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What is the Renters Reform Bill and how will it change things for renters?

The much-delayed Renters Reform Bill has finally been introduced to Parliament, but tenants are still waiting for the legislation to come into force

Renters' Reform Bill

The Renters' Reform Bill is intended to give tenants more power and more security in their homes. Image: Kindel / Pexels

The Renters Reform Bill has finally been introduced to Parliament after a long wait for renters, but tenants will still have to wait until the autumn for it to move closer to being law.

The government set out its plan to redress the power balance between landlord and tenant in May.

It’s been a long wait for renters. The bill was first proposed in April 2019 when then-Prime Minister Theresa May promised to scrap no-fault evictions.

It has been more than four years since that announcement. In that time there have been four prime ministers, a new monarch, eight housing ministers, six housing secretaries (including Michael Gove twice) and one whole pandemic.

The pace of the turnaround at the top is something renters will be able to relate to given the time a London studio flat stays on the market before being snapped up. 

But that speed has not been replicated in Parliament. The Renters Reform Bill will not be debated by MPs until after the summer recess and in the meantime thousands of renters will receive a no-fault eviction notice.

The Renters Reform Bill was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech in May 2022 with then-Prince Charles promising a bill “to strengthen the rights of tenants”.

A month later, the government revealed its “new deal for renters” promising the biggest reforms to the private rented sector for decades.

It took until May 2023 for the bill to finally be introduced to Parliament with the government hailing it as a “once in a generation overhaul of housing laws”.

The legislation now has a maximum of 18 months to pass through Parliament before next year’s general election to make it into law.

But what is the Renters Reform Bill and what is it trying to achieve? Let The Big Issue explain.

What is the Renters Reform Bill?

Theresa May’s government first announced the bill in April 2019 as a “step change” in protections for renters, ending no-fault evictions and giving landlords and tenants more rights. It was hailed as “the biggest change to the private rental sector for a generation”.

Announcing the plans, the then-prime minister said: “Everyone in the private sector has the right to feel secure in their home, settled in their community and able to plan for the future with confidence.

“But millions of responsible tenants could still be uprooted by their landlord with little notice, and often little justification.

“This is wrong – and today we’re acting by preventing these unfair evictions. Landlords will still be able to end tenancies when they have legitimate reasons to do so, but they will no longer be able to unexpectedly evict families with only eight weeks’ notice.”

It took until June 2022 for the Conservative government to reveal its plan with the Fairer Private Rented Sector White Paper.

So how will the bill change things for 4.6 million private renting households in England?

The main target for the reforms is the abolishment of Section 21 evictions, often called no-fault evictions. Removing the clause from the Housing Act 1988 will allow “security for tenants in the private rented sectors and empower them to challenge poor practice and unfair rent increases without fear of retaliatory eviction”, according to the white paper.

The government will also look to improve standards in rented accommodation with a Decent Homes Standard and explore the introduction of a national landlord register much like the one in operation in Scotland.

The bill will also look to create a new ombudsman for renters to take complaints against landlords without going to court. A new portal to help tenants track their landlord’s performance and hold them to account is also included in the draft legislation plans.

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Under the plans, it will be made illegal for a landlord to bring in a blanket ban on renting to families with children or to people who receive benefits. Tenants will also get the right to ask their landlord if they can keep a pet with landlords forced to consider it. The government said landlords “cannot unreasonably refuse” the tenant’s request.

Overall, the bill is looking to give more power to renters to allow them to exert their rights with ministers taking the view that the power dynamic has shifted too far towards landlords in recent times.

When will the Renters Reform Bill become law?

Four years – and as many prime ministers – have passed since the government announced rental reforms but the Renters Reform Bill is still not law, nor has it been introduced to parliament. 

There is no set time limit for when the bill will come into force and it will now be scrutinised by peers and MPs as it makes its way through parliament.

The legislation must now pass through multiple stages in the House of Lords and the House of Commons before making it into law.

The Renters Reform Bill had its first reading in the Commons on 17 May.

MPs will have the chance to debate the legislation for the first time at its second reading but that will not take place until after the summer recess.

Renting campaigners have warned that families continue to face no-fault evictions while the bill is stalling in Parliament.

Generation Rent said there could potentially be 3,787 evictions over the summer break, following analysis of Ministry of Justice statistics on repossessions. Ben Twomey, chief executive of Generation Rent, said: “We are now seeing the desperate situation in which every 15 minutes over the summer a renter will be packing their bags, not to go on holiday but because they are being evicted from their home.”

Shelter has also criticised the lack of progress in Parliament. The housing charity said 172 families will receive a no-fault eviction notice during the recess, amounting to one every eight minutes. 

Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said: “It is unacceptable that the Renters Reform Bill has made no progress in Parliament, when the very eviction notices the government promised to ban years ago are continuing to land on people’s doorsteps in their droves.”

The bill may also be at risk of being watered down as it passes through parliament. The i reported as many as 30 Tory rebels are set to oppose the legislation in parliament. Many of the rebels are reportedly landlords or have business interests in letting out properties.

How has the Renters Reform Bill been received?

Campaigners, housing and pets charities and consumer rights guru Martin Lewis have all welcomed the publication of the bill.

Lewis had particular praise for the introduction of a private rental ombudsman to settle disputes between landlords and tenants.

“Crucially, it won’t be voluntary, all private landlords will be required to join the ombudsman, and it will have legal authority to compel apologies, take remedial action and pay compensation,” said Lewis.

The plans to protect tenants who have pets also proved popular. Owen Sharp, chief executive of Dogs Trust, called the legislation a “potential gamechanger for dog owners”. 

Michael Webb, the head of policy and public affairs at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, added: “Not only will this bill bring us one step closer to significantly reducing the number of dogs and cats we see being needlessly separated from their owners, it will also open up the many joys of pet ownership to millions of renters in the future.”

Members of the Renters’ Reform Coalition – a group of housing charities and campaigners including Shelter, Generation Rent, tenants union Acorn and more – hailed the progress made in getting the bill to Parliament.

Shelter’s Polly Neate said the bill must have the “teeth needed for real change”.

However, there have been warnings that the bill needs to do more to protect tenants who fall into financial difficulty.

Richard Lane, director of external affairs at debt charity StepChange, said: “The government must ensure PRS tenants experiencing financial hardship get the support they need, including an end to ‘hair-trigger’ evictions for households who fall into rent arrears and an increase in the use of affordable repayment plans, with free advice made available to struggling tenants.”

Has the Section 21 notice been abolished?

It has been four years since ministers promised to axe Section 21 evictions but they are still in operation – and will remain so until the Renters Reform Bill comes into force to stop them for good.

The notice can be issued by private landlords without any requirement to give a reason and critics have long argued that the practice can drive homelessness and mean tenants never have a chance to settle in their homes due to fear of eviction.

Landlords can issue a Section 21 notice for genuine reasons such as anti-social behaviour or the need to reclaim the property from a tenant who is damaging it. But on other occasions they can be used for getting a property back to sell it or — in some cases — for personal reasons if the landlord and tenant have fallen out.

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In fact, tenants who complain about problems with their home are twice as likely to be evicted, a YouGov poll found in March 2023.

Before the pandemic, the loss of a tenancy was the leading driver of homelessness and the government stepped in to ban evictions during the pandemic to prevent people from losing their home.

Since Covid protections were removed, rents have hit record highs and Section 21 evictions have become more prevalent.

More than 60,000 households have asked their local council for support to avoid homelessness after a Section 21 notice in that four-year period.

Thousands of households have seen their homes repossessed by bailiffs following a no-fault eviction in that time.

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It’s important to note that it is not just ministers, campaigners and tenants who think that no-fault evictions need to go, landlords accept that reforms are needed as well.

The National Residential Landlords Association has spoken up in favour of axing them – as long as there is an agreed mechanism to replace them that allows landlords to reclaim properties quickly when needed.

Ben Beadle, the chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, previously said: “Whilst we condemn any landlord who abuses the system, it is vital to remember that the vast majority of tenants and landlords enjoy a good relationship. It is in that spirit that the government should develop its plans for a system to replace Section 21.”

Can a landlord charge whatever they want?

A landlord can charge whatever they like for a property – there is no law setting a maximum amount.

Instead it is up to the property market to define the price a renter pays. For example, if a landlord charges too high of a price then it is unlikely they will find a tenant for the property.

However, the lack of supply in the rental market means rents are hitting record highs, as high demand means landlords can charge more and nearly always find someone to accept the higher rate. This is a problem that is not going to be solved by the Renters Reform Bill. 

Instead, the only answer is an effort to build more affordable homes – a current target for the Westminster government.

However, the bill will mean that renters should not face unfair rent hikes. Arbitrary rent review clauses in tenancy agreements are expected to be scrapped under the reforms, which will restrict tribunals from increasing rents and allow tenants to be repaid rent for living in non-decent homes.

When Office for National Statistics statisticians visited tenants in February 2023 they found half of the renters they spoke to had experienced a rent increase in the previous year.

Despite soaring rents and pleas from London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the Westminster government has rejected calls for rent controls and rent freezes. Government ministers have repeatedly said rent controls do not work, arguing they “discourage investment” and lead to “declining property standards”.

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