Monthly Archives: September 2020

Student accommodation: what are your rights?

Citizens Advice has issued the following advice to students who may want to leave their accommodation before the end of the rental agreement.

If you are a student in halls of residence who wants to move out and end your contract. What are your rights?

Students who want to end their contract with the university and move out of halls of residence are unlikely to be entitled to a refund.

However, in the Spring when the national lockdown came into force, many universities did waive rent due on their own accommodation.

It might be possible to put forward a “frustration” argument if a student can’t access their accommodation, for example because campus has been shut down, or it is impossible or illegal for the student to travel to the accommodation.

This might also be relevant if the purpose of the accommodation is radically altered. For instance, if it was closely tied to a student attending a course in a particular location, and the provider is now delivering the whole course remotely.

However, the unprecedented nature of the pandemic means that legal arguments have not yet really been tested in the context of student contracts, and so it is not yet clear to what extent these arguments might succeed.

An argument that any contract is ‘frustrated’ (i.e. it is impossible to perform) is certainly less likely to succeed in a case where the accommodation continues to be available, but it is the tenant’s choice not to occupy it.

If you are a student in privately rented accommodation who wants to move out and end your tenancy. What are your rights?

Generally you are liable for any rent due until the end of your fixed term (and any guarantor may be pursued if you don’t pay).

Some tenancy agreements contain a break clause. But this would be unusual in a student tenancy agreement where the letting is intended to be for an academic year, and the landlord is only likely to be able to re-let it for the following academic year.

If you share accommodation with other people, then unless you each have a separate agreement, you are likely to be jointly and separately liable for rent.

This means that the landlord can pursue any of the tenants (or their guarantor) for any rent due under the joint agreement, regardless of which tenant failed to pay their share.

That said, it’s still worth trying to negotiate with your landlord, and they may agree to release you from the tenancy early, or to waive or reduce rent if you are not living in the accommodation.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Officer at Citizens Advice Ipswich says:

“It must be very frustrating for students that the academic year hasn’t started in the way they would have hoped.

“Unfortunately, there’s not much good news for students who decide to change households for the medium to long-term, by returning to their family home for example. It’s likely that in many cases they will be tied into their accommodation agreements and not entitled to any refund.

“It’s always worth getting in touch with your landlord and trying to negotiate. But realistically, if there is no obligation for them to release you from the contract, they may well be unwilling to do so.

“Where the landlord is the university, they may be more sympathetic to a short-term reduction in rent, or ending a contract early, if there is no longer any reason for you to remain in halls.

“However, it is early in the academic year, and it may be difficult to find alternative halls of residence accommodation if a student gives up their place, but later wishes to return.”

Citizens Advice: help for renters worried about eviction

The ban on evictions came to an end this weekend, and new figures from Citizens Advice suggest that concern is building amongst renters about the possibility of losing their home.

The number of people seeking help from Citizens Advice about issues to do with private rented properties increased by 43% between summer (June to August) 2020 and the same period last year.

The ban on evictions comes to an end this weekend, and new figures from Citizens Advice suggest that concern is building amongst renters about the possibility of losing their home.

The number of people seeking help from Citizens Advice about issues to do with private rented properties increased by 43% between summer (June to August) 2020 and the same period last year.

Citizens Advice Ipswich helped people with over 380 issues relating to housing and or rent arrears between March and September.

Over the same period, the number of visits to Citizens Advice’s webpage “Dealing with Rent Arrears” more than doubled year on year.

Previous research from the charity has suggested that over a million people have fallen behind on their rent due to Covid-19 across England and Wales.

Nelleke van Helfteren, Deputy Manager at Citizens Advice, shares the top five ‘need-to-knows’ for renters* in England worried about staying in their home.

Find out where you are in the process

“If your landlord wants to evict you from your privately rented home there are three stages they’ll have to go through. First, they’ll need to serve you with a notice. When this expires, they need to go to court to get a possession order, and finally apply for a bailiff visit to evict you. It’s really important to know where you are in that process.

“If your landlord has not yet given you a formal notice then you won’t be evicted for many months. If your landlord has already got a possession order and applied for a bailiff date, you might be evicted with 14 days notice.”

If you haven’t received notice yet but are worried about eviction

“If you haven’t yet been given notice, but are worried about the possibility, talk to your landlord. Explain the effect that coronavirus has had on your household and income. Ask if they’ll accept reduced payments, or let you pay back arrears at a rate you can afford.

“Both the government and the landlords’ body the NRLA have asked landlords to be sympathetic to tenants affected by the pandemic.

“You should also make sure you’re receiving all the benefits you might be entitled to.”

If you’ve received a notice

“The rules on the notice your landlord must give have changed — it may now be up to six months depending on when the notice was served.

“The notice must also be in a specific form, so make sure you have a copy and get it checked. Your local Citizens Advice is one place that can help, either in person or via email. If the landlord hasn’t followed other rules during your tenancy this might also mean that the notice is invalid.

“Your landlord can only make a claim to court after the notice ends. You don’t need to leave by this date, but going to court might mean costs are added to your debt if the notice is valid.”

If your notice is expiring and you’re due to go to court

“After 20 September, courts will start hearings again. If your landlord started the claim after 3 August, you’ll be given a court date automatically, otherwise the landlord will need to serve a ‘reactivation notice’ to restart proceedings.

“Return your defence form if you want the court to consider your evidence or allow you extra time in the property. Supply any evidence of information which you gave your landlord about the effect of Covid-19 on your household and of any payments you’ve made.

“The court will look at the information provided by you and the landlord and decide whether to make an order for possession. In some cases you might be able to stay if you can agree to affordable repayments, but the court has no discretion to allow you to stay if you’ve had a valid Section 21 notice – so-called ‘no-fault eviction’.

