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11.01.2021 / News / Press releases /

PRESS RELEASE: “Our courts are not Covid-secure” says Legal Sector Workers United as it calls for immediate halt to possession proceedings

  • Legal Sector Workers United (LSWU) along with housing practitioners and campaigners is calling for an immediate stay on possession proceedings during the second wave of Covid-19.
  • LSWU members who have been listed as ‘key workers’ during the pandemic spoke out last week against what they describe as the “unnecessary continuation of evictions and possession proceedings”. 
  • LSWU believes our courts are not Covid-secure, but vectors for infection and that continuing to hear eviction cases not only exacerbates the public health crisis within our courts, but also forces people into homelessness at the height of the pandemic.

The government has announced a nationwide lockdown due to the rapid increase of Covid-19 across the UK. Still, courts remain open and contrary to the comments of the Secretary of State for Justice on Twitter, they are not Covid-secure. On 6 January 2021 LSWU released a statement (full text can also be found below) outlining court safety concerns and calling for a second stay on all possession proceedings, an extension to the eviction ban and recommitment to ‘Everyone In’.

On 8 January the government announced an extension to the ban on evictions until at least 21 February 2021. However, this ban does not protect tenants with arrears equivalent to six months’ rent accrued at any stage, including during Covid-19. The first ban excluded tenants with rent arrears equivalent to 9 months accrued only prior to 23 March 2020. The significance of this change cannot be ignored. Tenants now face eviction as a result of arrears which may have been accrued as a result of the pandemic. 

The government has listed those ‘essential to the running of the justice system’ as key workers. However, there is nothing ‘essential’ about court staff, lawyers and tenants travelling miles to court to participate in proceedings that could be avoided by simply not kicking out tenants in the middle of a public health emergency. 

Practitioners believe it is inappropriate to conduct possession proceedings remotely. Nobody should be at risk of losing their home as a result of financial pressures caused by Covid-19. No matter what the cause of rent arrears are, no one should be made homeless in winter during the worst peak of the pandemic. This is not justice and is not in the ‘spirit’ of the Covid regulations. 

Courts are not safe and the government response to protect homeless people during Covid-19 remains inadequate: the £10million announced to accommodate and vaccinate rough sleepers during third lockdown is from existing government homeless funds. The government is attempting to placate campaigners with inadequate solutions to the risks posed to thousing legal sector workers, and their clients. The only way to ensure safety is for an immediate ban on possession proceedings.

Alexandra Goldenberg LSWU Housing Group Member says: “The very introduction of an eviction ban shows that evictions are unnecessary in a pandemic, any continuation of possession proceedings is also inappropriate. Legal workers, court staff and tenants should not be put at risk. It is not just for tenants to have to choose between risking their lives and risking their home.”

Josie Hicklin LSWU Campaigns Officer says: “This is a very intentional decision by the government to ignore the reality that people have lost income and struggled to pay their rent due to Covid-19. Continuing with evictions and leaving people at risk of homelessness whilst infection rates are rising and temperatures dropping very clearly sends the message the government does not value these people’s lives.” 

ENDS

For more information and quotes contact:

Josie Hicklin, tel. 07460393839, email. lswucampaigns@uvwunion.org.uk

Full text of the statement from LSWU:

Legal Sector Workers United are calling for an immediate stay on possession proceedings during the second wave of Covid-19.

The government has announced a nationwide lockdown due to the rapid increase of Covid-19 across the UK. Still, courts remain open and contrary to the comments of the Secretary of State for Justice on Twitter, they are not Covid-secure. 

Despite the efforts of dedicated frontline court staff, the official health and safety guidance for attendees is woefully inadequate and does not go far enough to make courts safe. Our members are concerned for the safety of legal sector workers and our clients should possession proceedings continue.

There is increasing evidence that Covid-19 is being spread in unventilated indoor spaces such as conference rooms, judges’ chambers and court rooms. And the problem lies not only within court buildings. Lawyers, court staff and parties have to travel across cities on public transport to get to hearings, increasing the threat to themselves and the general public. This is made worse still by the volume of court closures seen in recent years, which has resulted in many hearings being listed miles away. If defendants decide not to risk their health to attend, then they may lose the opportunity to save their home.

Tenants are also having to face the stress of eviction at a time where society is shutting down around them. Many will find it more difficult not only to access support with housing, but also with the other related issues they face such as debt, employment, welfare benefits and health care.  

As we hit the second wave of Covid-19, Legal Sector Workers United are calling for an immediate stay on possession proceedings. Not for a move to remote hearings which are fundamentally inappropriate in cases where a person’s home is at risk, but for an immediate stay parallel to that of March-September 2020. It has been done before and as the risk of the virus increases it must be done again.

The stay on possession proceedings must be accompanied by an extension to the moratorium on evictions beyond 11 January 2021 for at least a further 3 months.

Legal Sector Workers United also stands against the abhorrent government decision to not reintroduce the ‘Everyone In’ policy, established during the first wave to ensure nobody is left sleeping on the streets. 

Despite assertions by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that they will “continue to work closely with councils and health services” to provide support to homeless people during the second wave, those working in the sector know that this is simply not enough. Local authorities, hit by a decade of austerity, do not have the resources they need to keep homeless people safe, and the responsibility cannot fall on underfunded charities. 

With temperatures dropping below freezing and infection rates rising, a failure to reinstate Everyone In means people will die. It is that simple. We do not believe the lives of rough sleepers are worth any less than the rest of the population; the government’s refusal to bring everybody inside suggests that they think otherwise. 

We also need action by the Home Office to ensure that everybody is provided with safe accommodation no matter their immigration status. Without this people will be left without a home in the middle of a pandemic.

The public health consequences of the second wave of Covid-19 are on course to be catastrophic. It is essential that action is taken now to protect the lives of our members and our clients.

Legal Sector Workers United is a union for all workers in the legal sector, whether solicitors, cleaners, paralegals or admin assistants. It exists to ensure that all workers are well paid and secure in their jobs, and to ensure justice is accessible to all. You can join LSWU here.

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