16 October 2020
Ombudsman finds Council should not have waited until eviction date to rehouse tenants
Investigation into a complaint against London Borough of Haringey (reference number: 19 014 008)
One of the many issues residential landlords face when recovering possession is tenants who are informed by their local authority that their eligibility for social housing will be prejudiced if they voluntary vacate the property. This is usually interpreted by tenants to mean that they must wait until the landlord has obtained a possession order from the court, permitting an enforcement agent to be instructed to evict the tenant from the property.
Consequently, a tenant will discount the landlord’s efforts to secure possession, forcing the landlord to apply to the court for a possession order and then instruct an enforcement agent.
Due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the residential possession procedure and the court’s capacity, it is likely to take anywhere between 6 to 18 months from serving a notice under sections 8 or 21 of the Housing Act 1988 to an enforcement agent attending the property to evict the tenant (please refer to our previous article on this subject for more information).
Usually, a landlord seeks possession because the tenant has accrued significant rental arrears and the landlord wishes to let the property to a new paying tenant. Therefore, if a tenant continues to accrue rental arrears whilst the landlord navigates through the lengthy possession procedure, the landlord loses significant income.
Further, even if the court makes a judgment against the tenant for the rental arrears and costs, landlords still face issues with enforcement against the former tenant who often is without cash or assets to satisfy the debt owed.
Landlords will therefore welcome the news that, on 25 June 2020, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found that a local council should not have waited until the eviction date to rehouse a tenant. Instead, it should have helped when first informed that the tenant was being made homeless. The Ombudsman required the local council to compensate the tenant in the sum of £1,500.
It remains to be seen what the effect of the Ombudsman’s finding is, and whether local councils cease the current practice outlined above. It is hoped that the finding will set a precedent so that this practice stops. If so, both landlords and tenants should benefit. A tenant facing homelessness should be helped by their local council as soon their landlord commences formal action to seek possession. In turn, a landlord is not forced to incur costs in obtaining a possession order from the court and instructing an enforcement agent.