“If the possession order is granted, it will usually ask you to leave within 2 to 6 weeks.”

If you’ve had a possession order and are facing eviction

“If the court had already decided your case before the eviction ban started (27 March 2020), you may be given 14 days notice after 20th September that bailiffs will carry out an eviction.

“You should seek urgent advice – from Citizens Advice or another housing charity – about whether there’s any way to prevent or delay the eviction, or about finding alternative accommodation.”

*The advice applies to tenants in private rented accommodation and does not include lodgers.

Even if people are able to follow this advice, Citizens Advice fears that many renters will struggle with arrears built up during the pandemic.

The charity, in a coalition that includes the landlord body the NRLA and housing charities, is calling for direct financial support for people behind on their rent because of Covid-19 – either through grants or government-backed interest-free loans. Citizens Advice is also calling for reforms that give judges more discretion to allow tenants to stay in their homes.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“Neither renters nor landlords can afford to be saddled with long-term arrears as a result of coronavirus.

“The government must urgently consider direct financial support to help renters clear their debts and stay in their homes, and so make good its promise that no renter will be evicted because of coronavirus and meanwhile we are here to help people with questions or concerns. Call us on Suffolk Adviceline 0300 330 1151”

Notice of AGM

IPSWICH AND DISTRICT CITIZENS ADVICE BUREAU

(Company number 3438957)

NOTICE OF ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING TO BE HELD AT

2.00PM ON 23 SEPTEMBER 2020

(In accordance with regulations introduced in the light of the pandemic (The Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act), the Annual General Meeting will be held electronically and will only deal with the formal matters which are required to be dealt with at the Annual General Meeting.

Citizens Advice Ipswich: Seven things to check if you’re at risk of redundancy

Citizens Advice Ipswich has helped people with 740 issues relating to employment issues since lockdown.

Pay, redundancy, furlough and contract questions are the top issues it has dealt with during the pandemic.

Nicky Wilshere, Chief Officer of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“We have helped people with a huge range of issues since lockdown, but we know that as the furlough scheme draws to an end, lots of people may be feeling worried and need advice.

“If you’re at risk of redundancy, it’s important to know you do have rights to help protect you from unfair dismissal and to ensure you’re paid what you’re owed.

“It’s completely understandable that you may find the rules and procedures overwhelming, but you don’t have to face redundancy alone. We are here to help.”

For information and advice, contact Citizens Advice Ipswich Adviceline on 0300 330 1151.

Citizens Advice Ipswich’s seven things to check if you’re at risk of redundancy

1. Check if your redundancy is fair. There are rules to protect you from being discriminated against, and for being picked for redundancy due to an unfair reason.
For example, although you can be made redundant while pregnant or on maternity leave, you cannot be made redundant because you’re pregnant or on maternity leave. If you are this counts as “automatic unfair dismissal” and discrimination.
Examples of unfair reasons for redundancy can include being picked because you work part-time or you made a complaint about health and safety.
See Check if your redundancy is fair on our public website citizensadvice.org.uk for more information.

2. Check how much redundancy pay you get. You’re entitled to statutory redundancy pay, which is the minimum the law says you’re entitled to, if you’ve been an employee for two years. The amount you will get depends on your age and how long you have worked for the company. You won’t get statutory redundancy pay if you’ve worked for the company for less than two years, are self-employed or are in certain professions such as the armed forces or police.
You may also lose out on statutory redundancy pay if you turn down a suitable alternative job from your employer without a good reason. Your employer may pay extra money on top of the statutory amount you’re entitled to – this is called contractual redundancy pay. Some employees may be entitled to contractual redundancy pay even though they are not entitled to statutory redundancy pay.

3. Furloughed? Make sure you get 100% redundancy pay. If you were furloughed and then made redundant, your redundancy pay should be based on your normal wage.
If you were paid 80% of your wages while on furlough, your redundancy pay should be based on your full wage.

4. Check your notice period. If you’ve worked for your employer for at least a month you’re entitled to a paid statutory notice period. If you’ve worked there for more than a month but less than two years, you have to be given a week’s notice. For two years or more, it’s a week for each full year you have worked, up to a maximum of 12 weeks. You may be entitled to a longer notice period as part of your employment contract. Your notice period only starts when your employer says you’ll be made redundant and gives you a finishing date – not when your employer says you’re at risk of redundancy.
Your employer might decide to give you notice pay instead of your notice period – this is called ‘pay in lieu of notice’.

5. Check your holiday pay. You’ll be paid for any holiday you have left over when you leave. This should be at your normal rate’s pay, even if you’re currently furloughed on 80% of your pay. You can ask to take holiday during your notice period, but it’s up to your employer to decide if you can take it then. Your employer can also tell you to use up any holiday you have left over, but they must give you you notice. The notice must be at least twice as long as the holiday they want you to take.

6. You might be entitled to paid time off to look for work. If you’ve worked for your employer for two years at the end of your notice period, you’re likely to be entitled to ‘reasonable’ time off to apply for jobs or go on training. You can take the time off at any time in normal working hours and your employer can’t ask you to rearrange your work hours to make up the time off. When taking time off to look for work, you’ll be paid at your normal hourly rate, but only for up to 40% of a week’s work – for instance for up to two days if you work a five day week. See preparing for after redundancy for more information.

7. Check if you’ve got legal help via your home insurance. Often people get ‘legal expenses cover’ as part of their home insurance package, but many don’t realise they can get free legal help to challenge their redundancy if they think it’s discriminatory or unfair. It’s worth checking the terms and conditions and speaking to your insurer if unsure.

If you have a trade union at work, you could also contact them. Your union can help you work out if you’ve got a claim, and support you through the process, for example by going to meetings with you or negotiating on your behalf.

You can visit Citizens Advice’s pages on leaving a job for further information and advice.