The last-minute change, which was first revealed in a letter to Tory backbenchers and Friday’s government response to the Levelling Up select committee, sparked anger among renters and suggestions of “grubby deals” from Labour.
Shadow housing secretary Angela Rayner said: “The government has betrayed renters with this grubby deal with the Tory backbenches.
“Having broken the justice system, they are now using their own failure to indefinitely delay keeping their promises to renters in the most underhand way.”
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It’s a change the landlord lobby had requested and it will, no doubt, raise eyebrows that Gove’s admission in the Commons came just a day before he delivered the keynote speech at the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) Conference.
Gove thanked the NRLA in his Commons address “for the work they have consistently done to ensure that the voice of landlords is heard”.
The government climbdown is likely a concession to Tory MPs who oppose the bill, which is reportedly one of the main reasons why it has taken five months for MPs debate the legislation for the first time. One Liberal Democrat member said during yesterday’s debate that Gove was getting “pot shots from behind”.
Gove took aim at dissenting members of his party in the Commons debate, describing the suggestion that abolishing no-fault evictions is “un-Conservative” as “absolutely nonsensical”.
The housing secretary also earned cheers from Labour when he shot down Tory MP Marcus Fysh’s claim that the legislation will see landlords exit the market and reduce the amount of properties available to rent, driving prices up further.
The Centre for Social Studies think tank, whom Gove also thanked, described the claim as “groundless” in a report released over the weekend. The most recent English Housing Survey showed a 4.5% annual increase in private rented homes, according to Shelter analysis.
“That is just not true,” said Gove. “We have seen an increase in the number of homes in the private rented sector recently, not a reduction.
“There is no evidence at all that the abolition of Section 21, and at the same time the enhancement of Section 8, will lead to any reduction in the number of homes in the private rented sector.”
Why does the UK government say the courts need to be reformed?
The government has always promised to “digitise” the courts system as part of the Renters Reform Bill, although there has been little detail on how this is going to be achieved.
Until now, there has been no indication that this would mean a delay to scrapping no-fault evictions.
Gove said yesterday: “It is vital that we ensure that the courts system is reformed and that we have end-to-end digitisation.”
Landlords who have issued a Section 21 eviction notice to tenants need go through the courts to get a possession order and a warrant for eviction before a tenant is evicted by court bailiffs.
Tenants may also choose to challenge the eviction in court if they feel it is invalid.
During the pandemic, a pause on evictions and court closures meant that a huge backlog of cases built up which extended the time it takes for eviction on proceedings to be heard in courts.
Those times have been coming down ever since. Ministry of Justice figures show the median time from a possession claim being made to a home being repossessed is now 22 weeks. That’s higher than the four to eight weeks mandated in law but is now down to levels seen before the pandemic.
The Levelling Up select committee has proposed a dedicated housing court to deal reduce the burden on courts but this has been repeatedly rejected by the government.
Gove said: “The view of the Ministry of Justice, His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and others involved in the court system is that the creation of a specialist housing court would divert resources from the effort to make the existing system work better.”
However, Labour has criticised the government for “breaking the justice system”, intensifying the issue.
Between 2010 and 2019, more than half of the courts across England and Wales were closed, according to the Law Society. That includes 90 county courts out of 240 in total.
What does Renters Reform Bill mean for renters?
Renters have already been waiting for more than four years to see the government axe no-fault evictions.
Section 21 evictions allow a landlord to evict a tenant without giving a reason, leaving renters at risk of losing their home and they are a leading driver of homelessness.
Renters, particularly those on low incomes, are currently facing record-high rents alongside the cost of living crisis and that is leading to more tenants at risk of falling into homelessness.
No-fault evictions also allow landlords to get rid of tenants who complain about conditions in their property and ask for repairs or take issue with a rent increase.
Statutory homelessness figures released earlier this month showed 24,260 households needed support from councils to avoid homelessness last year after being served with a Section 21 eviction notice. That’s a 22% increase on the previous year.
While the government delays taking action, more tenants will fall into homelessness.
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Labour has promised to scrap no-fault evictions if they win the next general election. The opposition party calculated that 30,840 households face homelessness if no-fault evictions are not scrapped between now and the last possible date for a general election in January 2025 while 10,416 households are expected to be kicked out by bailiffs.
The Renters Reform Bill was already facing a race against time to make it into law before the election but now renters know will likely be waiting even longer than that to feel more secure in their homes.
As politicians debated the bill in the Commons, renters representing groups in the Renters’ Reform Coalition vented their fury in a demonstration in Westminster, chanting, “Hey ho, 21 has to go” in an appeal to ministers to act.
Tom Darling, campaign manager of the Renters’ Reform Coalition, described the decision to delay the legislation as a “pathetic last-minute concession to keep the Conservative Party together”.
“The idea that some ill-defined ‘court reform’ must happen before Section 21 no-fault evictions can end is absurd. The government promised to end no-fault evictions in 2019 – what have they been doing with the courts since then?” said Darling.
“You have pro-landlord Tory backbenchers saying we need to prioritise the court reform – and therefore landlord’s ability to regain their property swifty – rather than long overdue improvements to renters’ rights. It’s striking that none of these rebels are proposing something that we know would actually speed the court process up – more investment!”
The Big Issue’s End Housing Insecurity Now campaign will continue to call on the government to scrap no-fault evictions through the Renters Reform Bill at pace as well as unfreezing local housing allowance and reforming universal credit.
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