity is much welcome. Tenants and landlords alike have been anticipating the government’s response to the Coronavirus crisis, offering support to those in the private rented sector who are affected by COVID-19.

Emergency legislation

The government has announced that it will bring forward emergency legislation to ban evictions of private tenants during the Coronavirus outbreak, whilst landlords will be granted the same three-month mortgage holiday as homeowners. This will help to reduce the pressure and financial strain on both landlords who are concerned about meeting their mortgage payments in case their tenants fall in rent arrears, and tenants who might experience financial difficulties due to the pandemic. At the end of this period, both parties will be expected to work together on an affordable repayment plan, taking into consideration tenant’s individual circumstances.

The Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, said: “The government is clear – no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home, nor will any landlord face unmanageable debts.

“These are extraordinary times and renters and landlords alike are of course worried about paying their rent and mortgage. Which is why we are urgently introducing emergency legislation to protect tenants in social and private accommodation from an eviction process being started.

“These changes will protect all renters and private landlords ensuring everyone gets the support they need at this very difficult time.”

Flexibility needed

National and Residential Landlords Associations have welcomed the government’s emergency plan to support tenants and landlords, saying in a joint statement: “No responsible landlord will be considering evicting tenants because of difficulties arising from the current situation.

“There does need to be some flexibility though, such as with dealing with a tenant engaging in anti-social behaviour. This could cause misery for fellow tenants or neighbours especially when they are going to be spending a lot of time together.

“In addition we need to do all we can to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“There should be national guidelines for local authorities to suspend routine inspections of properties and a temporary halt on enforcement action where landlords are unable to fulfil certain required obligations because of the health risk posed to them, tenants and contractors.”

Meanwhile in Scotland…

To further protect tenants, the Scottish Government has announced a temporary legislative change to the Private Residential Tenancy (PRT) mandatory grounds for eviction from three to six months. It has also called on the UK Government to extend the three month mortgage holiday to six months for all mortgages, including buy to let landlords.

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John Blackwood, Chief Executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords, commented: “The vast majority of landlords are already very flexible in working with tenants experiencing difficulty with rents and the law rightly says that no attempt can be made to evict anyone unless they are in rent arrears by three consecutive months.

“Although the expectation is that most of those who contract Covid-19 will recover in 7-10 days, there will undoubtedly be much wider economic impacts for many people and landlords must be understanding and alive to these. That is why we are also urging landlords to act on behalf of tenants affected to have mortgage payments paused so that this can be passed on to help.”

Support for tenants

Tenants affected by COVID-19 who are concerned about paying their rent are being urged to speak to their landlords as soon as they find themselves in financial difficulty. They are also advised to apply for Statutory Sick Pay and Universal Credit where eligible.

Further information on how to apply for Statutory Sick Pay or Universal Credit can be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay

https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit

Tenants might be also able to receive support through the Scottish Welfare Fund here:

https://www.mygov.scot/scottish-welfare-fund/crisis-grants/

The latest information on the COVID-19 outbreak in Scotland can be found here:

https://www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19/