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Stamp duty holiday leading to homelessness, new figures suggest

Exclusive: Tenants’ rights activists tell openDemocracy that some landlords are trying to cash in by speeding up evictions

Chaminda Jayanetti
19 Feb 2021 - 1:55pm
A tent used by rough sleepers on Tottenham Court Road, central London, February 2021
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The number of people facing eviction due to landlords wanting to sell or re-let their property shot up by 79% in the wake of the government’s stamp duty cut, openDemocracy can exclusively reveal.

Statistics published by the Ministry of Communities, Housing and Local Government, analysed by openDemocracy, show that between the first and second quarters of the 2020-21 financial year, the total number of households in England officially considered to be threatened with homelessness rose by 23%, to 31,510.

But there was a far bigger jump among households deemed to be threatened with homelessness due to landlords wishing to sell or re-let. This figure rose from 2,280 to 4,090, an increase of 79%.

The government announced a stamp duty ‘holiday’ on 8 July 2020, at the beginning of the second quarter, to help revive the housing market after the first lockdown. It is expected to run to the end of March this year. While some of the rise in homelessness due to sales and re-lets will be delayed activity from the first lockdown, critics fear it has encouraged landlords to push out tenants in order to sell their properties before the stamp duty window shuts.

“Both anecdotal evidence and figures from homelessness applications suggest that the stamp duty holiday saw a significant increase in private landlords looking to sell properties in a rising market ... and so serving notice on their tenants,” housing lawyer Giles Peaker told openDemocracy.

“Anecdotally, there have been some threatened or actual illegal evictions where landlords realise the current time scale for lawful eviction proceedings threatens their sale,” he added.

The law now requires six months’ notice to be given before an eviction, a rule the government introduced as part of its response to the pandemic – which would prevent many landlords from selling within the stamp duty window.

That has not deterred all landlords, however, who are reliant on tenants not knowing their rights if they want to cash in on the holiday. “Iain Carr”, a Bristol resident who spoke to openDemocracy under a pseudonym to protect his identity, said that his landlord was explicit about wanting to evict him and his flatmates late last year.

“She messaged us being like, ‘right, I want to take advantage of this stamp duty thing, I want to sell the house, I want you guys out by February’,” he said.

“Even though she legally couldn’t do that, because of the six months thing, she wanted us to agree to move out unofficially, and not give us six months. And we were like, ‘no, we’re not doing that’.”

The tenants called in the support of the community union Acorn, who discovered that the landlord was unregistered.

“She’s a rogue landlord, she’s not doing right, and I think she knows this and she’s just trying to push her luck,” said Carr. “But she didn’t expect us to fight back.”

In the end, the parties agreed to a new six-month contract that will allow the tenants more time to find a new place to live once the current wave of COVID-19 has passed.

Taking notice

Tom Morton, a member defence coordinator at Acorn, told openDemocracy that landlords are “increasingly turning to illegal means to evict tenants”.

In some cases, according to Morton, landlords have stuck eviction notices to people’s doors – and in the worst instances, given them just four days to vacate the premises.

“They’re aware that with the extended notice [period] in place, and with a backlog in the courts because the courts have been closed, it’s going to take ... over six months for them to actually get people out,” Morton said.

Dan Wilson Craw, deputy director of the campaign group Generation Rent, says the increase in house prices, plus landlords placing their houses on the market because of the stamp duty holiday has left renters bearing the cost of the pandemic.

Craw believes urgent reforms need to be made to the government’s Renters Reform Bill, which is currently making its way through parliament, to ensure tenants are given more security. “Reforms must include protections for renters whose landlord wants to sell – if landlords sell, it should be to other landlords with the tenants staying put,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Treasury, the government department responsible for stamp duty, told openDemocracy: “The temporary stamp duty cut is helping to protect hundreds of thousands of jobs which rely on the property market by stimulating economic activity.

“We’re committed to protecting tenants – that is why, except for the most egregious cases, landlords are required to provide six months’ notice and we have extended the ban on bailiff evictions.”

The main causes of homelessness during the pandemic continue to be relationship breakdown, domestic violence, and families and friends no longer being willing to provide accommodation.

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