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Can landlords re-possess properties if tenants can’t afford to pay the rent because of the coronavirus outbreak?

After 25 March 2020, and until 30 September 2020, a landlord can only start possession proceedings against a tenant if they have served 3 months’ notice upon the tenant – irrespective of any grounds relied upon.

On 27 March 2020, the Court introduced new rules to put all possession proceedings (except against trespassers) on hold until 25 June 2020 – it means that the Court cannot make an order for possession or any other order that would cause someone to be evicted during that time.

These rules do not just apply to tenants who have fallen into rent arrears.

On 5 June 2020, the Government announced that this stay would be extended further until 23 August 2020.

This means that you can issue new possession proceedings (provided you have complied with the new temporary rules in relation to notice periods, if the notice was served since 25 March 2020) and you can continue with existing possession proceedings.

However, any progress you may be able to make in dealing with those proceedings is likely to be very limited – the Court will allow you to comply with directions orders that have already been made but non-compliance will not be punished (at least for the time being).

These rules, and the latest announcements, are in keeping with the Government’s expectation that landlords show compassion towards affected tenants and that all parties will work together to establish a suitable repayment plan to allow tenants to repay the arrears at an affordable rate.

Related FAQs

Can I dismiss someone who refuses to wear PPE?

Potentially, yes. If someone refuses to follow the health and safety measures that have been put in place to protect them, colleagues and possibly their customers, including (where appropriate) the use of PPE then this is a disciplinary issue and should be dealt with as such. Repeated failure to comply with the requirement to follow these measures, or a one off significant failure, may be sufficient to justify dismissal, depending on the circumstances.

How do I reduce employment costs? Are we talking about redundancy?

The obvious option to reduce the cost of your workforce is redundancy. However, that also reduces the number of employees and therefore your capacity.

Is there anything I need to put in place for their return? What are my responsibilities?

The basics of health and safety law requires that employers take “all reasonably practicable steps” to ensure workers’ safety and that a suitable and sufficient assessment of risk is undertaken. It is the individual assessment of Covid-19 risk in each workplace that will be central. Employers will be required to conduct a robust risk assessment and then, following the hierarchy of controls, put robust processes and safeguards in place to address those risks.

UK government guidance and HSE advice is continually evolving, which in practice means that any risk assessment will need to be reviewed very regularly as that guidance develops. There is flexibility for individual businesses within the overall government framework and there will need to be a process of evaluation to ensure that the measures in place continue to meet the requirements.

The starting point of avoid, eliminate and control means looking at individuals continuing to work from home where possible (the fewer the number of people back in the workplace the lower the risk), and if not look at risk management, which leads to administrative controls – i.e. changing work practices before ending up at PPE. PPE is generally seen as control of last resort but in practice – facemasks, disposable gloves and constant prompts to wash hands for example.

In terms of changing working practices, employers should be thinking about:

  • the workspace and how this is laid layout
  • how do we make sure it is kept clean and hygienic
  • how do we keep people apart
  • how can we use toilets, canteens or other shared spaces/facilities safely
  • how do we promote and enable higher levels of workplace hygiene
  • if we are going to rely on PPE – can we get it, and is it suitable
  • what about limiting customer interactions
  • will there be enough first aiders on site
  • can we manage fire safety, deliveries etc
  • what about higher risk workers
  • should work tools and equipment be allocated on an individual basis to employees.

These decisions need to be recorded and clearly communicated to staff members.

Can apprentices be furloughed?

The government has stated that the scheme will apply to apprentices and that they can continue to train whilst they are furloughed. However you must pay at least the Apprenticeship Minimum Wage, National Living Wage or National Minimum Wage for all periods of training during furlough leave, taking into account the rate increases from 1 April 2020 and the increases which will take effect from 1 April 2021. This means that you will be responsible for any shortfall in the amount claimed under the scheme and the appropriate minimum wage.

We recommend that you get in touch to discuss any queries on furloughing apprentices.

Even if the Government pays the wages of my employees who are not working, there is still not enough money to pay the bills. What should I do?

Click here for details of what sort of things directors should consider if the business is insolvent .

There may be additional sources of funding available in addition to the funding made available to help pay the wages.

If you still have concerns that your business might not be able to survive you should take advice as soon as possible from our team of experts or an insolvency or restructuring practitioner. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the business is bound to fail but your advisers will be able to explore with you different ways to navigate through the current difficulties faced by the business and any restructuring/refinancing opportunities based on their extensive experience of helping companies that are facing financial problems. If ultimately saving the business in its current form is not possible, your advisors can help you ensure that you do everything you can to protect your employees and creditors whilst also ensuring that you comply with your duties as a director.