The government has said that evictions will not take place during the new four-week lockdown in England.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said renters would be protected from evictions during the national restrictions, which came into effect on 5 November, with no bailiff enforcement action allowed to occur.
The only exceptions to this will be in cases of illegal occupation, anti-social behaviour, fraud, where a social housing tenant is the perpetrator of domestic abuse, or where the “landlord rightly would like to re-let their property to another tenant”.
The government has also said it is looking to introduce an exemption for tenants with extreme pre-COVID rent arrears.
The new guidance comes ahead of a planned month-long “Christmas Truce” on evictions, which was set to begin at the start of December.
The new measures and Christmas Truce mean that eviction action is effectively blocked until at least 11 January.
Last month, the government wrote to bailiffs operating in areas experiencing tier 2 and tier 3 COVID-19 restrictions telling them not to enforce evictions on residents.
Jenrick’s announcement is the latest guidance brought in by the government to try and protect renters that who been financially hit by the pandemic.
At the start of the initial lockdown in March, the government announced an evictions ban that legislated possession hearings could not be started through the courts, effectively banning evictions outright for any reason.
This ban lasted until 20 September after a number of extensions.
Under the new guidance, courts will remain open and can hear possession cases, but bailiff enforcement will be discouraged.
Those possession hearing cases that are heard will be prioritised, with anti-social behaviour cases and other crimes taking precedence.
The new guidance comes alongside other policies put in place by the government for renters during the COVID-19 crisis, including the introduction of six-month notice period for evictions, meaning renters can stay in their homes until May 2021 if they are served with an eviction notice this month.
However, some campaign groups have criticised the government’s new measures.
Alicia Kennedy, director of Generation Rent, said: “A non-binding pause on bailiff action is completely inadequate.
“Eviction notices will be dropping through renters’ doors throughout lockdown, and the courts will be open the entire time, putting pressure on renters to move out while the pandemic rages on.
“Although the government has asked bailiffs not to enforce possession orders, it’s not clear if tenants are legally protected. In the event that a bailiff goes against the guidance, renters will have few options.”
Robert Jenrick, housing secretary, said: “We have already taken unprecedented action to support renters during the pandemic including introducing a six-month notice period and financial support to help those struggling to pay their rent.
“We are now going further by protecting renters from eviction during the new national restrictions and throughout the Christmas period, with a pause on bailiff activity other than in the most serious circumstances, such as anti-social behaviour or fraud.”
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