Housing

Renting reforms risk 'trapping' victims of domestic violence with abusers, government warned

MPs will debate controversial government amendments to ‘water down’ the Renters Reform Bill when it is back in parliament on 24 April

Renters Reform Bill domestic abuse warning

Campaigners have warned an amendment to the Renters Reform Bill that could see tenants forced to sign up to six months in a property may make life even more difficult for domestic abuse victims. Image: Kira auf der Heide / Unsplash

The Renters Reform Bill is set to return to parliament next week featuring controversial government amendments that domestic abuse campaigners have warned could leave victims trapped with their abusers.

The long-awaited bill is set to deliver on the government’s five-year-old promise to scrap no-fault evictions, among other reforms to make renters more secure in their homes. Commons leader Penny Mordaunt has confirmed MPs will scrutinise the bill when it returns for its third reading on Wednesday (24 April).

However, a leaked letter from levelling up minister Jacob Young revealed the bill will be back with a number of amendments that campaigners have said will “water down” the bill to “appease landlords”.

Now the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) has warned one of the amendments which may see tenants forced to sign up to tenancies for six months could put those experiencing abuse at home at further risk.

“The six months ‘tenant trap’ would leave many renters stuck in poor quality, mould ridden properties, with no accountability for bad landlords who are now being guaranteed half a years’ worth of rent,” said a DAHA spokesperson.

“But, even more dangerous than that, the ‘tenant trap’ threatens to force victims of abuse to remain in homes with their abusers – unable to flee or move away. Because they will be legally liable to pay the rent on the property for six months, victims and their children may have to remain in extremely dangerous situations, at the mercy of their perpetrators.

“If victims of abuse want to get out of this ‘tenant trap’ they will need to go through the courts to do it, putting the onus on survivors to fight to be free of tenancies causing them direct harm. This is completely unacceptable and must not be allowed to happen.”

The group added that the government is exploring exemptions so that renters can get out of tenancies if they have been mis-sold the property or faced domestic abuse.

But DAHA argued the exemption will be useless as it will take tenants too long to go through the courts to escape their tenancy.

“It is also extremely expensive and time consuming for people to use the courts – time and money that many renters, especially victims of abuse, simply do not have,” the DAHA spokesperson added.

Housing secretary Michael Gove has promised that no-fault evictions will be scrapped by the general election despite citing the need for court reforms to be completed first.

Another amendment to the bill would see no-fault evictions only axed for new tenancies when the bill comes into law with the practice still allowed for existing tenancies until promised court reforms are delivered.

The Renters Reform Bill also faces a race against time to make it into law. Next week’s third reading is the final stage before completing its passage through the House of Commons but the bill still needs to face scrutiny in the House of Lords before it can achieve royal assent.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We are absolutely committed to the Renters (Reform) Bill, which will have its remaining stages in the House of Commons next week.

“This bill will abolish Section 21 evictions and deliver a fairer rented sector for tenants and landlords. We will continue to work across the sector to ensure it passes into law as soon as possible.”

They added: “We know there will be sensitive or unexpected situations for some tenants and that is why we are looking at exemptions to the six-months’ requirement in certain circumstances, including domestic abuse.”

Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, said the amendments the government is proposing “strikes the balance” between landlord and tenant needs.

“Our focus has been on ensuring that when section 21 repossessions end, the replacement system works and is fair, to both tenants and responsible landlords,” said Beadle.

“Tenants should rightly be empowered to hold rogue and criminal landlords to account to root out the minority who bring the sector into disrepute. However, it is vital that the majority of responsible landlords have confidence in the bill to provide the homes for rent the country needs. The amendments proposed by the government strike that balance.

“It is now important to provide certainty to the market, so it can transition smoothly to the new system.  We therefore call on MPs to ensure swift passage of the bill through Parliament with the government’s planned changes. This should be underpinned by action to improve the justice system for renters and landlords alike.”

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