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Housing

Worried about your home? This is the guide you need

As part of our Ride Out Recession Alliance, we are providing vital advice on what to do if the impact of Covid-19 is threatening your home

Although the ban on evictions in England was extended until September 20 at the 11th hour, it has done little to allay fears of renters longer-term. Both renters and homeowners are still facing uncertainty over their incomes as jobs are shed across all sectors at an unprecedented rate. And with the furlough scheme due to end in October, there is a very real worry that unemployment levels will skyrocket.

Housing is a devolved matter handled at Westminster for England, Holyrood for Scotland and the Welsh Assembly for Wales, so all three nations have slightly differing approaches to tackling the impact of decimated household incomes on people’s ability to keep a roof over their heads. This of course is not helped by the cliff-edge nature of policymaking from Downing Street, and confusing U-turns – the frequently shifting morass of information can be daunting and difficult to navigate.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, says: “Many renters have faced an impossibly tough time during the pandemic, trying to juggle paying rent with wage cuts or job losses. Our frontline services hear from people every day who are desperately struggling to keep their heads above water.”

Shelter – with whom The Big Issue has been partnering on our RORA campaign from its inception – is calling on government to do more, to protect renters in particular.

“Once Parliament resumes, judges must be given extra powers to stop people losing their homes because of rent arrears caused by coronavirus. And long-term, we desperately need major reforms to make renting fairer, more affordable and more secure,” Neate adds.

Support through benefits and legislation introduced early in the pandemic is available to both renters and homeowners, and organisations like Shelter and Citizens Advice have information on how to tap into that help.

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Neate suggests: “Anyone who is worried about losing their home can get in touch with one of Shelter’s expert advisers through our free webchat service or emergency helpline, which is open 365 days a year. We know how confusing and stressful it can be – but we’re here to help.”

Renters

Evictions are paused until September 20 in England and September 30 in Scotland while both have joined Wales in announcing a six-month notice period for evictions.

Before the freeze on evictions ends bailiffs won’t evict you and landlords cannot get an eviction order.

If your landlord has already applied to court for an eviction order your case will stay on hold.

Landlords can give tenants notice to leave, but cannot evict them because eviction court cases are on hold.

The notice period required by landlords is currently six months. After the notice period is up or a tenancy agreement ends, landlords do not need a court order to evict a tenant.

Courts will start to deal with evictions again once the freeze ends.

Shelter has specific advice for private renters and council or housing association tenants. Different rules apply to lodgers who live with landlords.

It is illegal for landlords to harass renters, lock them out of their homes or make them leave without notice or a court order.

Tenants are not protected from rent increases during the eviction freeze. For anyone who cannot afford to pay rent, Citizens Advice recommends immediately explaining the situation to your landlord and ask if they can be flexible on payments. If they will not, pay as much as possible and keep records of what was discussed with the landlord and how much has been paid.

Help is available for housing costs if someone’s income has reduced as a result of the Covid crisis, even if they are still working. Citizens Advice, Shelter and government websites have information about eligibility for benefits.

Homeowners

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has said that mortgage lenders must not start or continue court action for repossession until at least October 31.

If your lender applied to court before the coronavirus outbreak your case should still be on hold.

You can ask your lender for a three-month payment holiday if you’re struggling to pay because of coronavirus. You can ask for this at any time until at least October 31. The missed payments will be added to the cost of your mortgage. This normally means your monthly payments will increase.

Ask your lender about other options. For example, switching to a lower interest rate.

Check if you have insurance that will cover your mortgage payments. For example, mortgage payment protection insurance or through your current account.

If you have taken a payment holiday and can afford to make repayments when it ends you will be asked to do so.

Speak to your lender if you still can’t afford to make full payments. They should offer further support. This could include another three-month payment holiday.

Useful links

Shelter England

Shelter Scotland

Shelter Cymru

Citizens Advice

England: gov.uk/coronavirus

(go to Housing and accommodation for info for renters)

Scotland: gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19/

(go to Information & Support, then Housing and Accommodation)

Wales: gov.wales/housing-coronavirus

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