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Renters Reform Bill: Government unveils plans to help renters

The long-awaited reforms promise to scrap ‘no fault’ evictions, make it illegal to refuse to rent to people on benefits and give tenants right to ask for their pet to stay.

To Let signs fill a wall in King's Cross, London.

To Let signs fill a wall in King's Cross, London. Renters may be getting new powers through the long awaited Renters Reform Bill.

Landlords will not be allowed to refuse to rent to families on benefits, the Westminster government has announced, as part of long-awaited reforms designed to give renters more power.

Ministers detailed the Fairer Private Rented Sector White Paper on Thursday, promising the biggest shake-up of the sector in decades with plans to scrap ‘no fault’ evictions which allow landlords to evict tenants without giving a reason and improve the standards of homes.

Under the changes, landlords will be forced to consider a request for renters to keep their pets and will be blocked from unfair rent hikes in a bid to redress the balance of power between property owners and the 4.4 million private rented tenants across England. 

“For too long many private renters have been at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords who fail to repair homes and let families live in damp, unsafe and cold properties, with the threat of unfair ‘no fault’ evictions orders hanging over them,” said Levelling Up and Housing Secretary Michael Gove.

“Our New Deal for renters will help to end this injustice by improving the rights and conditions for millions of renters as we level up across the country and deliver on the people’s priorities.”

The government originally promised to axe ‘no fault’ evictions – also known as section 21 evictions – back in April 2019. The mechanism has become a leading driver of homelessness – official figures show a fifth of private renters who moved in 2019 and 2020 did not end their tenancy by choice.

Three years later, ministers have said the white paper will finally deliver on the promise as well as tackling current issues with cost of living pressures. The reforms will mean renters will not have to move as often, slashing moving costs, according to the government.

Arbitrary rent review clauses will be scrapped under the reforms, which will restrict tribunals from hiking up rent and allow tenants to be repaid rent for living in non-decent homes.

The new legislation is aiming to change what is considered an unfit home. The Decent Homes Standard will be extended to the private sector for the first time.

This will improve the quality of properties for the over 20 per cent of private renters living in unsafe homes, the government has promised. The rules, which already apply to social housing, means homes must be free from serious health and safety hazards and be in a good state of repair and have clean, appropriate and usable facilities.

The Renters Reform Bill will also make it illegal for landlords to place a blanket ban on renting to families with children or in receipt of benefits.

Tenants will also get the right to ask to keep a pet in their home with landlords forced to consider the request. They cannot unreasonably refuse the request, the government said.

All tenants will also be moved onto a single system of periodic tenancies which means a tenancy will only end if the renter decides to end it or the landlord has a valid reason as defined in law.

The move has been largely welcomed by housing charities, campaigners and anti-poverty organisations.

Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said the plans “must keep their teeth” as they move through parliament while Citizens Advice’s Dame Claire Moriarty said renters “need to see these proposals put through parliament as soon as possible”.

Alicia Kennedy, director of Generation Rent, echoed that message but said she had concerns over the details of the plans to axe ‘no-fault’ evictions.

Kennedy said: “Without proper safeguards we could still see thousands of tenants facing the hardship of unwanted moves, and more staying quiet about disrepair out of fear of a retaliatory eviction. “

Meanwhile, the new rules will see notice periods for rent increases double with tenants given stronger powers to challenge them if they feel the rises are unjustified. Councils will also get stronger powers to tackle landlords with increasing fines for serious offences.

A new Private Renters’ Ombudsman will also be set to solve disputes and there will be a new property portal to help landlords understand their responsibilities and for tenants to have the information they need to take action against a rogue landlord.

Lisa Nandy MP, Labour’s shadow levelling up and housing secretary, said: “More security for renters is welcome, but action is needed now, not after yet another consultation. While the Government has dithered and delayed, rents and evictions have shot up.

“Labour is calling for emergency legislation to immediately end no-fault evictions and give people more security in their home.

“The Government still has no long-term plan to fix problem of unaffordable rents. In government, Labour will rebalance the power between tenant and landlord to make tenancies secure and affordable, and to give people more control over their homes.”

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