Housing

Government urged to bring through rent reforms as evictions double

Ministers have been urged to set up a housing court amid warnings clogged legal system could undermine rental reforms

Renting reform could help prevent people like Asia from being evicted

Upcoming rental reforms are intended to prevent people like Asia from losing her home. Asia and her boyfriend were evicted from their rental flat during the pandemic, when he lost his job and they were unable to pay the rent. Image: Stacey Kelly / Centre for Homelessness Impact

The government is not doing enough to address the housing crisis, MPs have warned, as new figures show evictions doubled in the last months of 2022 and campaigners warned that the real-terms drop in housing benefit could make more people at risk of homelessness.

The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) Committee warned the Westminster government’s proposed rental reforms risk being undermined by a clogged court system as thousands more landlords apply to evict their tenants.

The government has repeatedly rejected the idea of a specialist housing court as new figures show huge increases in the amount of possession claims, orders and warrants heading through the system.

Scrapping ‘no fault’ evictions – which allow landlords to evict tenants at short notice without giving a reason – are among proposals in the Renters Reform Bill, though the legislation is yet to be introduced to parliament.

Committee chair Clive Betts said: “From our inquiry, it’s not clear the government fully appreciates that a creaking and unreformed courts system in England risks undermining their own tenancy reforms, including the welcome commitment to ban ‘no fault’ evictions. For landlords and tenants, it’s vital the government now finds a practical way forward to enable courts to fast-track claims.”

A government spokesman said: “We are investing a significant amount of funding to improve waiting times in the civil courts, opening extra courtrooms and recruiting more judges, and will continue to engage with stakeholders across the private rented sector.”

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Repossessions more than doubled in the last quarter of 2022, to 5,409 between October and December compared to 2,729 in the same period in 2021, according to Ministry of Justice statistics released on Thursday, as courts continued to deal with ever-increasing numbers of cases in England and Wales.

Mortgage repossessions surged, too, up 134 per cent on the same time last year. 

The number of claims to courts from landlords asking for homes to be repossessed increased from 42 per cent in the space of a year – up from 14,436 to 20,460. Court orders for homes to be repossessed surged 135 per cent while warrants to county court bailiffs doubled.

Matt Downie, chief executive of Crisis, said the government must raise housing benefit at the Spring Budget to prevent evictions rising further. Housing benefit has been frozen since April 2020 despite surging inflation.

“The devastating impact of the cost of living crisis, rising rents and low wages has once again been laid bare as thousands more renters are faced with eviction and the very real threat of being left with nowhere to go,” said Downie.

“With rents rising at their fastest rate in 16 years, the government cannot continue to look the other way as more and more people are forced into homelessness.”

The government promised to axe no-fault evictions – also known as section 21 evictions – in April 2019 back when Theresa May was prime minister.

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Since then, renters have been waiting for legislation to be introduced to parliament to remove the measures from the statute book.

The government introduced its white paper laying out its plans in June last year, confirming its intention to replace no-fault evictions with new grounds for evicting tenants.

The legislation will be introduced during this parliamentary session, the government has confirmed.

“This government is absolutely committed to delivering a fairer deal for renters,” a government spokesperson told The Big Issue.

“We will bring forward a Renters Reform Bill in this parliament, abolishing ‘no fault evictions’ so that all tenants – including university students – have greater security in their homes and are empowered to challenge poor conditions and unreasonable rent rises.”

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The LUHC committee warned some of the new reasons for eviction in the reforms risk being exploited by rogue landlords and becoming a “back door to no-fault evictions”.

MPs said tenants need greater protection and the justifications should be amended. 

The report also took aim at the rise of the short-term and holiday-let market and called on the government to implement a scheme to register such properties as part of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

“By its own admission, the government’s white paper did not address the underlying cause of the affordability crisis in the private rented sector, namely the decades-long failure of successive governments to build enough homes” said Betts alongside a call for more affordable homes including 90,000 social rent homes per year.  

The National Residential Landlords Association “warmly welcomed” the report’s findings and backed calls for court reform while Generation Rent agreed with the committee that proposed new eviction grounds are “too easily exploited”.

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