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Housing rights advice during coronavirus pandemic

With everyone spending more time at home than usual, it's more important than ever that we feel safe and secure where we live — and know our rights and where to turn if something goes wrong.

Temporary measures have been put in place due to the coronavirus outbreak to help you feel more secure at home and to ease some of the financial worries for the time being. 

We've outlined some of these below. 

I rent my home – can I be evicted?

Most renters are protected from eviction until at least 21 September 2020, due to a ban on eviction cases being heard in court.

You are covered by the ban if your landlord needs to get a court order to evict you. In practice, most renters are entitled to a court order and so are covered. The main exceptions are if you share accommodation with your landlord (including a friend or family member), or don’t pay any rent. Seek advice if you are in this position and worried about your security.

Even if you are covered by the ban, you may still get a notice from your landlord saying they want you to leave. This is because the ban only applies to court action, not landlord notices. If you rent from a council, a housing association or a private landlord who you don’t live with, then you are probably entitled to a longer – three-month – notice period at the moment.

Getting a notice from your landlord is, usually, the first stage of the eviction process. It does not necessarily mean you have to leave your home. As above, in most cases your landlord must refer the case to court after your notice period is up, which isn’t possible at the moment. But you should still seek advice immediately if you are asked to leave.

You are still expected to pay rent during this time, although landlords have been encouraged by government not to serve notices for rent arrears. If you are struggling, government advice is to speak to your landlord as soon as possible and ask them to agree to some form of temporary relief. This could be a rent reduction, a rent holiday, or an agreement to pay back the arrears at a later stage. Make sure you are claiming all the benefits you are entitled to and speak to your local authority about whether there is any emergency money available.

If your fixed-term tenancy is coming up for renewal and your landlord is refusing to renew, seek advice. Unless you are in one of the groups of people above who aren’t entitled to a court order, your landlord must still get one of these if they want to lawfully evict you.

I'm not sure I'll be able to pay my rent. What can I do?

The above changes do not amount to a payment holiday – tenants are expected to pay their rent as usual or negotiate temporary relief (such as a rent reduction or agreement to pay back arrears at a later stage) with their landlord.

The Government guidance encourages landlords not to serve an eviction notice where tenants are having difficulty paying rent during this period, ‘particularly given that the tenant may be sick or facing other hardship due to COVID-19’. Landlords are reminded that they can apply for a mortgage payment holiday where they have a Buy-to-Let mortgage.

In addition to help through the benefits system, tenants in financial difficulty are advised to contact their local authority about emergency money that has been made available.

I’m homeless/worried about being made homeless

If you are homeless or threatened with homelessness, contact your local authority as soon as possible. They have a duty to help you if:

  • they agree you are homeless or threatened, and
  • you are ‘eligible’ for help because of your nationality and immigration status.

In addition, English local authorities have been told to support people who are sleeping rough or at risk of sleeping rough, even if they would not normally be considered eligible.

A local authority should not refuse to help you because your case is not considered a priority. It can stop helping you after a certain period of time for this reason though. Seek advice if you are in this position.

One way to establish priority need is if you are vulnerable due to your health or age. During the COVID-19 pandemic, you have a strong case for being considered vulnerable and therefore in priority need if you are 70 or over, or in a clinically vulnerable group. 

For more information, see our Factsheet on Homelessness.

Can I have repairs or improvements made on my home?

In England, you should be able to get both essential and non-essential works carried out, unless you are self-isolating or living in a local lockdown area.

This applies if you are in a clinically extremely vulnerable group and have previously been asked to shield, although you are advised to make prior arrangements with a landlord or contractor to ensure appropriate social distancing is maintained during the visit.

The latest government guidance on shielding advises you to keep your overall social interactions low, wash your hands carefully and more frequently than usual, and maintain thorough cleaning of frequently touched areas in your home.

If living in a local lockdown area, check the specific rules applying locally, particularly if you’re in a clinically extremely vulnerable group. Check your local authority website and the latest government guidance on shielding for more information.

If self-isolating, no work should be carried out in your home unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of your household. In such cases, prior arrangements to avoid any face-to-face contact should be made, for example when answering the door.

Tenants may face delays in getting non-essential works carried out, as some landlords have a backlog of repairs. If your household is self-isolating, let your landlord know, so they can delay gas safety checks until it's safe to do so. If it is decided delaying the gas safety check poses a greater risk to your health, it may still go ahead. You can find more information on the Gas Safe Register website

Have there been any changes to mortgage repayments?

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has told lenders not to start or continue court repossession action until at least 31 October 2020. If your lender has already obtained a court order to repossess your property, they should not seek to ‘enforce’ it by evicting you. Unless exceptional circumstances apply, repossession is likely to contravene FCA rules and result in enforcement action being taken against the lender.

You can ask your lender for a three-month payment holiday, or the extension of an existing payment holiday, at any point until at least 31 October 2020. A payment holiday means you stop making payments without going into arrears, although your lender will seek to recover money covered by the holiday at a later date. You may end up paying more each month or paying for longer. Your lender should give you a choice over how you repay the money.

Speak to a debt advice agency such as StepChange or National Debtline if in payment difficulty, as there may be alternatives to a payment holiday that better meet your needs. Your lender should consider other options if you request a holiday, for example reducing or waiving interest.

In addition, repossession action is covered by the suspension of housing possession action above, so customers in arrears should be protected until at least 21 September 2020.

What if I can’t pay my energy bills?

Emergency measures have been agreed with the energy industry to protect those people most in need during the disruption caused by COVID-19.

These were implemented from 19 March 2020, with industry agreeing to prioritise those already in need, while identifying those whose circumstances may have changed. All UK domestic suppliers have signed up.

Measures include:

  • Customers with pre-payment meters who cannot add credit should speak to their supplier about options to maintain supply, e.g. nominating a third party for credit top-ups, having a discretionary fund added to their credit, or being sent a pre-loaded top-up card.
  • More broadly, any customer in financial distress should be supported by their supplier, which can include debt repayments and bill payments being reassessed, reduced or paused where necessary.
  • The disconnection of credit meters is completely suspended.

We have more information on how you can save money on your energy bills here.

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Last updated: Aug 25 2020

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