Coronavirus in Wales
Last updated: 07 July 2020
When the Covid-19 outbreak came to the UK, the devolved administrations followed the steps of the UK Government fairly closely. However, there has recently been some divergence between the UK Government and the Welsh Government in dealing with the pandemic.
Here, we detail some of the key differences and give further information on what the Welsh Government and local authorities are doing that landlords should know during the pandemic.
Remember, if you decide to write to your representatives, you have five Members of the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) - one constituency and four regional - in addition to your Member of the UK Parliament.
Getting in contact with your MP or Members of the Senedd (MSs)
England & Wales
What are the key differences (non-housing)?
- The Welsh Government did not follow the UK Government’s changes for England that encouraged those who cannot work from home to return to work.
- While in England, up to six people will be able to meet outside, providing those from different households continue to observe social distancing rules, people in Wales from two different households in the same area (around 5 miles) will be able to meet up outdoors, including in private gardens.
- However, from Monday 6 July, the “five-mile rule” will be lifted in Wales. From 6 July, people from two separate households will also be able to join together as one "extended household" – they can meet indoors and stay overnight, in a similar fashion to other "support bubble" arrangements elsewhere in the UK.
- This means that from that date someone from England can drive to a destination in Wales, and vice versa.
- On June 22nd, the rules in Wales changed that allowed non-essential shops to open.
What are the similarities in housing?
The Welsh Government’s approach to the private rented sector is not too dissimilar to the UK Government’s. Particular points to note include:
- The Welsh Government followed the UK Government’s decision to extend possession notices to three months.
- Justice is not devolved so the suspension of possession cases is the same across England and Wales, with possession cases being heard again from 24 August.
- Like in England, landlords in Wales will have to follow the pre-action protocol before taking possession. However, this is not yet in place in either nation.
- Rules surrounding Energy Performance Certificates. If a new tenancy is about to start in Wales, you should see whether or not the new tenancy can be delayed until after the restrictions are lifted.
- Mortgage holidays arrangements are UK-wide
- Welfare remains in Westminster control so the benefits system is the same for those in England and Wales.
What guidance has the Welsh Government published?
The Welsh Government has published guidance for private landlords, tenants, and local authorities. Make sure to look at this yourself so you can see what Ministers are asking you to do and how councils have been told they should approach enforcement of standards in the private rented sector.
Councils have been told to adopt a pragmatic, risk-based approach to enforcement. Councils are following the Welsh Government guidance, but you can see more detail on how they responded to our request for information here.
Welsh Government guidance changed on 2 July to reflect that landlords can now undertake less urgent work in their rented properties. However, tenants are urged to use their own judgement for letting someone into their home. However, the Welsh Government recommends “no work should be carried out in any household which is self-isolating or where a person who is classed as extremely vulnerable is undertaking ‘shielding’ measures, unless it is to repair a fault which poses a direct risk to people’s safety, for example emergency plumbing”.
Inspectors or maintenance workers can still visit properties to do a gas or electrical safety check. For flats, they can also visit to inspect and test fire alarm and emergency lighting systems. In both cases social distancing guidance must be followed. There is also information that your tenants might find useful in terms of signposting to financial support, encouraging them to stay in touch with you, and reminding them of their obligation to pay rent.
What Wales-specific financial support is there?
The UK Government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan, and Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme are open to residents across the UK. However, the Welsh Government’s Economic Resilience Fund provides additional support to businesses in Wales. However, landlords are unable to secure support through these schemes in their capacity as landlords. You might still be eligible depending on your circumstances.
Local authorities are encouraging anybody with a property in their area to contact them if they are struggling with council tax, as many landlords will be as they find themselves unable to fill an empty property due to Coronavirus-tackling measures. You will be able to apply for the Council Tax Reduction Scheme. If unsuccessful, the council may be able to offer discretionary assistance. Contact details, links, and information on local licensing schemes can be found here.
Marketing a property in Wales
How should I market and arrange property viewings in Wales?
On June 22nd, the rules in Wales changed to partially lift the restrictions on the housing market. Guidance on this can be viewed on the Welsh Government’s website. The relaxations involve:
- All house moves can go ahead where the residential property has been unoccupied i.e. vacant for at least 72 hours.
- The marketing and viewing of unoccupied residential property can take place.
- House moves can take place where a sale has been agreed but not yet completed.
- Valuations and inspections of occupied residential property are allowed but should be done so safely and in line with the Welsh Government’s guidance on working in someone’s home.
Occupied residential properties cannot be viewed, physically or virtually, but preparations and advertisement for these can commence. For unoccupied housing – that can be viewed – virtual viewings are recommended in the first instance with physical viewings if necessary.
