Friday 21 August 2020 / 11:21 AM Housing / Karl Turner

End of evictions ban threatens to unleash a tsunami of evictions proceedings that could overwhelm courts

End of evictions ban threatens to unleash a tsunami of evictions proceedings that could overwhelm courts  

In a letter to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, Labour has warned that pushing ahead with plans to end the evictions ban on Sunday risks unleashing a tsunami of cases which could overwhelm English County Courts.

The Labour party is calling on the government to extend the ban, and follow through on its Queen’s Speech pledge to end s.21 ‘no fault’ evictions – or leave a legal framework in place which would give judges no option but to evict, regardless of coronavirus-related financial hardship.

With the building of emergency Nightingale Courts still progressing slowly, nearly a quarter million potential eviction proceedings would swamp the already backlogged justice system.

The letter also warns that vast ‘advice deserts’ across the country would leave many tenants without legal representation.

Commenting, Shadow Minister for Legal Aid, Karl Turner MP, said:

“It is utterly jaw-dropping that the government have sat on their hands until just days before a self-made homelessness crisis. Pushing ahead with the end of the evictions ban risks unleashing a tsunami of cases which could leave tens of thousands of people homeless and overwhelm our courts.

“If the government do not change course and act now, the complete absence of legal advice in huge swathes of the country will leave tenants at risk of homelessness.

“Ministers’ promises that the courts will take account of the impact of Covid on tenants amount to nothing, as despite having 5 months to do so, they have not changed the law on s.21 or ground 8, so judges will have no choice but to evict in the middle of a global pandemic, regardless of the circumstances.”

Ends

Notes to Editors

Full text of the letter below:

Dear Lord Chancellor,

As you know, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, promised in March that “no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home”. Labour supports this aim, and as such welcomed the extension of a stay on eviction proceedings in June. Despite ample opportunity to address the impending homelessness crisis, Sunday 23rd August marks the resumption of court actions and the breaking of that promise.

Pushing ahead with the end of the evictions ban risks unleashing a tsunami of cases which could leave tens of thousands of people homeless and overwhelm our courts. Beyond the widely highlighted impact on those who rent their home, this decision has the potential to overwhelm our already over-stretched justice system. The housing charity Shelter has estimated that almost a quarter of a million renters face possession proceedings, many directly due to financial hardship incurred as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. Efforts to establish emergency ‘Nightingale’ Courts notwithstanding, you will be well aware that the system cannot cope with such an overwhelming number of new cases.

In addition to the strain on court capacity, Labour has serious concerns regarding access to justice for tenants. As you know, analysis from the Law Society shows that almost 40 percent of people in England & Wales live in a local authority with no housing legal aid providers, whilst over half of all local authorities do not provide housing legal aid services. What provisions have been put in place to ensure adequate, functioning duty solicitor schemes at all County Courts hearing possession proceedings?

This Government have had 5 months since the start of the pandemic to fix the law surrounding s.21 ‘no fault’ evictions, as pledged in the Queen’s Speech, and ground 8 rent arrears claims. However, as highlighted by organisations from the Master of the Rolls’ working group, none of the procedural changes so far introduced change the fact that s.21 and ground 8 are mandatory grounds for repossession, leaving judges without discretion. In practice, judges will be unable to consider the impact of Covid-19 upon tenants.

The situation is urgent, there is no more opportunity for delay. Without the requisite legal advice provision, court capacity, and judicial discretion, the resumption of eviction proceedings will be disastrous for tenants and the justice system alike. The ban must therefore be extended. We look forward to your swift reply.

Yours sincerely,

Rt Hon David Lammy MP, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Thangam Debbonaire MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Housing

Karl Turner MP, Shadow Minister for Legal Aid

CC: Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government