General government rules
On 23 March 2020 the Government introduced rules that restricted the movement of the public. The public has been advised to stay at home except to go outside for the following reasons:
- health reasons; or
- work (only being applicable if you absolutely cannot work from home).
Even when you do go out you must stay 2 metres away from other people.
There are further restrictions for those who are elderly or have pre-existing medical conditions that would put them at higher risk.
So, considering the above how do people move house? Surely the restrictions make it impossible to physically move out of one property and into another?
The Government restrictions had led to removal companies cancelling on buyers and sellers at the very last minute – causing havoc. The British Association of Removers has said the following about their Members:
“The [Removal Association] Member should only complete any moves that are underway and immediately cancel or postpone any move that has not yet started.”1
The removal companies who do take this stance and cancel jobs, will put buyers and sellers in a difficult position of potentially defaulting on their contracts if they cannot give vacant possession.
Government guidance from 27 March
On 26 March 2020 the Government had published guidance on moving house during the corona virus outbreak.
Where the property is vacant, meaning no one is living there at the moment, guidance states to continue with the move while adhering to their removals guidance, which is separate government guidance for removal companies. The problem comes where the property is not vacant.
The government guidance states all parties are encouraged to reach an agreement for a new completion date. This requires all parties in a chain to agree a new date.
If, however, a party is unable to agree a new completion date or come to any other arrangement the this may put many individuals in a very tricky position. Where parties in a transaction are elderly or categorised by the government as “high risk”, they are at risk of being forced to default on their contracts if they have to self-isolate or if the removal company cancels on them last minute. Defaulting on your contract could lead to the defaulting party forfeiting their deposit if they are the buyer and compensation in line with the “contract rate” as defined in the Contract for sale.
For those who are retired or have lost their work due to the corona virus outbreak the prospect of having to pay compensation for something that is out of their control can be severe.
The government guidance also has advice for the public at every stage of a property transaction – as well as guidance for estate agents, surveyors and removal companies. See the link below for more information.
It is advisable that all parties try to come to an agreement, wherever possible. Please seek legal advice on what your options are if you find yourself in the above situation.
If you would like specific advice on moving house under the current circumstances please contact one the experts at Hanne & Co’s Property Team.
1. https://bar.co.uk/ – note that removal companies that are not members of the association may have different working restrictions.