Section 21 notices are finally set to be scrapped in 2022 – three years after the Westminster government promised to act. Image: Pexels / Alexander
A section 21 notice – also known as a ‘no-fault’ eviction – allows a landlord to evict a tenant without giving a reason in England and Wales.
Already abolished in Scotland, the Westminster government is set to deliver on its promise to do the same in 2022. The Renters’ Reform Bill is due to arrive later this year to make section 21 notices a thing of the past as part of a series of reforms to shift the balance of power between landlords and tenants.
But why have there been calls for section 21 notices to be axed? Here’s everything you need to know.
What does a section 21 notice say?
A section 21 notice tells you that you are facing an eviction but it doesn’t mean that you need to leave your home straight away. The notice shows your landlord is intending to evict you by a certain date. It can be issued without giving a reason so a landlord can give a tenant a section 21 notice if they want to reclaim the property to sell it, if they have a falling out with the tenant or just on a whim – they don’t have to state why.
The landlord has a right to go to court to ask for a possession order. If you don’t leave the property by a certain date then the landlord can apply to the county court for a warrant of eviction. At this point court bailiffs can be used to evict you.
What is the difference between a section 8 and section 21 notice?
There is more than one way that people can be evicted from a property during an assured shorthold tenancy.
A section 21 notice can be issued to a tenant without any reason given by the landlord. A tenant can be handed notice at the end of a fixed-term contract or at any time during a tenancy with no fixed end date.
However, a section 8 notice is different in that it is usually issued when you are believed to have broken the terms of your tenancy agreement. This could be through falling behind on rent – if you are more than two months behind then you could receive a section 8 eviction notice – or for damaging the property, being a nuisance to neighbours or other anti-social behaviour.
A section 8 notice may also carry a shorter notice period than a section 21 eviction, usually tenants get 14 days’ notice for the former compared to two months for the latter.
Has section 21 been abolished yet?
As of April 2022, section 21 notices are still in use.
The UK government promised to replace section 21 notices in April 2019. Then-prime minister Theresa May said renters losing their home with “little notice and often little justification” was “wrong”. She added: “Today we’re acting by preventing these unfair evictions.”
However, the wait for those actions has proved to be a long one.
In the three years since, nearly 230,000 private renters have received a section 21 notice, according to research carried out by YouGov and housing charity Shelter. That equates to a renter receiving a notice every seven minutes.
Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said: “It’s appalling that every seven minutes another private renter is slapped with a no-fault eviction notice despite the government promising to scrap these grossly unfair evictions three years ago. It’s no wonder many renters feel forgotten.
“Millions of private renters are living in limbo – never truly able to settle – in case their landlord kicks them out on a whim. It’s a well-founded fear as our frontline services support renters all the time who are scrambling to find a home after being told to up sticks with just two months’ notice.”
Campaigners and housing charities have long called for no-fault evictions to be scrapped because they mean renters are left feeling insecure and cannot put down roots and they are also a leading driver of homelessness.
Almost 9,000 households in England needed council support to prevent homelessness during 2020/21 though this represented a 50 per cent fall on the previous year due to the eviction ban brought in to protect renters in the pandemic.
Before Covid–19 disrupted the rental market, just over 18,000 households needed support from authorities after receiving a section 21, representing a third of all households owed a prevention duty by their local council. The termination of a private rented assured shorthold tenancy was the most common reason why councils were required to step in to prevent a household becoming homeless.
As the pandemic’s impact on life has declined, section 21 evictions have become more prevalent once again. A total of 5,260 households asked local authorities to step in to prevent them from becoming homeless after receiving an eviction notice between October and December 2021, representing the first time this figure had risen above pre-pandemic levels.
There has been a consensus that section 21 notices must be replaced for some time. The Renters Reform Coalition – a group of 20 campaigners and charities including renters union ACORN, Citizen Advice, Generation Rent, Shelter and more – has been campaigning on the issue for years.
Dan Wilson Craw, deputy director of Generation Rent, said: “The longer renters wait for the government to abolish section 21, the more people will have their lives uprooted at their landlord’s whim. Many more will continue living in squalid conditions, afraid that a complaint will only result in an eviction notice. Renters want long term homes and reliable landlords, so will be frustrated at yet another delay.
“We will continue working with the government as they develop these reforms, and keep making the case for measures that prevent new grounds for eviction from being abused and leaving tenants facing homelessness.”
Section 21 evictions are set to be scrapped in 2022. Ministers have said the Renters’ Reform Bill white paper – a government report giving proposals on an issue – will lay out their plans when it is released in the spring.
No-fault evictions have already been abolished in Scotland.
A section 21 notice is usually in effect for six months after being issued in order to give a landlord time to take court action. However this only relates to the standard two-month notice period that is in place in England.
If you pay your rent quarterly or over a different timeframe then the notice is likely to last longer. Extensions to notice periods that were brought in through the pandemic may also have extended the time a section 21 notice lasts for.
Time limits are in place to prevent landlords from issuing eviction notices to tenants unless they are certain they want to reclaim the property so renters are not left living in limbo.
When can a landlord serve a section 21 notice?
While a landlord can issue a section 21 notice at any time for open-ended tenancies, they are required to give a reasonable notice period to a tenant they are planning to evict. In England and Wales the standard notice period to leave a property is at least two months.
However, notice periods changed during the pandemic with all three nations adopting six-month notice periods to give tenants time to find a new place to live while Covid restrictions were in place.
That was the case in England if a tenant was given notice between August 29 2020 and May 31 2021 while the notice period was four months if a Section 21 notice was issued between June 1 and September 30 last year.
Six-month notice periods have been the norm for longer in Scotland and Wales. Wales only reverted back to two months for a Section 21 notice on March 24 2022 after introducing them in July 2020.
You don’t need to leave your home immediately, it’s an illegal eviction if you are forced to leave before the date stated on the section 21 notice or if the correct legal process isn’t followed.
Consider contacting Citizens Advice, Shelter or your local council for advice or help with staying in your home or finding somewhere else to live.
You should continue paying your rent while your tenancy is still active, otherwise you risk falling into other difficulties that could see you evicted – a section 8 eviction notice can be issued if you are two months behind on rent.
If you have a good relationship with your landlord and you want to stay in the property you should speak to them and see if they will let you stay at least until you have found somewhere else to live.
If the process goes to court you may be able to challenge eviction, especially if the landlord did not give enough notice or there was another problem with the section 21 notice that made it invalid, such as your deposit wasn’t protected.