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Daniel Lewis - Communications, Policy and Insights Officer

14th November 2023

After spending months in limbo, the Renters (Reform) Bill recently had its Second Reading (the first time MPs can debate a bill in Parliament) and has just entered the committee stage, in which it will be examined in detail.

Its final fate is unknown, but we thought that now might be a good time to explain Glass Door’s perspective on the bill. In our view, it has the potential to reduce the number of people pushed towards homelessness and address some significant issues with the housing market in England, with particular relevance to London (where we are based).

We call on the government and politicians of all political parties to make reform of the rental market a serious priority and not water the bill down or delay the enaction of its key provisions.

First - how did we get here?

The bill’s roots stem from a government consultation from the summer of 2018 in which members of the public (both renters and landlords) and organisations were invited to share their experiences and opinions regarding tenancy lengths and evictions. Responses to the consultation highlighted the insecurity of private renting in England and the negative effects that this insecurity has: making it much more difficult for tenants to plan for the future, disrupting children’s education and leading to many being afraid of challenging problems with their homes in case it leads to them being evicted.

As a result of this consultation, in April 2019 the government announced that it planned to bring an end to Section 21 evictions, which can be issued without any reason and give private tenants just 2 months to find somewhere else to live. There followed another consultation (from July to October of 2019) which received almost 20,000 responses. A “Renters’ Reform Bill” was announced in the Queen’s Speech later that year, and both the Labour and Conservative parties went into the 2019 general election promising reforms to the private rented sector which included an end to Section 21 evictions.

With the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020, almost all previous political priorities were forced to take a back seat while lockdown measures were introduced. As part of the pandemic restrictions, there was a ban on evictions, but this was only a temporary measure which lasted until the end of May 2021. From that point onwards, Section 21 evictions were once again possible.

Over the next two years, reforms to the rental sector, including the promised changes to evictions, continued to be discussed. They were the topic of several white papers (major governmental policy documents) and reports, a number of which Glass Door submitted evidence to. In May 2023, the Renters (Reform) Bill had its long-awaited introduction to the House of Commons, followed by a 5 month pause before having its Second Reading in late October, and reaching the committee stage in mid-November.

The bill will likely continue to make its way through Parliament, and all major parties say that they are still committed to abolishing Section 21 evictions.

However, the government’s latest statements, including in the King’s Speech last week, indicate that this abolition will not come into force until reforms to the court system have taken place, and no timetable has been given for these changes.

What the bill will change

The end of Section 21 evictions is the most important part of the Renters (Reform) Bill, and this could have a significant impact for private renters in England, including the 3 million in London.

According to City Hall, 1 in 3 evictions in England of this kind have been in London, and an average of 290 Londoners a week have been issued with such eviction notices since 2019.

Glass Door caseworkers interact with lots of people who have been issued with Section 21 notices, and our experience on the front-line supports the idea that they play a significant and harmful role in pushing people towards homelessness.

The Renters (Reform) Bill includes a number of other provisions, including:

  • the introduction of a Private Rented Sector Ombudsman to mediate disputes between tenants and landlords
  • the creation of a database of all private landlords
  • increased enforcement powers for local authorities to take on criminal landlords

All of these are potentially promising for Londoners, but their impact will depend very much on the specifics of how they are brought into practice. With regards to enforcement powers, for example, the biggest factor that will affect what happens is the amount of funding and resources that councils have available to make use of the powers they are given.

Another provision of the bill which has been the topic of quite a bit of discussion has to do with pets. The bill will mean that private tenants have the right to ask to have a pet in the house and that the landlord must give a reasonable justification if they do not want them to. It also makes clear that the tenant would have to be responsible for any damage to the property from their pet. Pets are very important to lots of people (including many of those who have previously experienced homelessness) and giving renters greater rights to have pets with them will make where they live feel more like a home. There is yet to be clear, definitive guidance on when it is ‘reasonable’ to say no to pets in the house, but from what can be seen so far, the parts of the bill on pets seem positive.

What the bill will NOT change

It is important to note that, for all the positive effects that the bill might have, it will not address the most important drivers of the housing crisis. It will do very little when it comes to the unaffordability of housing, which can only be tackled by taking serious steps to increase the supply of housing (especially social housing) available.

There are also other more immediate steps that can and should be taken to address the issues with the housing market, such as:

  • raising the Local Housing Allowance
  • applying the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector
  • making it illegal for landlords to refuse to rent to people receiving benefits

The latter two elements were promised in some of the white papers that led to the Renters (Reform) Bill, but not included in the bill itself.

Some have speculated that, far from helping renters, the bill could even hurt them, as increased regulations would reduce the number of rental properties available. However, recent analysis from the cross-party Social Market Foundation think tank indicates that these worries are unfounded, and that the bill would actually bring England into closer alignment with countries with well-functioning and large rental sectors.

The Renters (Reform) Bill will certainly not fix all problems of housing and homelessness, but it could have a positive impact in making renters feel more secure in their homes and have greater options for redress if they are mistreated.

We urge politicians not to delay in passing the bill and enacting its key elements, including the end to Section 21 evictions.