Candidates for police commissioner in England and Wales are being urged to tackle illegal eviction as analysis from Generation Rent indicates that just 2% of cases result in a prosecution.
The organisation says there has been an increased in reports of illegal evictions during the pandemic. Restrictions are in place on legal routes to eviction, but many police officers called out to incidents wrongly treat them as civil disputes.
Generation Rent is calling on candidates standing for Police and Crime Commissioner in elections on 6th May to pledge to improve training of their forces in eviction law, record all incidents involving tenants and landlords, and work closely with councils to prevent unlawful evictions and bring criminal landlords to justice.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government recorded 1,040 cases of homelessness caused by illegal eviction in England in 2019-20, which is up from 810 the previous year.
Ministry of Justice figures also show there have been an average of only 24 prosecutions for unlawful eviction per year between 2016 and 2019, the most recent period for which data is available.
The Protection from Eviction Act protects tenants from eviction that is not enforced by bailiffs appointed by a court. Generation Rent points out that illegal eviction and harassment (where landlords try to coerce tenants into moving out) are criminal offences. Local authorities and police officers have powers to stop illegal eviction and prosecute offenders, but few councils have fully-funded tenancy relations officers to perform this role. A 2020 report by Safer Renting found that in incidents of illegal evictions “police tended to side with the landlord”.
While the police can do more to protect tenants, Generation Rent is also calling for stronger sentencing guidelines, and more powers and resources for councils to lead work to prevent illegal evictions.
Alicia Kennedy, Director of Generation Rent, comments: “Being evicted can be a traumatic experience when done legally. Being evicted illegally, often with your belongings dumped on the street is devastating. We have legal protections for renters for a very good reason, but when the Police fail to enforce these and we end up with a tiny minority going to court, renters lose confidence in the law and criminal landlords act with impunity.
“May’s elections are an opportunity for police forces up and down the country to reset their attitudes to illegal eviction and make sure that everyone gets the protection they deserve.”