As of May 4th, landlords will find themselves facing yet more eviction hurdles when a government scheme designed to protect tenants with ‘problem debts’ comes into force. This new legislation has implications for agencies also, who could be blocked from charging late fees or taking action on missing rents. Here’s everything you need to know about the new legislation and what you need to do…

The new Debt Respite Scheme

The Debt Respite or ‘Breathing Space’ Scheme, is designed to safeguard tenants who may have accumulated debt as a result of the pandemic. The new scheme will impact both the evictions process and how landlords interact with guarantors.

The regulations work to pause enforcement action on certain individuals from creditors, such as letting agents and landlords – and have the effect of freezing all charges, fees and certain interest on qualifying debts for up to 60 days.

Breathing spaces

“These breathing spaces come in two forms – standard and mental health,” says Mike Morgan of HF Assist and Mediation.

“A standard breathing space means landlords cannot contact a tenant to collect rent arrears for 60 days.”

“A mental health crisis breathing space is only available to someone who is receiving mental health crisis treatment and it has some stronger protections. It lasts as long as the person’s mental health crisis treatment, plus 30 days.”

What are the implications for agents and landlords?

As of May 4th, when letting agents, landlords, and other creditors receive notification on a moratorium debt, they must temporarily stop enforcement action and freeze charges, fees and certain interest for the duration of the moratorium.

What action should agents take?

  • Keep accurate records of tenant debts in the run-up to May and conduct a records search for any additional debts owed so that you have evidence to back up payment requests.
  • Consider any changes you need to make to your systems to comply with new regulations (it would be wise to invest in a system that can accurately track and manage arrears)
  • Communicate the upcoming changes to landlords and explain that tenants can’t be chased for arrears within a breathing space.

Extra information for landlords

The new scheme will definitely seem like yet another set-back for landlords in so far as evictions will undoubtably become yet more problematic in many cases. But it’s important to keep in mind that:

  • Section 21 and section 8 notices may still be served and enforced against tenants who are subject to moratoriums as long as they are outside of matters relating to rent arrears.
  • Tenants are still expected to pay rent during these periods – and failure to do so means you can apply to have the moratorium cancelled.
  • Not everyone will be successful in applying for a debt moratorium. There are certain conditions that must be satisfied. The new Regulations apply only to the enforcement of a ‘qualifying’ debt.
  • An approved mental health professional will need to be involved in cases relating to mental health.

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