Housing

Coronavirus: housing

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. For many, housing problems will be closely linked to a loss or reduction in their income. You might find blog posts we’ve published on coronavirus related employment and benefits support helpful. We’ve also listed a range of trusted sources of advice on housing issues at the end of this blog post.

Estimated reading time: 6 Minutes

This article was last updated on 1 September 2020

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

This blog post sets out actions taken by the Welsh and UK Governments to support people facing housing problems linked to the coronavirus outbreak.

For many people, housing problems will be closely linked to a loss or reduction in their income. You might find blog posts we’ve published on coronavirus related employment and benefits support helpful.

We’ve also listed a range of trusted sources of advice on housing issues at the end of this article.

Homelessness

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. 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. 

The Welsh Government announced phase two of the response to homelessness during the coronavirus outbreak on 28 May along with a further £20 million of funding. On 28 July that funding was increased to £50 million. Every local authority in Wales has been asked to work with their partners to prepare a plan which sets out how they will use this funding to work towards the Welsh Government’s goal of ending homelessness.

The Homelessness Action Group recently held its final meeting. The group, chaired by Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes, was established by the Welsh Government before the pandemic to advise on ways to prevent and end homelessness. Following the group’s final meeting, its members wrote a blog post that discusses its work in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Welsh Government has published a range of coronavirus related homelessness guidance, including a resource for local authority practitioners and partners.

Our blog post, Coronavirus: homelessness, looks at how Wales tackled homelessness during the pandemic in more detail.

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 tenants experiencing financial hardship as a result of coronavirus.

From 26 March 2020, the Coronavirus Act 2020 temporarily increased the notice period a landlord in England or Wales must give most tenants before they can ask a court for a possession order to three months. Before the temporary changes a range of different notice periods applied depending on the reason for eviction and the type of tenancy. For example, in the private rented sector many tenants would have been entitled to two weeks’ notice if they had rent arrears or two months’ notice if they hadn’t broken any conditions of the tenancy.

The Welsh Government outlined the most recent changes to eviction notice periods in a written statement on 23 July. From 24 July, the notice period was increased to six months for assured and assured shorthold tenancies in Wales. That covers most private rented sector and housing association tenancies. A three month notice period continues to apply to possession claims involving anti-social behaviour, as well as to tenants facing eviction from other tenancies covered by the Coronavirus Act, including council tenancies.

These temporary changes to notice lengths will remain in place until 30 September, but the Welsh Government has powers to extend that period if necessary. On 3 August, the Senedd’s Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee considered the extended six month notice period and raised concerns about whether it was a justified interference with landlords’ human rights.

Housing possession claims in the courts were suspended on 27 March 2020. Courts were due to start processing claims again on 24 August, but the suspension, effectively a ban on evictions, has now been extended to 20 September. When possession proceedings do resume, the UK Government has indicated that the most serious cases will be prioritised including those involving anti-social behaviour, domestic abuse and serious rent arrears.

On 17 July the UK Government announced a new Practice Direction that outlines how the courts, and parties to claims, will deal with stayed (suspended) and new possession claims once proceedings resume. Additionally, the UK Government had 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. On 20 July, the Minister for Housing and Local Government told the Senedd’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee that the Welsh Government intended meeting with Police and Crime Commissioners “about the way that the commissioners instruct their police forces across Wales, in terms of unlawful evictions…”.

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.

In July, the Minister for Finance and Tefnydd announced additional funding for debt advice services delivered through the Welsh Government’s Single Advice Fund. The Welsh Government indicated that private sector tenants were one group who could benefit from this additional support.

On 11 August, the Welsh Government announced that a Tenancy Saver Loan scheme will be introduced to help tenants with rent arrears built up since 1 March. Loans will be paid directly to landlords.

The Welsh Government has issued a range of coronavirus related guidance targeted at tenants in Wales, including guidance on paying rent, repairs and evictions.

Landlords

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.

The Welsh Government has issued guidance about coronavirus for landlords and managing agents in the private rented sector. A range of coronavirus related guidance specifically for social landlords has also been issued by the Welsh Government.

Homeowners

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 also agreed to extend the moratorium on involuntary repossession for residential and buy-to-let customers to 31 October 2020 in accordance with Financial Conduct Authority guidance.

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.

On 14 July, the Welsh Government confirmed that from 27 July the nil rate of Land Transaction Tax would temporarily be increased from £180,000 to £250,000 for residential property transactions. The new rates and bands will apply until 31 March 2021.

The Welsh Government has issued advice for people who have problems paying their mortgage during the coronavirus pandemic.

Moving home

The remaining restrictions that prevented the housing market fully reopening were lifted on 27 July.

The Welsh Government has published two sets of guidance on moving home during the pandemic, one for the general public and one for those working in the sector.

Sources of information, advice and support


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.

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