From the start of our #ClosedDoors project, we knew we were working against the clock. Housing experts and activists had warned that despite government assurances, ending the eviction ban combined with the devastating impact of Covid could lead to a wave of homelessness.
We wanted to document the scale of this emerging crisis and the challenges tenants faced as eviction rules were relaxed and leave payments were about to end – but we faced a major hurdle. . No data was collected on the results of the possession hearings.
With support from the Legal Education Foundation, we set out to collect this data from scratch in one of the largest court reporting projects undertaken in the UK. We recruited and trained 21 freelance and permanent reporters and sent them to the busiest Possession Courts in England and Wales.
We recorded details of over 550 rental cases and attended over 100 hours of hearings to provide unprecedented insight into how the pandemic has affected people’s housing situations.
Our team of journalists found that 85% of cases left judges without an opportunity to consider a tenant’s situation and that decisions that left people homeless were made in 10 minutes on average.
In a third of the hearings that ended with possession orders, Covid was cited as a contributing factor. Almost two-thirds of the cases we saw involved rent arrears.
In response to our findings, Eddie Hughes, England’s Minister for Street Housing and Housing, told the Office that the government is looking into the issue of binding legal grounds and recognizes the lack of discretion afforded to judges in arrears cases. of rent.
Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee Chairman MP Clive Betts and Big Issue founder Lord Bird called for urgent government action, with the latter warning that “we risk facing a mass homelessness crisis like never before ”.