It is very much a concern. I will come on to retaliatory evictions in a minute when I talk about why we are concerned about the use of section 21 and the balancing alternatives.
Abolishing section 21, as my remarks are aimed at, would, in practice, make fixed-term tenancies irrelevant. I know that the Government are also interested in, and have consulted on, longer tenancies, in order to provide greater security in the private rented sector. Although I am sympathetic to that idea, I am increasingly of the view that, rather than adopt an arbitrary target for the length of tenancies, we should change the framework completely and ensure that the default is a longer tenancy, unless and until the landlord has a legitimate need to recover the property or if there is a fault on the part of the tenant. However, as I will remark later, that must be balanced with other changes that meet the legitimate concerns of landlords.
Why do we need to change this framework? The Conservative Government at the time introduced section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 as part of a deregulatory approach to the housing sector, at a time when the private rented sector was in a very different place from now. It had been in long-term decline over a great many decades, and the Government felt that deregulation would be one way to boost it. Indeed, the sector has been utterly transformed from the landscape we saw 30 years ago, doubling to 4.7 million households. That is by no means solely the result of deregulation; the obvious decline in the social housing sector and the crisis in the affordability of home ownership are also important factors.
The sector also now has a very different profile, compared with a few decades ago. For many of us, renting was a transitional housing tenure. When starting out in life, many of us rented privately—I certainly did for several years—but often on the way to home ownership. Very few of us, particularly those who were bringing up families, expected or wanted to be in the private rented sector for life. However, we are now seeing a change in that profile, with four in 10 private renters now families with children. The recent Rugg review demonstrated that the private rented sector is also home to a growing proportion of highly vulnerable tenants who have been discharged into the private rented sector who would previously have been accommodated through the homelessness route. We are also seeing, inevitably, an increase in the number of older tenants who expect to live out their retirement in the private rented sector, which was extremely unusual at the time of the 1988 Act.
If the sector has changed beyond recognition, policy towards it must also change, to address some of the unforeseen consequences of those developments and to make sure that the sector works well and fairly for both tenants and landlords. A healthy rental sector is important for the housing mix, and it is important to acknowledge its flexibility, often as a starter accommodation. It is also absolutely essential to recognise that most landlords are good and responsible and provide a decent quality of accommodation.