Easing lockdown: information for housing associations

16 April 2021

On 22 February Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the government’s roadmap for easing the national lockdown. We have summarised the announcements which affect housing associations.

Approach to evictions extended to 31 May 2021

The government has confirmed an extension to the ban on bailiff enforcement of evictions, and the requirement for landlords to provide six months’ notice when seeking possession of residential property, until 31 May 2021. 

Exceptions remain in place on both the requirement to issue longer notice periods and the ban on the operation of bailiffs for the most serious circumstances. The guidance on possession proceedings has now been updated, with confirmation of this new date and an overview of the whole process of evictions. From 4 May 2021, the new ‘Breathing Space’ debt respite scheme will give someone in problem debt the right to legal protections from their creditors. The scheme pauses any enforcement action such as serving a notice of intention to seek possession. New legislation SI.No.518/2021 has been issued that amends the prescribed form for a notice seeking possession of a property let on an assured tenancy. 

The government has confirmed that the court arrangements and rules that were introduced in September to respond to the pandemic apply up until at least the end of July 2021. Courts will continue to prioritise to ensure the most serious cases are heard first. 

The exceptions that are in place (including anti-social behaviour, certain cases of domestic abuse, illegal occupations and rent arrears over six months, and the court prioritisation process) should mean that housing associations will still be able to progress the most serious cases where needed, although we know this is challenging where courts have a significant backlog. 

Next steps

We’re in discussion with MHCLG about our sector’s experience of the above measures, and what needs to be in place after 31 May to support the transition to the previous system. 
 
Regardless of the government policy on evictions, we know that our sector will continue to support residents and work with them to keep them in their home wherever possible. We want to make this clear both publicly and with the government, and have been in touch with our members directly to share our plans for the end of May. We’ll update our website with more information soon.  

The government is also considering the best approach to tapering down notice periods from 1 June 2021, taking into account public health requirements and progress with the national roadmap. We are discussing these plans in our conversations with government officials and we’ve already had some really useful feedback from our members that we will ensure is considered. 

If there is more the government can do to support you in dealing with the impact of the extension to these temporary arrangements, or if you have any other concerns or questions, then please get in touch with us.

Landlord and tenant guidance and home moves guidance

On 8 April 2021, the government published updated coronavirus guidance for landlords and tenants, including updated guidance on the possession action process and details of the new Housing Possession Mediation Service

The government has also updated the home moves guidance reflecting step two of the easing lockdown roadmap.

Care homes and supported housing

Provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The safety of staff and residents is more important than ever. Free provision of PPE to health and social care staff will continue until at least June 2021. A stockpile equivalent to approximately 120 days’ usage at coronavirus levels will remain in the UK, to cushion any fluctuations in demand. More than 70% of the required long-term capacity for PPE (with the exception of gloves) is now manufactured in the UK. 

Infection control in care and support settings

People in need of care and their carers should continue to adhere to all infection control measures that are in place now. The risks may be higher with new and emerging variants that are more transmissible and there is a need to monitor the effectiveness of the vaccine on these new variants.

Visits in care homes, extra care and supported living

Many elderly residents have been unable to see family members over the last year of coronavirus. From 12 April, every care home resident will be able to nominate up to two named visitors who can come in for regular visits. Visitors must test negative on every visit, wear the right PPE and follow infection control measures. 

More detail on these changes will be published in guidance to support care homes to facilitate visits for residents and their loved ones. The Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England updated supported living guidance including updated information on in-person visiting that states:

  • People living in supported living settings live in their own homes and should be treated as such. This means they, and their visitors, need to follow the same national restrictions as other members of the public.
  • Supported living managers should seek to support and facilitate these opportunities wherever it is safe to do and work with the people being supported to identify what steps they can take mitigate risks.
  • The default position is that visits should be supported and enabled wherever it is safe to do so.

The guidance states that: ‘this guidance on in-person visiting is intended for supported living settings but many of the principles are applicable to extra care housing for older people. It may also be a useful resource for the wider supported housing sector, such as retirement or sheltered housing.’

Public Health England also recommend asking all professional visitors health screening questions before allowing entry.

From 4 May people of any age who live in care homes will be able to leave without the requirement to isolate for 14 days on return. Outdoor visits (with the exception of visiting the polling station to vote) are allowed as set out in new supplementary guidance on 'visiting out'.

