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There's no mistaking that we're living in unprecedented times due to the Covid-19 virus and as we rush to try and limit the spread, some of the new rules and advice on freedom of movement could be described as a little grey around the edges and open to question.
Particularly so when it comes to moving house, whether that is in rented accommodation or if you are buying and selling a property. Changing the place where you actually live is usually a major event in anyone's life, and would certainly be described as 'essential' movement in normal times.
On March 23rd Boris Johnson announced that all UK residents should stay at home to protect the NHS and limit the spread of Coronavirus, and that people should only go out for the following (abbreviated) reasons:
- Shopping for basic necessities
- One form of exercise a day
- Medical need or to help a vulnerable person
- Travel to work, but only if essential
As mentioned previously there are many instances where one could reasonably argue that moving home is essential, and technically there seems to be no clear message in these directives to say that doing so is forbidden.
Obviously this could change if further stricter measures are introduced at a later date, but at the moment it appears these instructions are intended to be used with common sense and largely depend on the individual situation.
So if a move goes ahead, what are the official recommendations for keeping everyone as safe as possible. The social distancing advice when applied to moving home can be summarised as the following:
- Cancel the move if you start displaying symptoms
- Wash hands thoroughly before and after
- Maintain a distance of 2 metres from your Mover
- Preferably wear a facemask and gloves
To facilitate the above further, it may be prudent to either request the option to self load the removals vehicle, or clearly arrange your belongings for the Mover to load without you needing to be nearby.
It's extremely important that you watch out for any Coronavirus symptoms leading up to a move, and immediately contact your Mover to either cancel or postpone if you start to show any.
Likewise if a Mover themselves begin to suffer from any of the common effects of the virus, they will need to do the same if they don't have replacement staff to cover the job.
Are Movers still Working?
The short answer is yes some are, although to protect customers and staff if they are a reputable and responsible firm they will almost certainly be working with varying degrees of restrictions in place.
These will likely include customers not being allowed to travel in the vehicle, requirements for all customers and removals staff to wear face masks and gloves, self loading and other options to minimise contact and adhere to social distancing guidelines, changes to cancellation terms and various other measures to reflect the current situation.
Any Movers still working during the lockdown period in London will also likely have limited availability due to being short staffed, and the risk of short notice cancellations will be fairly high.
They may also vet jobs beforehand to determine whether they can be considered as essential, and obviously key workers will have priority.
What BAR says
The main recognised trading body for the removals industry is the British Association of Removers (BAR) and it counts many of the UK's largest removal companies among it's members.
Following the government announcement on the 23rd March, their advice to members was to: "only complete moves that are underway and immediately cancel or postpone any move that has not yet started". Although this is pretty unequivocal and certainly made with the best of intentions, it is optional and the decision on whether to continue to provide some kind of limited service is ultimately down to individual Mover companies.
It's fair to say though that the majority of BAR members will most likely follow the recommendation and be closed completely during this lockdown, especially as they tend to be the larger removal firms with a more established network of mainly house buyer moves.
This part of the market has probably been affected more than rentals, due to the temporary closure of so many associated service providers, such as Conveyancers, Estate Agents and Solicitors, although many of these still continue to operate a reduced remote service.
However, many smaller independent Mover companies including regular man and van operators, especially in London, are not members of BAR and will continue to operate if they are legally allowed to do so under the government's instructions and there is still a demand for their services.
In some respects the old adage "Keep calm and carry on" could have been made for the current situation we are now faced with. In recognition of the extraordinary nature of this crisis, the government have introduced emergency legislation to protect both tenants and residential landlords from financial difficulty.
In short, if you have lost your job or are struggling to pay your rent during this pandemic, you cannot be evicted for it. Similarly there is support for landlords who may be struggling to pay a mortgage in the form of a three month repayment 'holiday', which in some cases could be passed on to the tenant to use temporarily for rent payments.
A large proportion of the younger residents in London who tend to move quite frequently are in various types of privately rented accommodation, such as house and flatshares. These properties are often owned by private landlords who may deal with all of the administrative requirements themselves, or have a local lettings agent that acts on their behalf.
If you are currently stuck in a property that you were due to move from and your tenancy agreement is about to expire, and a new one is about to start on the place you're supposed to be moving to, the obvious thing to do is speak to your landlords and agents involved to reach a temporary agreement.
Everyone understands we are in the middle of a national emergency and they will themselves be keen to find a way forward in whatever way they can. But if you get into any difficulty that you need professional help with, there are resources online that you can turn to for assistance like Shelter and Citizens Advice.
Renting is much simpler than buying, and there is no real reason that you cannot continue to look for a new home during this time. Viewings can be arranged remotely on FaceTime or Skype etc, and adjustments have been made to make it easier for landlords to carry out right to rent checks by using scanned documents and video calls.
Although it's advisable to wait if possible, if you absolutely need to move and consider doing so is essential to you, then under the current government guidelines you are free to do so as long as you follow all the available advice.
The housing market for buyers and sellers has been hit hard by this event, there's no avoiding it. Accordingly on the 26th March the government issued fresh advice for moving home which applies to people buying or selling property in which they intend to live.
Probably the simplest and most doable scenario would be a first time or other buyer moving into a vacant property. In that case, if you are legally entitled to do so and ready to move there is no reason to delay or pull out of the transaction, as long as all necessary safety guidelines are followed and you can find a willing Mover.
However, there will be other cases that throw up all kinds of further complications. For example what if you have already exchanged contracts and someone at the home you are moving to starts to display symptoms? Or if the process is part of a chain and someone further along it is in a high risk group or cannot move for some other reason due to the current restrictions.
To assist with these issues the government have brought in additional measures, such as agreements with banks for extending mortgage offers if there are delays to completion dates, and working with conveyancers and estate agents to bring in a standard practice to extend completion dates.
The bottom line message from the government is that all parties need to adapt to the situation and work together in a reasonable way, and if you can put everything on hold for now and agree a new date, it is strongly advisable to do so.
If you are in the middle of trying to sell your property it would obviously be best to wait until the stay at home restrictions are lifted. Estate agents cannot actively market properties at the moment and any viewings would have to be done remotely by video as you are not allowed to let people enter your home unnecessarily under the lockdown directives.
How long is all this going to go on for?
Estimates currently range from weeks to possibly months, to even years. There has also been the suggestion by some expert virologists that Covid-19 could settle down to become seasonal.
So presumably it's possible that we may eventually have to learn to live with it (or hopefully a less severe version of it) and the temporary movement restrictions may need to be re-imposed when new local outbreaks emerge from time to time.
At this point and in the absence of an effective vaccine no one really knows, but this post may stay relevant for a bit longer than we would have liked.
If you urgently need to move home during the lockdown, it cannot be delayed, you are in agreement with all other parties involved, can find a Mover who has suitable availability and will carry out the move in accordance with the current government advice, and you follow all safety recommendations on social distancing, then under the current rules at the time of this post it would appear that you are allowed to do so.
We wish you the best of luck.