By Joe Cooper
Away from the headline-grabbing news of resigning ethics advisors and the grounding of the first flight to Rwanda, the government today set out its vision for reforming the private rented sector to afford new protections to those in the sector across England.
The Fairer Private Rented Sector White Paper marks what the government describes as a “generational shift that will redress the balance between landlords and 4.4 million private rented tenants”. Today’s announcement has been long in the making, and was something I wrote about just over a year ago. Though the political landscape has shifted since, levelling up the sector and households across England remains one of the key drivers for today’s announcement.
While the While Paper itself is just 86 pages long, I’ve picked out some of the key areas addressed and what their implications are:
An end to no-fault evictions
The headline announcement from today’s White Paper is the intention to outlaw Section 21 notices, more commonly known as “no fault” evictions. Drawn from the 1988 Housing Act, the Section 21 notice has for years enabled landlords to serve notice to end a tenancy at their own discretion and without any “fault” liable to the tenant.
Anyone who has rented will know the shadow that this can cast over your tenancy, and the scale of the problem is undeniable. Some 22 per cent of those who moved in the sector in the past year did not end their tenancy by choice, with nearly 230,000 private renters in England receiving Section 21 notices since 2019. Today’s announcement will go some way to provide the stability and security that is needed for renters.
With Section 21 notices on the way out, the remaining mechanism for landlords to remove tenants is through the Section 8 of the same 1988 Act. This provides 17 grounds on which the landlord can serve notice, including if a tenant has fallen behind on at least three months’ rent. As the post-Section 21 notice market begins to unfold in the coming years, this may well be one of the areas where landlords seek to loosen restrictions.
Extending the ‘decent’ standards to the private rented sector
Another welcome development is the extension of the Decent Homes Standard to the sector for the first time. This means that homes must be free from serious health and safety hazards, while landlords are now obliged to keep homes in a good state of repair, so renters have the facilities they need.
The government rightly points to the progress made in improving standards in the sector, reducing the proportion of non-decent homes from 37 per cent to 21 per cent, but the fact that over one in five homes in the sector remains of a standard below ‘decent’ shows that significant progress is still to be made.
Enshrining the “No DSS” ban in law
Up until a court ruling in July 2020, letting agents and landlords were able to indirectly discriminate against those on welfare through the infamous ‘”No DSS” clause – in reference to the now defunct Department for Social Security. Ending the practice of “No DSS” discrimination had been the subject of campaigns by organisations such as Shelter. Under the government’s proposals, ending this discrimination will be formally enshrined in law, representing a considerable step forward in ending discrimination within the market.
Today’s announcement is not all bad news for landlords, however. Under the government’s proposals, a new Private Renters’ Ombudsman will be established in order to enable resolution to disputes between landlords and tenants so that they are settled quickly and out of court. Elsewhere, the government is also to reform grounds for possession to ensure that landlords have more effective means of possession of their properties in cases of antisocial behaviour from tenants.
In terms of next steps, the government is expected to enshrine this new deal for renters in the Renters Reform Bill, expected in early 2023 later in this Parliamentary session.