20 May, 2021
Two sets of regulations have been laid before Parliament, which have brought further changes to the notice periods to be given in respect of possession proceedings for residential tenancies and the corresponding forms of notice to be served by landlords.
To give them their long titles, these are the Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) (No.2) Regulations 2021 and the Assured Tenancies and Agricultural Occupancies (Forms) (England) (Amendment) and Suspension (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021.
Links to the legislation have been included below:
Both sets of regulations are due to take effect on 01 June 2021.
The changes are in response to the Government's plans to provide continuing support for renters as the national COVID-19 restrictions ease. In an announcement made by the Housing Minister, Christopher Pincher, on 12 May 2021, it has been confirmed that the "extensive financial support" that has been in place to help people meet their outgoings, including the Furlough Scheme and Universal Credit uplift, will be extended to the end of September 2021.
At the same time, in an attempt to strike a balance with the interests of landlords (both private and public-sector alike), notice periods are set to reduce.
The accompanying press-release states that "Owing to the success of the vaccine programme and the public efforts to supress the virus, the nation is now progressing cautiously through the Roadmap, and emergency measures for renters introduced during the pandemic will be brought in line with this."
Thus, although longer (than usual) notice periods will remain in place until at least October 2021, the "general" notice period for possession is to drop from 6 months to 4 months. Furthermore, there is to be a tapering-off period for rent arrears grounds, which will see these notice periods reduce further on 01 August 2021.
Albeit subject to change, as things currently stand, notice periods will return to their pre-pandemic position on 01 October 2021.
In respect of the new notice periods, the latest "Protection from Eviction (Amendment)" regulations further amend Schedule 29 to the Coronavirus Act 2020 to provide for the revised notice periods that landlords will need to observe in relation to any notice served on or after 01 June 2021 and before 01 October 2021.
In terms of how we got here, Schedule 29 to the Coronavirus Act 2020 had introduced a "general" notice period of 3 months for most types of possession claims in response to the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic. This "general" notice period was increased to 6 months by the Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020, whilst at the same time offering exceptions for certain grounds for possession, to last until 31 March 2021. The Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2021 extended this period of enhanced notice until 31 May 2021.
The latest regulations will mean that the "general" notice period for assured, secure, assured shorthold, flexible, introductory and demoted tenancies will change from 6 months to 4 months, save for the following exceptions.
Assured shorthold tenancies
Introductory / Demoted tenancies
What else will change in the future?
As can be seen, the most significant change for landlords relates to those grounds concerning rent arrears, for which the threshold beyond which reduced notice needs to be given has been lowered.
Now, where accumulated rent arrears are more than 4 months (as opposed to the previous 6 months' figure) only 4 weeks' notice needs to be given.
If the accumulated rent arrears are less than 4 months', 4 months' notice will need to be given (unless Ground 14 or Ground 7A can also be relied upon).
However, the regulations provide that for any notice served on or after 01 August 2021, the notice period where less than 4 months' rent is unpaid will reduce to 2 months. This is in respect of assured, secure, introductory and demoted tenancies (where no other ground is specified).
It is intended for this to support both landlords and tenants alike by introducing a phased approach towards bridging the gap between the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic notice periods for rent arrears.
No sooner have changes been made to the prescribed form of section 8 Notice Seeking Possession through the Assured Tenancies and Agricultural Occupancies (Forms) (Moratorium Debt) (Consequential Amendment) (England) Regulations 2021, it is all change again.
The latest "Assured Tenancies (Forms)" regulations operate in two ways.
Firstly, as of 01 June 2021, they suspend paragraph 12(1) of Schedule 29 to the Coronavirus Act 2020. This is the paragraph that instructs the recipient of a section 8 and section 21 notice to read certain guidance notes contained within, relating to the length of notice period, as being 6 months instead of 3 months.
Secondly, having ensured that the prescribed form of notice is not to be read in an entirely different manner, the regulations now introduce a new Form 3 (section 8 Notice Seeking Possession) and Form 6A (section 21 Notice Seeking Possession).
The section 8 Notice Seeking Possession also makes reference to the "Breathing Space" regulations that have recently come into force and which prompted the prescribed form to be changed earlier this month.
The new notices are to be used from 01 June 2021, so landlords should look at updating their template forms in readiness for this date.
However, the regulations will also apply to any notice served on this date as well. So, landlords should be mindful of when notices, to be sent by post in the lead-up to this date, will likely be received, either in line with the ordinary course of delivery or any deemed service provisions contained within the terms of the tenancy agreement.
For the avoidance of doubt, it may be prudent to delay the service of notice, wherever possible, in the few days preceding the 01 June changeover.
The reduction in notice periods for possession claims will no doubt be welcomed news for landlords, even if it is not yet a return to the pre-pandemic position. For tenants, there will undoubtedly be increased pressure put upon them to pay their current rent and avoid any existing rent arrears from accruing further.
However, it should be noted that continued financial support will be available to tenants to mitigate any hardship which they may face. The Universal Credit uplift has been extended until the end of September, and renters will continue to be supported with living costs, including rent, through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. For those requiring additional support, the government has also announced that it has made £140 million in Discretionary Housing Payments funding available for local authorities this financial year.
Against this backdrop, it is hoped that these latest measures will ensure renters continue to be protected with longer (than usual) notice periods for the coming months, whilst allowing landlords to have increased access to justice.
For more information contact Sam Gorrell in our Housing & Regeneration department via email or phone on 0333 207 1130. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.
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