From 4 May 2021, the prescribed form of notice seeking possession under section 8 of the Housing Act 1988 will be replaced and a new form must be used.
In addition, the Assured Tenancies and Agricultural Occupancies (Form) (Moratorium Debt) (Consequential Amendment) (England) Regulations 2021 have been created and outline the legal protections available under the new Debt Respite Scheme. Under the new protections, landlords will not be able to take enforcement steps in certain circumstances; however tenants will still be liable for their contractual obligations.
The current s8 notice had already been updated in order to protect residential tenants against unjust evictions during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, there are concerns that the new form coming into force does not include these protections. Under the Coronavirus Act 2020, where less than 6 months’ rent arrears have accrued, a six-month notice period must be given to tenants before any court proceedings for possession can be issued. This will be the case until 31st May 2021 at the earliest. There is however no mention of this requirement in the new s8 notice.
Protection for Tenants
The new Debt Respite Regulations are intended to offer protections for individuals who are struggling with debt. Individuals, including tenants, who cannot or who are unlikely to repay their debts will be able to apply for up to 60 days’ protection against enforcement action, providing they apply through a debt advice provider and fulfil further criteria.
Further, an individual receiving mental health crisis treatment and struggling with their finances can apply for a Mental Health Crisis Moratoria (“MHCM”). A MHCM will protect an individual throughout their treatment and for a further 30 days after their treatment has concluded. In a situation where an individual may be too unwell to apply themselves, other parties can apply on their behalf.
The moratorium will only cover the debts at the time of application. Any further debts that were not disclosed or occurred after the application will not be moratorium debts and therefore may not be protected from enforcement action.
Effect on Landlords
Landlords will be notified when a debt advice provider approves an application and they must disclose all the information about the debts they are owed. If landlord are aware of any debts which have not been disclosed in the moratoria, the landlord must inform the debt advice provider as soon as reasonably possible so any qualifying debts can be added.
Although landlords are not able to take enforcement steps during the moratorium period, the period is not a payment holiday for tenants. Tenants are still required to fulfil their ongoing liabilities. A tenant’s liabilities include paying their rent and any other payments in relation to the lease of a property. Landlords can accept payments during the moratoria period. Any debts not paid during the moratorium period are not erased and remain outstanding. This means that, once the restrictions are lifted, landlords will be able to take enforcement steps, which may include serving a s8 notice, commencing court proceedings or taking other appropriate action.