In April, the government made private renters the promise of a generation: to end Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. This outdated law currently see renters turfed out of their home with just eight weeks’ notice and for no good reason. It’s a major contributor to homelessness too.
But six months on, as the battle over Brexit rages on, the government risks losing sight of the reasons for this ambitious change – and that will be at its own expense, as well as severely letting down England’s 11 million renters.
The government’s consultation on how to abolish Section 21 closes on Saturday, followed swiftly by the Queen’s Speech on Monday: the perfect opportunity for the Prime Minister to consign this unfair practice to history. The consultation reassures landlords that they will still be able to get their property back for legitimate reasons, including when they need to sell or move in themselves, or when a tenant has breached their tenancy agreement.
While there are scaremongering landlord groups trying to kill off these changes, they are outnumbered by the private renters who desperately want and need them. And those renters will make themselves heard at ballot boxes across the country if an election comes soon.
According to Shelter’s new research, 72 per cent of renters who say they intend to vote in the next general election think scrapping ‘no-fault’ evictions should be a priority. Based on the turnout of private renters in the 2017 election, the government could be looking at 3.3 million disgruntled voters if it does a U-turn for the worst. This issue will matter to the country and so it should matter to any political party.
It’s no surprise to us at Shelter that scrapping Section 21 is such an emotive and critical issue for trapped renters. Our services routinely support distraught families and individuals who have been handed a Section 21 notice out of the blue and given barely any notice to find a new home and safeguard their future. This is no way for people to live.
It’s not just the Section 21 notice itself that floors families, it’s the crippling fear of it, too. A fear which often stops them from voicing concerns about repairs or rent increases. Our research shows that almost one in five private renters (18 per cent) have not asked for repairs in their home because they dread being shown the door. And their concerns are well grounded: Citizens Advice data shows they have an almost 50/50 chance of falling victim to a section 21 ‘revenge eviction’.
How can it be right for renting households to pay on average 41 per cent of their income on rent – more than any other type of housing – only to feel frightened of asking for basic services or taking a massive gamble if they do? We simply cannot tolerate a system that allows children to become homeless because some landlords don’t want to fulfil legal obligations.
We hear from families every day who have been served a no-fault eviction notice and then struggle to find somewhere new to live because of barriers blocking their way – including the fact that so many letting agents and landlords won’t consider renting to anyone receiving housing benefit. Many families then face homelessness as a result and, with nowhere else to turn, end up in unsuitable temporary accommodation. The government has a golden opportunity to stop this dreaded spiral before it starts by simply scrapping Section 21.
But the benefits of abolishing ‘no fault’ evictions are not just social and economic: they are political too. Two-thirds of those who say they intend to vote in the next election state they are more likely to support a government that pushes this legislation over the line.
Renters are fed up. For too long, they’ve been forced to live their lives at the mercy of landlords. With the consultation ending, now is the time for the government to finally rebalance this relationship and make it fair for renters. All of us need a safe and secure place to call home.
Have your say on the Section 21 consultation here.
Polly Neate is chief executive of Shelter.
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