Use of indoor spaces

Under step two of the government’s roadmap, guidance now notes that the rules on indoor gatherings allow some exceptions for support groups, charitable services and certain education activities. Guidance for the safe use of multi-purpose community facilities also says that indoor mixing between households is permitted during exempt activities, including:

  • Support groups
  • Education or training 
  • Essential voluntary services or public support services, including food bank or other support for homeless or vulnerable people or support in an emergency.

Both pieces of guidance advise providers to make sure they are also implementing safe workplace practices.

Vaccine rollout

Phase two vaccine rollout

The government’s aim is to protect those more at risk, reduce pressure on the NHS, and support the reopening of society and the economy. The approach must also be easy to operationalise and not so complex that it delays speed of deployment. The government has asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to advise on the best strategy for achieving this aim. This includes:

  • Considering whether there are groups that remain at an increased risk of being admitted to hospital, of infection and death.
  • Whether particular occupations or settings involve a greater risk.

Better data

This community-led response can draw on accurate, detailed uptake data from the NHS to direct efforts where they are most needed. First and second doses administered in each English region are published on a daily basis; this information is further broken down by age, ethnicity and Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs) on a weekly basis. Local authority directors of public health receive daily updates on vaccine uptake in their areas, broken down to small areas (Middle Layer Super Output Areas - MSOAs) and by ethnicity.

Community champions (this was announced earlier in the year)

The government is offering extra support to people and organisations who are able to help boost vaccine uptake in communities. It has allocated £23m to 60 local authorities and voluntary groups across England to fund a network of Community Champions. Recognising that accessibility can be a factor, the NHS in England is supporting the work of local vaccination services to offer accessible services to all – such as a mobile delivery model for people who are housebound. The NHS is also taking steps to promote vaccine uptake among those caring for some of the most vulnerable in our society, including health and social care staff, and continues to monitor the effectiveness of these measures.

Testing information

Employer led asymptomatic testing

The government’s offer of free test kits to workplaces for staff who cannot work at home has been extended to until the end of June. Organisations will need to register interest before 31 March. Even if organisations do not intend to implement immediately, you must register before this date to access tests in the future. Members have told the NHF that they would like staff to access testing at home and we have stressed to the government the importance of home testing. In response, the government started a Workplace Collect scheme for employers to distribute home test kits to their employees (registration for free test kits has now closed) and has now made testing available to the general population. 

  • If you are a small employer with fewer than 50 employees and would like to know how to access testing, please contact CentralOps@dhsc.gov.uk.
  • If you are an employer with more than 50 employees and have questions relating to workplace testing, please email p-andpsector@dhsc.gov.uk.
  • For general queries about how these options for testing might work in practice for workforces in your organisation/sector, contact: MHCLGTestingEnquiries@communities.gov.uk

Local authority led asymptomatic testing

The Community Testing Programme is also being extended until at least the end of June. Nearly all local authorities have now joined. A new Community Collect model will be launching so that families, small businesses and the self-employed can take away rapid tests from some government and local authority sites. People will also soon be able to have rapid lateral flow tests delivered straight to their home, allowing them to carry out tests when it is most convenient. Organisations wishing to use the Community Testing route should direct their employees to the postcode checker.

Economic support for individuals

The Test and Trace Support Payment Scheme will continue into the summer, and will be expanded to cover parents who are unable to work because they are caring for a child who is self-isolating, and the funding made available for local authorities as part of this to make discretionary support payments will be increased to £20m per month. There will be more funding too to help local authorities ensure people self-isolating have access to practical support, such as food deliveries or help with their caring responsibilities, and support for wellbeing.

The £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme will be extended until the end of the Easter holidays (16 April 2021).

Supporting vulnerable people through coronavirus

Mental health

Ensuring support is available for individuals facing disproportionate impacts on their mental health and wellbeing. In addition to the Wellbeing and Mental Health Support Plan for COVID-19 published last year, the government will publish an action plan setting out further measures to respond to and mitigate the impacts on mental health across the population.

Rough sleeping

The government has committed funding to 2022 for local authorities to protect rough sleepers. The focus is on providing long-term sustainable support to local authorities, through the Rough Sleeping Initiative and the Rough Sleeping Accommodation Programme.

Safeguarding and domestic abuse

Providing additional support for those facing indirect impacts of coronavirus including supporting domestic abuse and safeguarding services.

Who to speak to

Sue Ramsden, Policy Leader