Karen Buck MP: Government must scrap Section 21 'no fault' evictions
Scrapping Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions would help improve security, reduce homelessness and reduce the threat of ‘retaliatory eviction’, says Karen Buck MP.
When, thirty years ago, the then government introduced a ‘no fault’ means by which landlords could repossess their properties- ‘Section 21’- it was as part of the de-regulation of a private housing market much reduced in scale and importance from what it had once been. How very different is today’s landscape compared with 1988. Though by no means solely as a result of de-regulation – the decline of social housing and the crisis of affordability of home ownership are also crucial factors- the private rented sector has doubled and is now home to 4.7 million households. It also has a very different profile- 4 in 10 private renters are families with children. If it has changed, policy towards it must change, to address some of the unforeseen consequences of these changes and to make sure the sector works well and fairly both for tenants and landlords.
A healthy private rented sector is important to the housing mix. For many of us, it was always a first step towards homeownership, something we did when starting out in adult life. It offers a flexibility that other options often do not. Most landlords take their responsibilities seriously, high satisfaction levels are quoted in their support, and the landlord’s associations refer to average lengths of tenancy which suggest that the problem of insecurity is possibly overstated. Unfortunately, averages tell one truth but not always the whole story, and certainly not for all types of tenant and in all parts of the country.
For one thing, the end of a private tenancy is now the major factor behind homelessness applications. There are several reasons driving this, but an analysis by Generation Rent claimed that 92% of the rise in homelessness cases caused by the end of a private tenancy in London can be explained by no fault evictions- and the figure is only slightly lower figure outside the capital. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Trust last year found that the number of private tenants being evicted had risen by a fifth, that the overwhelming majority of increases in possession recently is driven by Section 21, and this was highly concentrated, with 4 out of every 5 such repossessions being in London and the South/East- areas where rents are highest.
Homelessness is what happens at the sharp end- disruptive, expensive and often traumatic. Yet housing insecurity goes much wider. Having to make frequent moves is, perhaps especially for families with children and for vulnerable and older tenants, a deeply negative experience. I know from my own casework how distressing parents find it to move around, changing schools and disrupting personal and support networks. And every move costs money, which those most exposed to eviction simply don’t have. Renting privately is less secure than other tenures. 860,000 tenants moved between private rentals in 2016- up from 465,000 twenty years ago- and 1 in 10 movers said their move was due to being given notice by their landlord.
A significant minority of tenants also fear retaliatory eviction if they make a complaint, so may be deterred from pursuing their rights for fear of the consequences. This unfortunately undermines efforts to improve standards in a sector which has the highest incidence of substandard accommodation.
All in all, no wonder polling published this week by the Institute of Public Policy Research found nearly two thirds of people think the private rented sector does not provide a stable long term option for tenants.
The government are already consulting on ways to improve security in the private sector. The time is now ripe for a radical approach- albeit one which would not seem so in other countries with large and successful private rented sectors. Scrapping Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions would help improve security, reduce homelessness and reduce the threat of ‘retaliatory eviction’. Such measures should not stand alone. There are a number of entirely legitimate reasons for landlords to seek possession and, especially after ‘no fault’ Section 21 grounds are removed those processes need to be improved so they work better than at present. And of course there is a much wider context of housing and housing support policy to be addressed, from social housing supply to Universal Credit. But 30 years after, it is time to build a new consensus for the future of the sector and this is the right place to start.
Karen Buck is Labour MP for Westminster North.