House of Commons
Rt Hon Thangam Debbonaire, Shadow Secretary for Housing
Rt Hon David Lammy, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice
6th January 2021
Dear Rt Hon Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State HCLG
Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC, Lord Chancellor
On 4 January 2021 a further national lockdown was announced. The public health crisis is worse now than in March 2020 and the new, more virulent strain of Covid-19, has accelerated the crisis alarmingly. It is 50-70% more contagious than it was in March and it is considered that up to 1 in 50 people have it.
During relatively less torrid periods of the pandemic, possession claims were stayed to protect parties, advocates and court staff from the inherent dangers in conducting possession lists at court, as well as the unthinkable consequences of tenants and borrowers being made homeless.
There is no logical or persuasive reason why the measures put in place in March 2020 should not be put in place again pending roll out of the vaccine:
Nobody should lose their home during a pandemic where their personal and economic circumstances are entirely beyond their control . These are unprecedented times and peoples’ incomes and financial circumstances are worse than they were in March 2020.
Nobody should lose their home where they are unable to effectively access legal advice and representation and the courts. In April 2020, HLPA submitted written evidence in the Court of Appeal case of Arkin v Marshall to illustrate the difficulties faced by HLPA members and their clients. That evidence, which was not disputed, remains as relevant now as it was then.
Nobody should be forced to travel to court to try to save their home. Individuals must always have the absolute right to act in a way which does not to place their life at risk; and they must not be forced to choose between that right and preserving a roof over their head.
Nobody should be out on the streets. People without a home or at risk of losing their home must engage in frequent and repeated contact with others in order to keep themselves and their families safely housed. That is simply not compatible with public health guidance and regulations.
HLPA calls for the government to act now:
(i) extend the moratorium on eviction beyond 11 January 2020;
(ii) put the ‘everyone in’ policy on a formal footing so that councils are obliged to accommodate everyone at risk of rough sleeping, including those with no recourse to public funds; and
(iii) there must be an immediate stay on possession proceedings.
We welcomed the commitment of the Secretary of State for Housing when he said on 18 March 2020, that “no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home.” It follows, therefore, that he must also:
• Abolish s.21 (as promised in the government’s manifesto).
• Suspend Ground 8 in Schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1988 to allow judges to decide in rent arrears cases.
• Reform the benefits system to ensure that at the very least it acts as an effective welfare safety net.
HLPA is also deeply concerned that its members, the ones who have only just survived brutal attacks on legal aid through LASPO, will again be at risk of financial meltdown. Many will not survive. It is imperative to the administration of justice, the rule of law, and the government’s stated aim of a fair deal for renters that our sector is sustained. Housing lawyers need to be supported, not attacked, and they need it urgently.
Co-Chairs of HLPA