Clause 2 - Abolition of assured shorthold tenancies

Part of Renters (Reform) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 21 November 2023.

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Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 10:30, 21 November 2023

Let me start by making it clear that the Opposition welcome Government new clause 18. Although I have not been in Parliament long compared with other Members, I have been here long enough to remember sitting on the Bill Committee for the Housing and Planning Act 2016. Part 3 of that Act, which this new clause repeals, was always a foolish provision, and has rightly never been brought into force. We believe it is right that we rid ourselves of what might be termed statutory dead wood.

Clause 2 will remove section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 and, as the Minister made clear, will abolish assured shorthold tenancies and remove mechanisms by which assured social housing tenants can currently be offered ASTs—for example, as starter tenancies—or be downgraded to an AST as a result of antisocial behaviour. The provisions in this clause, as well as those in clause 1, will be brought into force on a date specified by regulations made by the Secretary of State under clause 67. It is appropriate to raise a very specific issue on this clause. We have just discussed court improvements at length. I know that is not the Minister’s brief, and that this is his first Bill, but I have to say to him that his answers on court reform were not adequate. At some point, the Government will have to explain specifically what improvements they wish to see enacted and on what timeline they will be brought into force. Leaving that aside, can the Minister provide further details on precisely how the Government intend to phase in the provisions in this clause? What consideration, if any, has been given to preventing unintended consequences arising from the proposed staged implementation?

The guidance on tenancy reform that the Government published alongside the Bill on 17 May said:

“We will provide at least six months’ notice of our first implementation date after which all new tenancies will be periodic and governed by the new rules”— that is when they will introduce Part 1, Chapter 1. It continued:

“The date of this will be dependent on when Royal Assent is received”.

I take that to mean that, at some point in the future, a Government Minister will hopefully determine that the court system is, in the their eyes, finally ready to implement the new system—although there is nothing in the Bill to ensure that will happen. He or she would then presumably announce that the first implementation date—that is, the date when all new periodic tenancies come into force—will be six months hence.

I would like the Minister to confirm whether my understanding of how the Government expect the process to develop is correct. If so, can he respond to the concern—the flip side of my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden’s point on a rush to section 21 evictions—that this may create a clear incentive for landlords to offer new tenants a lengthy fixed-term assured tenancy before the new system comes into effect?

If the safeguard in the Government’s mind is that all existing tenancies will transition to the new system on the second implementation date, can the Minister provide any reassurance that the period between the first and second implementation dates will not be overly long? I raise the point because the guidance makes explicit reference to a minimum period between the first and second dates, but does not specify a maximum period after which the second date would have to come into effect. As the Bill stands, it could enable a scenario where all new tenancies become periodic, but there is an extensive period of time where all existing fixed tenancies remain as such. It could be an indefinite period, there is nothing in this Bill to put any time limit on it at all. I look forward to hearing whether the Minister can provide any reassurances in relation to that concern. If he cannot, we may look to table another amendment to account for this loophole, whether it is intended or unintended.