Back again in a week where the news has really been dominated by America and the swearing-in of a new President. We wish him well.
But what has been going on in the housing area in this country?
A new ‘breathing space’ law
New legislation, the snappily named Debt Respite Scheme (Breathing Space Moratorium and Mental Health Crisis Moratorium) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020, otherwise known as the Debt Respite Scheme (Breathing Space), is being introduced to give people in financial difficulties time to pay their debts.
There are going to be two types of breathing space:
- A standard breathing space, and
- A mental health breathing space
The Government Guidance describes them as follows:
- A standard breathing space is available to any client with problem debt. It gives them legal protections from creditor action for up to 60 days. The protections include pausing most enforcement action and contact from creditors and freezing most interest and charges on their debts.
- A mental health crisis breathing space is only available to a client who is receiving mental health crisis treatment. If an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) certifies a client is in mental health crisis treatment, the client or someone else might ask you for a mental health crisis breathing space on the client’s behalf. The mental health crisis breathing space has some stronger protections than the standard breathing space. It lasts as long as the client’s mental health crisis treatment, plus 30 days (no matter how long the crisis treatment lasts).
People will only be eligible for a breathing space if approved and started by a debt advice provider (ie tenants cannot obtain a breathing space on their own), and will only be granted if the debtor is able to pay ongoing debts.
The purpose of the legislation is to give the debtor time to sort things out and try to find a solution without the pressure of demands from creditors.
Note that this legislation is not specifically aimed at tenants but it probably will be used by them, if they qualify. It will come into force on 4 May 2021.
Six months rule for evictions to remain
Landlords will be relieved to learn that the definition of ‘substantial arrears’ in eviction claims – where bailiffs can evict – will remain a six months and is not going to be amended back to nine months.
However, charities and Labour MPs are concerned that this will now catch some tenants whose arrears have arisen after the pandemic started due to job losses caused by COVID.
Housing minister Christopher Pincher said
The government believes that it is proportionate to widen the rent arrears exemption to the ban on the enforcement of residential evictions to cases where a court is satisfied that a possession order was granted on the grounds of rent arrears and where more than six months of rent is outstanding.
This change is intended to balance the effect of the ongoing restrictions on landlords with the need to continue to protect tenants.
A new housing minister
Kelly Tolhurst having resigned as housing minister after just four months for family reasons has been replaced with Walsall North MP Eddie Hughes.
Hughes is highly unusual in that he actually seems to have had some experience in housing and has expressed a desire in the past to be a housing minister.
He has worked in the past in construction and housing, started as a civil engineer and has been a long-term member of the Chartered Institute of Building.
Mind you, building is not the same as the rental market and it is to be hoped that he is not infected with this obsession that Tory MPs seem to have about property-owning being the be all and end all. The rental market is very important and, unless it is killed by legislation and taxation, is where an increasing number of voters will live.
Call to suspend electrical and licensing inspections during lockdown
All England’s 4.5 million private rented homes in England will need an Electrical Inspection Condition Report (EICR) by 1st April. However, each report will require hours spent by tradespeople inside a property. Increasingly electricians are unwilling to risk this, likewise tenants. However, this is putting landlords at risk of prosecution.
And, despite the pandemic, some Local Authorities are still going ahead with new licensing schemes.
Safeagent and London Property Licensing, along with ARLA Propertymark are calling for a six-month moratorium on approving any new selective licensing schemes, and want councils to impose a six-month pause on making any new additional and/or selective licensing schemes designations. They are also calling for the Electrical Safety Standards regulations to existing tenancies should be delayed by six months, until 1st October.
Isobel Thomson, Chief Executive, Safeagent said:
Now is not the right time to implement any new licensing schemes or electrical safety regulations.
Not only do they add pressure to much needed resource, they necessitate thousands of extra property inspections, which create too much risk of transmission, even with precautions. We believe there should be a blanket delay of both across England.
This needs to happen response to the latest stage of the outbreak. If the date for evictions can be delayed, surely the implementation date for electrical checks can also be put back?
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- Australian housing system ‘broken’ with more than half of low-income renters facing rental stress
- Legal case: the question of quiet enjoyment and nuisance
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- Covid: Estate agency branches provide ‘an unsafe environment’
Newsround will be back next week