We have written before about the current problematic relationship between possession claims and a local authority’s duty to rehouse the tenant under threat of eviction. To summarise, local councils have a duty to re-house those considered “involuntarily homeless”, but what constitutes “involuntary” can vary widely from region to region. Some authorities will set the trigger at the initial notice given by a landlord requesting the return of the property. Others require the tenant to wait for court proceedings and a possession order before acting, while more, including some London authorities, will wait for the landlord to actually instruct bailiffs, and only take steps to rehouse the tenant when a threat of physical eviction is on the table.
These latter regimes have obvious drawbacks both for the tenant and the landlord. Even a tenant willing and ready to leave is forced to be uncooperative and cause trouble for the landlord if he or she is in need of local authority accommodation. If the tenant cannot simply leave after a notice is served, the landlord is forced to incur solicitor and court costs to press the point, usually incurring £1-2,000 of irrecoverable costs. The court fee (currently £355 after the last round of increases) does, however, fall to be payable by the tenant, meaning that a CCJ may be registered against the tenant’s name, to remain on the tenant’s credit record for years afterwards. Where a tenant is in financial difficulties and cannot pay rent, the landlord’s losses will of course be much higher, with the timescale of the possession claim and eviction action potentially depriving the landlord of 2-4 months’ additional rent before a new paying tenant can be installed.
However, this situation has been sufficiently marked to make it to parliament, and the Homelessness Reduction Bill is currently making its way through the House of Lords. Unlike some recent legislation, this is a relatively streamlined piece of law reform aimed squarely at standardising the duty of local authorities to re-house, and lessening the financial burden on both landlords and tenants. Amongst other reforms, the Bill specifically identifies that a local authority must recognise the service of a notice of possession under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 (the usual form of notice bringing a tenancy to an end after the fixed term has expired) that expires within 56 days as a trigger for being eligible for housing assistance. Ideally, this will mean that authorities that otherwise would have left things to the last minute will take steps to rehouse tenants being evicted before court proceedings are necessary.
The potential danger of the reform is that local authorities will simply not be able to keep up with demand now their obligations are being triggered earlier in the process, and it is to be hoped that the Bill will be accompanied by initiatives for more local authority accommodation (and the constant need for lower cost housing in many areas of the country).