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27 November, 2020 Open access

Justice Committee seeks further information about the stay on evictions that is due to expire on 11 January 2021

Letter to Lord Chancellor asks if government will legislate to limit evictions in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas when current stay expires, and seeks clarity on exception to stay where rent arrears accrued before March 2020

The Chair of the Justice Committee Sir Robert Neill has written to the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland to seek further information about the stay on evictions that was introduced by the Public Health (Coronavirus) (Protection from Eviction and Taking Control of Goods) (England) Regulations 2020 and is due to expire on 11 January 2021

In a letter to the Lord Chancellor dated 24 November 2020, Sir Robert says that the Committee welcomes the government's decision to legislate to stop evictions, except in limited circumstances, during the national coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown and the mid-winter period in England.

However, Sir Roberts adds that the Committee would like to know why the government initially decided to rely on guidance to limit enforcement activity rather than legislating, and that -

'It has been reported that the decision to legislate was prompted by a pre-action protocol letter for a judicial review seeking to challenge the legality of the refusal to enforce warrants and writs by bailiffs. While we welcome the government's decision to put this stay on evictions onto a legislative footing, it is arguable that this should have been done either through or alongside the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (England) (No.4) Regulations 2020, which came into force on 5 November.'

In addition, Sir Robert says that the Committee would like to know whether, when the ban on evictions expires on 11 January 2021, the government will legislate to limit evictions in areas where Tier 2 or Tier 3 restrictions are in place, and that -

'In relation to the exemptions listed, we would like to ask the government for further explanation of the exemption for cases with substantial rent arrears that pre-date 23 March 2020. This exemption can be distinguished from the others included in the regulation, which are justified and clear. The arrears exemption defines substantial as 'at an amount equivalent to 9 months' rent. It is unclear why this particular period of time should give rise to an exemption to the general restriction on evictions which is in place to protect public health.'

In conclusion, Sir Robert says that, while the Committee recognises that the exceptional nature of the COVID-19 pandemic means that the government must legislate at short notice to protect public health, it -

'...would also like to be reassured that the Lord Chancellor is able to raise matters relating to the justice system, such as these, when the government is in the process of formulating national and local regulations to protect public health.'

The letter to the Lord Chancellor from the Chair of the Justice Committee is available from parliament.uk