Property Notify has been watching the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With our audience’s interests in mind, we now present a Landlords’ Manifesto to the Government.
Our audience have highlighted a number of concerns and grievances to us relating to Government policy. These cover matters that were apparent before the emergence of COVID-19, and new issues specifically relating to the pandemic response.
As thousands of landlords across the UK seek reassurance that their vital interests continue to be recognised and their rights protected, we are urging policymakers to consider the points raised below in their evolving response to the current crisis gripping the country.
Enforce sensible eviction rules
In April 2019, many landlords voiced concern about proposals to scrap Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.
It has remained a contentious issue, and the proposals now await being brought before MPs at an undisclosed time, as part of the Renters’ Reform Bill. The matter needs to be considered in the context of the disruption that COVID-19 has created.
We can completely understand why the Government needs to make moves to reduce this disruption and protect people from being evicted at a time when they need to implement self-isolation or at the very least, social distancing.
It is unpleasant to imagine the impact that evictions would have during this time, leaving people to scramble for a new home in the midst of this pandemic. We welcome the temporary ban on evictions, for a period of three months in this current climate.
What we would like to see from the Government is the necessary nuance and detail to their response, with consideration for exceptions in the most extreme cases.
Some individuals renting properties in the UK may be live-in landlords, occupying properties with anti-social tenants. It’s one thing to be able to self-isolate in one’s own home, but landlords shouldn’t be trapped in living arrangements with abusive tenants with nowhere else to turn to.
We need to see sensible eviction rules brought in at this time that take into consideration the position of many thousands of people on both sides of the landlord/tenant debate. People are living in precarious situations and any new eviction policies need to help alleviate concern, not add to it.
Limit spread of COVID-19 wherever possible
One of the issues that landlords will face is the fact that properties will require essential work to be carried out during the lockdown period.
This poses an obvious challenge during a time when people need to limit unnecessary contact, especially in vulnerable households. Inspections and tradespeople having to enter homes risk furthering the spread of COVID-19 if they fail to consider the health and safety of landlords and tenants.
We are urging the Government to give reliable and consistent advice to landlords on how to go about requesting much-needed repair work to properties for the duration of the pandemic.
In line with ARLA Propertymark and others in the property sector, Property Notify are calling on the Government to do all it can to ensure that in-person visits to properties are limited to the bare minimum to comply with advice on social distancing and self-isolation.
In situations where visits are an absolute necessity, there should be reassurance for both landlords and their tenants that the risk of infection is mitigated. If people can’t even self-isolate in the safety of their own homes, it will become significantly harder to halt the spread of COVID-19 otherwise.
Assurances required about mortgages
In the current climate, the Government has introduced mortgage holidays, meaning homeowners facing financial difficulties have the necessary breathing space of up to three months. We commend the Government for being responsive enough to introduce the measure.
We were particularly pleased to see that the mortgage holiday also applies to buy-to-let mortgages. This is the exact kind of connected thinking that we need to see more of in the national response to the crisis.
Many landlords already find themselves presiding over properties in which their renters are unable to make rent payments, due to job losses or dwindling incomes. The mortgage holiday measure is welcomed as a temporary fix. The alternative, of spiking defaults and selling off properties to clear debts, has hopefully been averted as a result of the Government’s quick thinking.
If the situation warrants it, we strongly urge the Government to consider an extension here to ensure that no landlord finds themselves defaulting on a mortgage through no fault of their own.
On Thursday 26th March, we learned that the Government plans to effectively freeze the housing market, urging people to delay moving homes and limit the number of viewings. We understand that banks have agreed that mortgage offers can be extended, in situations where completions faced some delay.
For landlords, it looks unlikely that finance will be available to grow portfolios anytime soon. The focus from banks, the Government and landlords themselves now needs to be on protecting the stability of existing portfolios and rental properties. This is the only way to ensure the continued availability of high-quality accessible housing in the UK.
Streamline the Universal Credit process
From one contentious matter to the next, Universal Credit must be made more accessible.
