Section 21 Evictions

Part of Select Committee on Education – in Westminster Hall at 1:38 pm on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North 1:38 pm, 6th December 2018

Of course it does. As we have been discussing in the context of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, local authorities, because of the sheer pressure of homelessness applications, are also expecting tenants to wait until the court order has been issued and to wait until the bailiffs have been instructed and a date for the bailiffs to arrive has been received before they will consider the homelessness application. Landlords hate that, and one can understand exactly why—because of the insecurity about what happens to their rental payments. But the tenants absolutely loathe it and find it wholly traumatic to have to wait, often with their children, for the bailiffs to turn up before they can be rehoused by the local authority.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last year found that the number of private tenants being evicted had risen by one fifth, that the overwhelming majority of the increase in possessions was driven by section 21, and that that was highly concentrated, with four out of five such repossessions being in London and the south-east, where rents are highest. It is precisely that concentration of section 21 use in certain areas correlating with the areas where market rents have risen most rapidly that I think is a real cause for concern.

The London boroughs identified by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation were all in the top 10 for the largest and fastest market rent increases from an initially low level. Although correlation must be treated cautiously, it is hard not to conclude that there is causation between increases in market rent levels and the use of section 21, whether that involves evicting tenants in rent arrears because of high rent levels, or evicting tenants in order to raise rents.

If anything, the flattening off of possession claims over the period 2015 to 2017—that has flattened from a period when it rose very steeply—has happened at a time when the private rental market has been under pressure from several other directions. It tends to reinforce the point that section 21 use reflects wider trends in relation to rents and that, crucially, we cannot stop worrying about it because there has been something of a flattening off in the last couple of years. If anything, now is the moment when we need to review the law, because if rents start picking up again, as over the longer term they almost certainly will, we will find that there will be a further acceleration in its use.

The Residential Landlords Association makes the case that its research shows that in half of all places where section 21 notices are served, that is because there is an alleged fault, such as rent arrears, but that argument is somewhat undermined by the local authority homelessness experience, because local authority acceptances of people who have been evicted from the private rented sector will happen only after there has been an inquiry into the cause of homelessness and it has been found that the homelessness is not a result of fault on the part of the tenant.

Homelessness is therefore a major factor in our wanting to reconsider the use of section 21, but it is of course only the sharp end of a much wider experience of insecurity. Unchosen ends of tenancies are disruptive, expensive and often traumatic for those involved. Having to make frequent moves, especially for families with children and for vulnerable and older tenants, is a deeply negative experience, even when it has not been imposed by a court order.

Shelter estimates that 27% of renters with children have moved three or more times in the past five years. That takes a toll on physical and mental wellbeing and on educational achievement. It also undermines communities and civic engagement. A very powerful case was made a few years ago by the Electoral Commission on the impact of high turnover and churn in the private rented sector. I know from my own casework, as I am sure all hon. Members do, just how distressing parents—it is not only parents, but it is parents in particular—find it to have to move around, changing schools and disrupting support networks. I could have chosen dozens of cases from my own case load to illustrate that point, but I have chosen the details of just one to read out— it is only a few paragraphs—with your permission, Mr Hollobone.

My constituent says:

“I have lived in this area for over 30 years. Due to overcrowding in our family home I was asked to leave in 2010, at which point I made a housing application to” the local authority. They continue:

The Council accepted a…duty and provided us with temporary accommodation in East London. We stayed in Dagenham for a short while before being lured back to Westminster by the Private Sector Team, reassuring us that this was a better option…When we signed a private tenancy we were promptly notified that the council has discharged its duty towards us because we have accepted private rent. We only rented for a year before the Housing Benefit was reduced under the new welfare reforms. As we could no longer afford the rent, we were obliged to find alternative accommodation”.

Despite their need for three-bedroom accommodation, they moved into two-bedroom accommodation. The council said that it

“could not and would not help us. I have a local connection as I have my family here. I look after my elderly father”,

who has cancer.

“I have 3 dependent children…attending local schools. I sit on the board of governors and play an active role in the…running of the school. I am…a member of the Parent Council.”

My constituent says that they are

“employed…and have served 18 years” in their job in the local area. They say they have been served another

“Section 21 Notice by the landlords Agents requiring possession of the flat on 02nd October.”

That will be the family’s fifth move in eight years. It is a simple example. It involves no fault, no arrears, no bad behaviour on the part of the tenants, but an imposed move of a vulnerable local family, and it is only too typical.

Renting privately is overall less secure than other tenures. Some 860,000 tenants moved between private rentals in 2016, up from 465,000 20 years ago, and one in 10 movers said that their move was down to being given notice by their landlord.

My hon. Friend Alex Sobel talked about retaliatory eviction. A significant minority of tenants fear retaliatory eviction if they make a complaint and so may be deterred from pursuing their rights for fear of the consequences. That unfortunately undermines efforts to improve standards in the private rented sector, despite its having, of all tenures, the highest level of substandard accommodation.