People living in rented accommodation in England and Wales who have received an eviction notice have been urged not to move out.
The government announced a three month ban on evictions as part of emergency coronavirus legislation.
But the ban only covered new eviction proceedings, not people already in the court system.
Last week, ministers caved in to pressure from Labour and charities and announced a complete ban on evictions.
The courts in England and Wales have been instructed to “suspend all ongoing housing possession action”, the government said in a statement.
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The suspension “will initially last for 90 days, but this can be extended if needed”, the statement added, with all private and social renters, as well those with mortgages, to be protected.
The move is thought likely to affect about 20,000 people who had been facing repossession.
In Scotland, MSPs are planning introduce a temporary ban on evictions in their emergency coronavirus legislation, but it will only covers new evictions, not people already facing court proceedings.
Housing charity Shelter fears some people in England and Wales, who might not be aware of their rights, are still being forced out of their homes by their landlords.
Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said: “The government’s blanket ban on evictions is good news for millions of renters who can now safely remain in their homes.
“It’s crucial people know they’re protected and that no legal action can be taken to evict them for at least the next three months.
“Even if they receive an eviction notice from their landlord in the coming weeks they should not feel any pressure to leave until this crisis is over, and should stay where they are.”
The charity’s advice for private rented, council or housing association tenants is:
- It is illegal if your landlord makes you leave without notice or a court order – or locks you out of your home, even temporarily
- If you have had an eviction notice from your landlord you should stay in your home
- In most cases, if an eviction notice is issued between 27 March and 30 September, the landlord must wait three months before they can apply to court
- If your landlord has already applied to court then your case will be put off for 90 days
- The court will tell you when any new hearing is but this may take some time
The government is advising people to continue paying their rent – and for those struggling financially to speak to their landlords about setting up a payment plan or to seek help through the benefit system.
It says lenders will support struggling landlords, and those with buy-to-let mortgages will be entitled to a three month payment holiday.
But campaign group the London Renters Union is calling on the government to suspend all rent payments – and to protect people from having to pay big arrears when the crisis has eased.
The group says thousands of people are continuing to have to go to work because of pressure from landlords, meaning they are unable to follow the government’s social distancing guidelines.
In a letter to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, the group said: “Urging landlords to ‘show compassion’ does nothing in reality to protect renters. The government has left renters to fend for themselves.
“As the government’s recent guidance clearly states, tenants are still legally obliged to pay rent and landlords are still able to issue eviction notices to renters who enter into rent debt.
“The eviction process will begin as soon as the temporary ban on evictions is lifted.”
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has been contacted for a response.
‘More help needed’
The government is temporarily making the housing benefit system more generous to help people struggling to meet rent payments, by increasing it to cover 30% of the market average rent in each area.
The move was welcomed by Shelter, but the charity is urging the government to go further and increase the Local Housing Allowance – the housing component of Universal Credit for private renters – to more of local market rates, and to end the five-week wait for new claimants.
The charity says there has been a surge in people applying for benefits, in many cases for the first time.
Ms Neate said: “At Shelter we’re receiving daily calls from people up and down the country who are worried about how they’ll pay the rent, keep the lights on and put food in the fridge in the coming weeks and months.
“That’s why we’re urging the government to go even further on its welfare measures to help people through the financial shock created by this pandemic.
“To prevent households slipping into poverty and debt, the government should temporarily increase housing benefit so that it covers the average cost of local rents.
“And to make sure help is available from day one it must end the five-week wait for universal credit, by turning advance payments into a grant instead of a loan.”