The Renters’ Reform Bill second reading: one step forward and one step back?

by Joshua Davies, Programme Manager for Transforming the Private Rented Sector

On Monday, we moved one step closer to transforming the private rented sector. The Renters’ Reform Bill finally received its second reading in parliament, with MPs debating the legislation for the first time. Given that the aim of the Bill is to end section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, create a new national landlord register, and introduce a new private rented sector Ombudsman, there were reasons to be cheerful. Five months after its introduction, the Bill was moving forward.

But recent government announcements have generated concerns that the Bill will not actually improve renters’ lives in the ways it needs to. The government now says that it won’t end ‘no fault’ evictions until it has reformed the court system. This is viewed by many as a concession to landlords, who claim that the court process for evicting tenants takes too long. However, there’s disagreement about the truth of this argument; Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke said during the second reading debate that the court processes involved in possession claims are moving as quickly now as before the pandemic – when the current government made its manifesto commitment to renters.

There’s no doubt that any court reform would take years to implement. But renters cannot wait any longer. They need access to safe and secure homes now. As Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Minister Michael Gove himself noted, 23% of tenants living in substandard accommodation chose not to complain for fear of being evicted, and 31% of those who did were subsequently evicted under section 21. What’s more, a new poll by Opinium for the Renters Reform Coalition found that 72 per cent of voters backed the ban on no-fault evictions. This government has already had four years to get on and pass these reforms – and it’s now suggesting that renters might have to wait even longer. They must make the Bill law – and end section 21 – as soon as possible.

The government also hasn’t yet committed to make the vital improvements needed to the Bill. We need to see changes to make sure there is:

  • Sufficient funding to ensure that regulations are enforced, giving local authorities ringfenced resources to be able to root out and penalise bad landlords.
  • A properly resourced Ombudsman which is straightforward to access.
  • More protection for tenants where landlords use new repossession grounds that let them evict a tenant when they want to sell the property or move in. Renters should be given a chance to put down roots by protecting them from eviction using these grounds for two years, and there should be strong safeguards to prevent unscrupulous landlords from abusing the new grounds, including a financial incentive for tenants to prevent abuse and a one-year ban on re-letting a property after using them.
  • Enough time for renters to find a new home when evicted, giving them four months of notice rather than the current two months.
  • Maximum discretion for courts to identify if there are good reasons that an eviction should not take place.
  • A cap on in-tenancy rent increases at the lowest of either inflation or wage growth to prevent unaffordable rent increases being used as a backdoor eviction method.

                                         Credit: Shelter/Millie Harvey

Our funded partner, the Renters Reform Coalition, was outside parliament on Monday, calling loudly for section 21 evictions to end and for the Bill to deliver real change for renters. We were pleased to see many MPs of different stripes supporting our and the Coalition’s calls for changes to the Bill. But there is still a long way to go. The next step is for the Bill to go before a parliamentary committee to be scrutinised in detail. And alongside the coalition, we’ll be pushing for key amendments to be made during this process. If done right, the Bill could greatly improve the lives of England’s 11 million renters. But it has to be done right, which means the government must listen to renters, make the changes needed, and above all, end section 21 evictions.

Do you want to see change for renters? Tweet this article with the hashtag #RentersAreWaiting, or join the campaign on the Renters Reform Coalition website.