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This article was last updated on 28 May 2020
Whether it is a sudden loss of income, or a lack of somewhere safe to live, a consequence of the coronavirus outbreak is that many people will have concerns about losing, finding or paying for a home. This blog post sets out actions taken by the Welsh and UK Governments to support people facing housing problems linked to the coronavirus outbreak.
We’ve also listed a range of trusted sources of advice on housing issues at the end of this blog post.
The Welsh Government made additional funding available so local authorities can help those facing homelessness during the coronavirus outbreak.
Rough sleepers and people in temporary accommodation face particular challenges complying with the rules on social distancing and self-isolation. The Welsh Government announced additional funding for local authorities so they could help this vulnerable group. The funding has been used to secure the accommodation needed so people without a home can be protected, supported, and isolated if necessary. In Cardiff, this additional resource has been used to block purchase hotel accommodation. Across Wales, local authorities and their partners have been able to use the additional funding to accommodate many hundreds of people who would otherwise be homeless. Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis and chair of the Homelessness Action Group, has written a blog post about ending homelessness in Wales and the coronavirus outbreak.
The Welsh Government has published a range of coronavirus related homelessness guidance, including a resource for local authority practitioners and partners.
Help for renters
While social landlords quickly offered assurances of support to their tenants, the impact of coronavirus on those living in the private rented sector was less clear. A number of changes to legislation and guidance have since provided additional protection for renters.
The Minister for Housing and Local Government wrote to social housing tenants to remind them that all social landlords in Wales have agreed everyone will be “treated fairly” and had agreed not to evict their tenants during the coronavirus outbreak.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 temporarily increases the notice period a landlord in England or Wales must give a tenant before they can ask a court for a possession order to three months. This applies to council tenants, housing association tenants and private rented tenants with assured, assured shorthold or regulated tenancies. Welsh Ministers have a power under the Coronavirus Act to extend the notice period to up to six months. The Minister for Housing and Local Government told the Senedd’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee on 5 May 2020 that she was considering whether that power should be used.
The Coronavirus Act does not stop evictions. Notices served on tenants before the law was changed remain valid, but a subsequent Practice Direction updating court rules took matters further. It suspends possession proceedings in England and Wales for an initial period of 90 days from 27 March. Suspending possession proceedings protects a wider group than just those entitled to the extended notice period, including mortgage borrowers and some licensees. Additionally, the UK Government has indicated that it intends to extend the current pre-action protocol that social landlords must follow before commencing possession proceedings to cover the private rented sector, and to widen its remit.
Local authorities and the police have powers to intervene if a landlord is acting unlawfully, for example, by trying to force a tenant to leave without first obtaining a possession order.
The changes to notice periods and suspension of evictions does not mean that tenants can stop paying their rent. Shelter Cymru outlines some of the options a landlord and tenant may consider where there has been a reduction in a tenant’s income on its website. This includes a rent payment holiday or a temporary rent reduction. These must be negotiated between the parties.
Tenants who have suffered a drop in their income may be able to claim support through the benefits system. The Chancellor announced that Local Housing Allowance rates (the maximum help a benefit claimant in the private sector will get towards paying their rent) will be increased so they cover at least 30% of market rents. Local authorities can also award tenants in social or private housing a Discretionary Housing Payment.
Landlords with Buy to Let mortgages whose tenants have lost income because of the impact of coronavirus can ask for a mortgage payment holiday. Both the Minister for Housing and Local Government and UK Finance, which represents lenders, note that landlords are expected to pass on this relief to their tenants to ensure that they are supported during this time.
Landlords may still need to address repair or other legal obligations during the coronavirus outbreak, but this may be more challenging given the restrictions that are currently in place. The Welsh Government’s guidance for landlords and managing agents in the private rented sector advises postponing any non-urgent visits to properties. It has also issued non-statutory guidance to advise local authorities in Wales how to effectively enforce standards in the private rented sector during the coronavirus outbreak.
A range of guidance specifically for social landlords has also been issued by the Welsh Government.
Mortgage lenders have agreed to help borrowers struggling to make payments during the current coronavirus outbreak.
Lenders agreed to offer three month mortgage payment holidays to borrowers in financial difficulty because of coronavirus. HM Treasury confirmed on 22 May that homeowners struggling to pay their mortgage due to coronavirus will be able to extend their mortgage payment holiday for a further three months, or start making reduced payments. Answers to some frequently asked questions are on the UK Finance website. Lenders have agreed to extend the moratorium on involuntary repossession for residential and buy-to-let customers to 31 October 2020.
Homeowners who have bought a property through the Welsh Government’s Help to Buy – Wales scheme, can apply for an interest repayment holiday of up to three months if they are making interest payments on their loan and may suffer financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
The Welsh Government has issued advice for people who have problems paying their mortgage during the coronavirus pandemic.
Moving house is permitted under the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 but only where a moving date cannot be postponed.
To help homebuyers, lenders will give customers who have exchanged contracts on a property purchase the option to extend their mortgage offer for up to three months to enable them to move at a later date.
Holiday accommodation being used for residential purposes
Some people might have been living in holiday accommodation that is now closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Anyone living in caravan on a holiday site under an agreement made under Part 4 of the Mobile Homes (Wales) Act 2013 can remain in their home. Owners of holiday caravan parks and camping sites would be expected to use their best endeavours to require anyone else staying on the site to leave.
There are exceptions where people can remain in other types of holiday accommodation (e.g. self-catering cottages or apartments) where a person is using the accommodation as their main residence or they are unable to return to their main residence.
Any holiday businesses might be asked to stay open by the Welsh Government or a local authority to provide accommodation for keyworkers or vulnerable groups like the homeless.
The requirement for holiday accommodation to close does not affect people living in park homes on sites licensed for residential use.Guidance for local authorities and owners of holiday accommodation and guidance note to holiday accommodation owners has been issued by the Welsh Government.
Sources of information, advice and support
- The Welsh Government has collated all its housing-related coronavirus guidance on its website;
- Citizens Advice can provide housing, benefits and employment advice online or on the phone – 03444 77 20 20. It also has an information page on coronavirus;
- Shelter Cymru has a coronavirus housing advice page and some advice for younger people (aged 16-25). Shelter Cymru can also provide housing related advice by phone – 08000 495 495;
- The Money Advice Service has an information page on Coronavirus and your money, which includes information on paying rent or a mortgage;
- Moneysavingexpert.com has a Coronavirus Finance & Bills Help page with information related to mortgages and rent;
- The National Residential Landlords Association has collated coronavirus information and advice for private landlords.
Article by Jonathan Baxter, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament
We’ve published a range of material on the coronavirus pandemic, including a post setting out the help and guidance available for people in Wales and a timeline of Welsh and UK governments’ response.
You can see all our coronavirus-related publications by clicking here. All are updated regularly.