Section 21 stays, says government
The Renters (Reform) Bill is going ahead without its headline policy of ending Section 21 evictions, following a major reversal by the government.
Section 21 will now remain in force “until reforms to the justice system are in place”, according to the government’s response to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee’s report on the bill.
Target areas for judicial reform include:
- Digitising more of the court process
- Exploring the prioritisation of certain eviction cases, such as for antisocial behaviour
- Hiring and retaining more bailiffs, and reducing their administrative workload
- More and earlier legal advice and other help for tenants
- Strengthening mediation and dispute resolution through the new private rented sector ombudsman service
These priorities are being addressed, and the government believes they will give landlords and tenants confidence in the court process.
However, the delay has been criticised by tenant groups, as well by the all-party Levelling Up and Housing Committee. While the Committee did recommend that courts' capacity to process possession claims should be increased, Committee chair Clive Betts MP has written to the government to say that they never recommended an indefinite delay to abolishing Section 21, and that the lack of targets or timelines for court reform is concerning.
Will the changes address landlords’ concerns?
Landlords may be glad that Section 21 is staying for now, but the government’s latest move prolongs the uncertainty. Politicians could declare at any time that their reforms are complete and no-fault evictions can be scrapped. But equally, the Renters (Reform) Bill has been controversial in the Conservative Party, and the government may find it easier to kick the issue up the road indefinitely rather than overcome backbench opposition.
The government has also not made any commitment to address landlords’ biggest issue with the eviction process: waiting times. According to Ministry of Justice figures released this month, it takes an average of 29 weeks for a landlord to recover a property through the courts. But while some of the government’s target reform areas could help with this, they have ruled out introducing a dedicated housing court or prioritising rent arrears cases.
What happens next?
Following the proposed delay to removing Section 21, the Renters (Reform) Bill passed its Second Reading unopposed. It will now move to the committee stage, at which time politicians and industry groups will be able to propose amendments.
Among other requests from the industry, Propertymark called on the government to include minimum qualifications and a statutory Code of Practice for estate and letting agents at an evidence session earlier this week.
The government has also proposed some amendments to the bill. These include:
- Making it illegal for landlords or letting agents to impose blanket bans on tenants with children or who receive benefits
- Applying a new Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector, the terms of which will be set following further consultation
- Stronger powers for local authorities to investigate landlords and enforce judgements against them
- Letting tenants claim up to 24 months rent from landlords through a rent repayment order, up from 12 months currently
The progress of the bill could also be delayed by the government’s latest cabinet reshuffle, in which housing minister Rachel Maclean was sacked. Her successor, North East Derbyshire MP Lee Rowley, is the 16th new housing minister since 2010, although he briefly held the role in Prime Minister Liz Truss’s government.