The first half of 2021 was a busy, eventful period for landlords, with the ending of the eviction ban and the first stage of the stamp duty holiday, as well as changes to Right to Rent and new regulations to ensure that the electrical installations in all rented properties are safe.
But what is the second half of 2021 set to bring? Below, we take a closer look at what landlords need to be aware of for the rest of the year.
End of August - the end of Right to Rent video checks
During the pandemic, landlords and lettings agents have been able to carry out the Government’s controversial Right to Rent checks via video call rather than this being done face-to-face. This was most recently extended until the end of August, having originally been planned to end on June 20. That deadline had already been extended a number of times because of the ever-changing situation with Covid.
The temporary changes to Right to Rent checks, adapted as a result of the pandemic, are designed to make it easier for letting agents and landlords to conduct them.
Since the pandemic started in March last year, the Home Office has not required landlords to see original documents – instead it currently allows checks to be undertaken via video calls. This means prospective tenants can submit scanned documents, rather than originals, to show they have a right to rent or right to work in the UK.
You can find out more about the current status of Right to Rent checks by clicking here.
September 30 - stamp duty holiday comes to a close
The first stage of the holiday (on all homes worth up to £500,000) ended on June 30, to make way for the phasing out period where the holiday has applied to all homes worth up to £250,000. This is set to end completely on September 30. From October 1, the nil rate threshold will return to the pre-Covid levels of £125,000.
Landlords have taken advantage of some very useful savings during the holiday – up to £15,000 in some cases – but the end of the stamp duty holiday has been baked in for some time already and the dreaded cliff-edge scenario that was talked about earlier this year before the holiday was extended is unlikely to materialise come the end of September.
There is likely to be a second stamp duty rush before the fresh September deadline and then something of a fall away in the market, but most commentators agree that this won’t be drastic as there are many other things incentivising buyers, sellers, investors and landlords at present.
September 30 - furlough comes to an end
The furlough scheme, officially known as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, has played a huge role in propping up the economy by protecting millions of jobs since the start of the pandemic in the UK in March 2020 – and has been widely praised as one thing the Government has got very right since Covid hit our shores.
However, the scheme has also come at an enormous cost to the Treasury – standing at approximately £66 billion. With this in mind, and the easing of restrictions reopening previously closed parts of the economy again, the scheme is due to end in the autumn, having been in play for nearly 18 months.
It’s certainly the case that many tenants will have been reliant upon, or still are reliant upon, furlough to cover the cost of their wages and in helping them to pay their rent. Many could face job losses when the scheme ends if their employer doesn’t believe their job is still viable. A spike in unemployment could cause issues for landlords with regards to rental payments and a possible rise in rental arrears emanating from this.
On a similar note, some landlords may have been depending on the furlough scheme or the self-employment income support scheme, and could be hit hard when this support is taken away, especially if the sector they work in hasn’t recovered well by the start of October. This could cause financial issues for landlords and lead them to seek an exit from the sector, which in turn would cause problems for tenants and the PRS at large.
The furlough scheme has already been given a stay of execution four times during the pandemic, with nothing to suggest this won’t happen again if some restrictions are reimposed. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have both said they don’t wish to extend the scheme again, because of the sheer amount it costs, but Michael Gove - Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – has hinted that it could still be extended.
As a landlord, you should be prepared for the end of furlough and a potential increase in rental arrears or your tenants having financial difficulties. Rent guarantee is a great way to ensure that you still receive the rental payments, even when a tenants goes into arears. Our Rent Guarantee covers up to 15 months’ rent, as well as up to £100,000 in legal fees. If you are interested in our Rent Guarantee services, please speak with your letting agent about getting this in place.
October 1 - notice periods returning to normal
When the eviction ban ended on May 31 2021, having been in place (in one form or another) for much of the previous 14 months, the notice periods landlords must provide to tenants if they want to evict dropped from six months to four months. It is expected to return to pre-Covid levels – typically two months’ notice – from October 1.
This will be reliant on the success of the easing of restrictions, which were largely stripped away entirely from July 19, and no further lockdowns or restrictions being introduced if a fourth wave were to hit in the winter.
Autumn (tbc) - rental reform white paper
The Government has promised to release a white paper in the autumn, laying out its long-mooted plans to reform the PRS. There is no fixed date for when the White Paper will be published, or what it will include, but it is anticipated to inform what are expected to be the most sweeping changes in the PRS for a generation.
We already know what is likely to come, because of what has been suggested for the much-talked-about Renters’ Reform Bill, including the abolishment of Section 21 eviction notices and the introduction of lifetime deposits for tenants.
The reforms have been in the pipeline for over a year and half, with their first mention in the Conservative Party’s manifesto for the December 2019 general election, as part of a ‘better deal for renters’. The plans, originally due to be brought before Parliament in 2020, were inevitably put on hold by the pandemic and have repeatedly been pushed further back.
But now the Government has committed to a White Paper this autumn, with legislation anticipated to make its way to Parliament before the year is out or early in 2022. The planned reforms enjoy wide public and cross-party support, but it is likely that any legislation will face opposition and obstacles from the lettings industry, with agents and landlords both unhappy about the prospect of Section 21 notices being scrapped in favour of beefed-up but less effective Section 8 notices.
It is highly unlikely anything concrete will change this year when it comes to rental reform, but we should at least have a clearer indication of the Government’s plans.
These are just some of things that landlords could be affected by before the year is out and are subject to change given the current fast-moving situation. But it’s certainly a good idea for landlords to partner with an experienced letting agent and keep abreast of the news to ensure you are up to speed with the latest state of play.