Both the National Landlords Association (NLA) and the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) have suggested that the five-week wait for first payment of Universal Credit should be eliminated or reduced as much as possible.
Following correspondence with these associations to clarify their stances on the matter, we firmly support their position. As the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic becomes apparent, we’re seeing just how many people will be left without a steady income or a secure job. Many tenants will rely on Universal Credit to pay their rent, if their incomes are simply not able to cover costs.
With thousands of people navigating the long and potentially arduous process of applying for Universal Credit for the first time, it’s essential that access is quick and easy. Unless Universal Credit is supplied efficiently to the right people, issues could arise. For this reason, we also call on the Government to make rent payments direct to the landlord when they are covered by Universal Credit.
Consider a review of housing policies
The proposed scrappage of Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 has been controversial, ever since it was first unveiled in April 2019. In addition, the implementation of Section 24, which phases in the removal of mortgage interest relief, has been criticised by many landlords for some time.
Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) has also been a pertinent issue for landlords, filling Government coffers to the tune of roughly £12 billion on an annual basis. One reader wrote in to Property Notify directly in March 2020, urging the Government to consider scrapping the SDLT surcharge on UK-based landlords, as well as scrapping Section 24 and reversing plans to scrap Section 21.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer a pressing concern, and emergency measures are lifted at last, we urge the Government to take stock of existing and future housing policies and conduct a comprehensive review, in co-operation with landlord-associated groups.
This review must assess how to deliver a fairer system, and what can be done to support landlords, some of whom have felt like they are being forced out of the property market altogether.
We don’t yet know what the world will look like in six months’ time, let alone next year. But we can say with certainty that the ramifications of the pandemic response will be felt for years to come. With a careful policy review and the right support, landlords will be in a better position to continue providing the rental stock required by a growing UK population.
Post-COVID-19, the economy will recover. But in order to do so, the housing market will need to be strong and balanced. As things stand, Government policies are perceived to be empowering one group at the expense of another; a policy review will be critical to support landlords in standing on an even footing.
Without this, the UK could find itself facing a serious shortage of accessible properties at a time when the country is supposed to be gearing up for a period of economic recovery.
Statement from Property Notify
COVID-19 is unlike anything we have experienced as a country, and Property Notify appreciates the unprecedented measures the Government is taking, to support millions of people across the UK. We also appreciate the things people are doing to limit the spread of the virus in their daily lives.
Maintaining good hygiene, following the Government guidelines and using measures such as social distancing and self-isolation remain the best tools we have against COVID-19, until a proper vaccine is made available.
Our homes are currently a place of sanctuary, protecting many of us from a virus which is still yet to be fully-understood. We are encouraged by the measures taken to protect the most vulnerable in society during this difficult time – including the millions of pounds that are available to local authorities, to support rough sleepers in finding a roof over their heads.
Last week, councils were given a 48-hour period to put emergency accommodation in place for rough sleepers, as well as being given an urgent request to house all people living in homelessness by Sunday 29th March.
The requests are welcomed for being so bold and urgent, but there is reportedly a lack of clarity about funding. The Government must put all the necessary resources in place for councils, to make sure no one falls through the cracks.
Property Notify urges people to do all they can to help flatten the curve, protect the NHS and ultimately save lives. It is a testament to the work of those in our health service that over half a million people volunteered to offer support at a time of great need.
The UK has been a hub of creativity and a fertile place for people to invest for decades. Our property market is diverse and there are incredible opportunities to be had. We’re confident that any freeze on activity in the present will be followed by an eventual thaw and a strong recovery over the long-term.
We believe the fundamentals of the housing market are strong, so a recovery is assured. In effect, it’s all just a matter of timing. How long this pandemic takes to dissipate depends on how quickly we can all flatten that curve.
The ideas we have presented in this Manifesto are informed by landlords’ viewpoints and direct input from those whose livelihoods depend directly on the success of the market.
We believe that this Manifesto will help support the housing market during this difficult time, with a clear roadmap of ideas for the Government to act on, not just to sustain it in the here and now, but to help the British economy recover, when the time comes to get back to business.