Could agent serving s21 notices to UC tenants have a point?

It is not every day that the practices of a letting agency in Grimsby attracts the attention of the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition and becomes the focus of Prime Minister’s Question time – but that is exactly what happened on Wednesday 15 November 2017.

The agency in question, so concerned by the potential impact of Universal Credit in its local area, had apparently sent section 21 notices to more than 300 tenants ‘warning’ them that they should begin making preparations to pay their rent during the implementation of the controversial benefit.

According to local media, the company’s director has defended the action, saying:

“The letters have been sent out pre-emptively to warn residents, and also include information to help them understand the new benefits system, because if we wait until the new year to serve the notices when people have fallen behind with rent, it could put us in a position where we have missed out on payments for up to six months, and it will be my business the bank are repossessing, not just tenants being evicted.”

All of which actually sounds quite sensible.

Unfortunately for those involved, the letters also included a copy of form 6A – aka s21 notices – which the firm plan to ‘exercise’ if rent goes unpaid while tenants await the processing of their UC claims.

Understandably, this has caused a great deal of concern for those involved and the Prime Minister has pledged to look into the matter.

Most would agree that issuing blanket possession notices is the wrong way to run a business. But equally, many will understand the frustration of letting agents and landlords facing the prospect of rapidly increasing areas as the Universal Credit experiment visits their respective towns.

The tenancy dilemma?

When faced with the high likelihood of extensive arrears and lengthy possession procedures the strict business choice may well be to cut one’s losses and move to end tenancies before the damage is done – although this case is certainly unusual in the fact that there is no evidence that these households are in arrears at the moment.

However, as human beings we all also want to be able to sleep at night knowing that we have operated morally, and in a way in which we would like to be treated ourselves.

This single action seems at once financially understandable, yet wholly unpalatable. Not to mention risky, since I imagine a fair number of reliable tenants will feel a lot less happy about renting from this company in the future.

From a strictly personal point of view, I find the speculative service of s21 notices ethically dubious at best – and legally unwise since such a notice cannot technically be rescinded.

What about you?


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