A draft Coronavirus (Protection of Assured Tenants) Bill (“the Bill”) has been released which details further protection (until the end of 2020) for residential tenants who have been affected by the outbreak of coronavirus.
The Bill only covers tenancies within the Housing Act 1988 (“the Act”). It grants the courts a discretion when considering grounds for eviction which are currently mandatory, namely Ground 8 of section 8, and section 21, if it considers it reasonable to do so. In particular, in relation to section 21 (a no-fault eviction only applicable when the term has ended), the court would be required to consider whether the landlord is actually seeking possession of the property due to rent arrears. The court would also have to consider to what extent the arrears (or any part of them) were caused (or contributed to) by coronavirus.

Although in theory the Bill will greatly protect tenants of assured shorthold tenancies, how effective it will be in practice is questionable.
Ground 8 of section 8 would become a discretionary ground rather than a mandatory ground; it would be more efficient to simply render that ground ineffective to protect tenants, especially as Ground 10 and Ground 11 are already existing discretionary rent arrears-related grounds for eviction.
Further, when considering section 21 claims, the courts will be required to consider the extent to which the landlord is seeking possession due to rent arrears. However, the Bill does not offer any further explanation or guidance on how the courts should, objectively, reach such a decision. A landlord could simply claim that, despite the rent arrears, they have an alternative reason for wanting to proceed with possession orders and, if that was the case, the court’s discretion would be limited, rendering the Bill largely pointless.
In theory, the details outlined in the Bill as currently drafted can potentially offer further protection to tenants of assured tenancies. However, it seems that the lack of clear guidance and the absence of more drastic temporary changes will limit the practical effectiveness of the Bill.