When it comes to preparing a property for a viewing, the Welsh Government’s guidance for those that work in the housing sector states:
- all property viewings should take place virtually in the first instance
- where a physical viewing of a vacant property (which has been vacated for 72 hours or deep cleaned) is required, this should be by appointment only and be attended by people from the same household
- no speculative viewings should take place
- open house viewings are not permissible
- no-one should be part of a property viewing if they are shielding, or if they are or have been displaying coronavirus symptoms in the last 14 days
- estate and letting agents should follow the workplace guidance for employers and employees. Marketing of unoccupied properties can take place (in line with relevant rules)
- marketing of occupied properties can commence. Valuations etc should be carried out in line with Keep Wales Safe – at work in other people’s homes guidance and using virtual viewings only
- agents can accompany viewings and should comply with the social distancing requirements throughout the viewing
- where viewings are unaccompanied, agents should make sure viewers understand how they should conduct themselves
- agents or landlords should not drive current or prospective tenants and prospective owners to the property viewing. The agent or landlord should make sure that all lights are on in the property and that doors are open, to prevent the customer from touching surfaces
- customers should be advised against touching surfaces throughout the property viewing, unless absolutely necessary. This is particularly relevant in furnished properties, where the risk of contamination of surfaces may be higher
- the length of time that a property viewing can be carried out should be minimised
- once the viewing has taken place, the landlord or agent responsible for accompanying the viewing should ensure surfaces, such as door handles, are cleaned with standard household cleaning products and towels disposed of safely or washed as appropriate. Shared access areas, for example shared front door access, should also be cleaned. You can get more information about cleaning in non-healthcare settings on GOV.UK.
- workplace guidance for employers and employees should be considered at all times
Where you must meet a tenant, limit the number of people involved. Consider whether you can arrange to have a lead person appointed that could be your point of contact. Where you are meeting them you must ensure you are following social distancing practices.
Moving home is not appropriate whilst you pose a direct risk of transmitting coronavirus. People who have coronavirus or are self-isolating with other members of their household should not leave their home to either move home, or undertake property viewings in person. They should strictly follow the self-isolation guidance.
What about HMOs?
However, there a certain exceptions and further information should be viewed to ensure full compliance. These can be viewed in the Welsh Government guidance for house moves online.
For example, viewings of empty rooms in otherwise occupied houses of multiple occupation (HMO) cannot take place in Wales. Home moves into HMOs are allowed, but government advice should be followed:
- tenants should not move into a HMO if any of the current tenants are self-isolating. Wherever possible, you should support tenants to verify this
- tenants should not move into a HMO if any of the current tenants are shielding. Wherever possible, you should support tenants to verify this
- tenants should not move into a HMO if they are self-isolating or shielding
Where a home move into a HMO is necessary and other people already reside at the property, additional precautions are necessary:
- good hygiene practices should be followed, and you should wash your hands regularly
- all hard surfaces should be cleaned with normal disinfectant - especially door handles, window handles, WC handles, taps, basins and work surfaces
- you should refer to the GOV.UK advice on cleaning and disinfection.
Additionally, when it comes to extended households during the pandemic, each household within an HMO can enter into separate extended households, but because of the higher potential that coronavirus could be spread throughout the house, these households should be aware that they are potentially putting themselves and others at increased risk and they should think carefully about forming an extended household with people not living in their house.
Implications for on-going legislation
What does this mean for the possession reform Bill?
Prior to the outbreak, the Renting Homes (Amendment) Bill was progressing through the Senedd. The Bill’s purpose was the amend the as-of-yet implemented Renting Homes Act 2016 and involved a significant reform to possession – creating year-long tenancies and extending the Section 21 notice (Section 173 under the 2016 Act) period from two to six months.
However, the Welsh Government has announced it will pause the Renting Homes (Amendment) Bill to focus on priority legislation during the pandemic. Therefore, the Welsh Government will have to rush it through the Senedd or face starting the legislative process from scratch after the 2021 election.
Implementing the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016
The decision to only make regulations on Covid-19 and Brexit-related business will also impact Fitness for Human Habitation standards and model contracts – a necessary component of implementing the 2016 Act. So there has been another delay to the flagship 2016 Act.
The NRLA Wales team are in regular contact with Welsh Government and local authority officials, Rent Smart Wales, and third sector organisations.
We have submitted a proposal to the Welsh Government detailing how the private rented sector should be supported through the Covid-19 pandemic, sent briefing notes to non-government Members of the Senedd, and communicated our concerns regarding non-devolved areas to the UK Government.
NRLA Wales has also written to councils calling for the waiving of council tax for landlords on empty properties and shared resources with partner organisations.
The NRLA held a webinar on what landlords in Wales need to know about Coronavirus on 23 April. Members can watch this here.