Section 21 Evictions — [Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:27 am on 25 October 2022.

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[Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Labour, Liverpool, Walton 2:30, 25 October 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the potential merits of ending section 21 evictions.

I am grateful to have secured time for a debate on this matter, which continues to affect all our constituents. I start by paying tribute to my constituents in Liverpool, Walton, who are the innocent victims of the country’s current broken housing system.

“Everyone renting in the private sector has the right to feel secure in their home, settled in their community and able to plan for the future with confidence. But millions of responsible tenants could still be uprooted by their landlord with little notice, and often little justification. This is wrong”— those are not my words but the words of Mrs May, who was the Prime Minister in 2019, when the Government first committed to scrapping no-fault evictions. In the three years since, more than 200,000 renters have been evicted—that is the equivalent of an eviction every seven minutes, and that is despite an eviction ban that was in place for 14 months during the pandemic.

Section 21 evictions allow for landlords in the private rented sector to evict tenants from their properties without having to establish any fault on the part of the tenant. When a notice is served, it gives tenants just two months to leave their homes. Even the threat of eviction has detrimental effects on tenants. Section 21 notices mean that tenants are unlikely to exercise other rights, such as the very limited right to challenge rent increases, for fear of retaliatory eviction.

Research by Shelter shows that nearly one in five renters have decided not to complain about poor conditions in their homes for fear of being evicted. I witness that frequently in my constituency. A constituent who visited my office had complained to her landlord about the lack of essential repairs to the front and back doors. The landlord refused to carry them out. After she complained again, she received a section 21 notice in the post, telling her to leave the property. That shows the clear imbalance in power when tenants are held hostage to a bad landlord in an inadequate property.

It is easy to underestimate the dislocating and exhausting experience of someone being evicted from the place they call home: living in limbo; never certain of when their time may be up; having to pack up belongings, leave support networks and potentially change employment —all at immense personal, mental and financial cost. Children being unmoored and having to move schools or leave friends and family behind can have a lifelong impact on learning and development.

My constituency office recently spoke to a constituent who contacted us after being served a section 21 eviction notice. She has been living in her property for 13 years with her two children, aged 12 and two. She suffers from anxiety, and after being told she must leave the property her anxiety has “gone through the roof”. She has never had panic attacks as bad as they are now. She said it is

“exhausting to look after kids at the same time as worrying about where we will end up.”

She told us that being served with the eviction notice was “cruel”, and that

“you should not be able to drop a note through someone’s door telling them to pick their lives up and move on.”

If constituents are removed from properties, they are often placed on long property waiting lists, compounding the sense of uncertainty and insecurity that they experience. I want to take this opportunity to commend local organisations such as Vauxhall and Merseyside law centres, ACORN and my local Liverpool Shelter branch, which carry out fantastic work in almost impossible circumstances to support my constituents in the face of minimal Government support. All MPs here will have similar stories from their own constituents, and may be planning to share their contributions today. Indeed, it was those stories, and the tireless work of the renters’ unions and housing campaigners, that pushed the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, to promise a new deal for renters in 2019.

It will come as little consolation that the Labour party announced in December 2017 that any future manifesto would contain a commitment to remove no-fault evictions. The 2019 Conservative manifesto echoed that commitment, promising the abolition of no-fault evictions so that tenants were

“protected from revenge evictions and rogue landlords”.

Again, those are the Conservatives’ words, not mine. Of course, like many Tory promises, that was not worth the paper it was written on. The two and a half years of the premiership of Boris Johnson passed without any Bill being published.

We have had a consultation, which the Government responded to by again vowing to abolish section 21, but now we find it kicked into the legislative long grass. It was not a priority for the previous Administration and no one knows what the new Government are minded to do—I hope the Minister can shed some light on that today. This is all despite the huge public support for the reform of private renting: some 79% of the public, 80% of Conservative voters and 86% of voters over the age of 65 back greater protections for private renters, according to Generation Rent data.

The private rented sector is dominated and characterised by insecure tenure, increasingly unaffordable rents, poor housing quality and the ever-present risk of eviction. Data from Crisis showed that in the last financial year nearly 20,000 households faced homelessness after receiving a no-fault eviction notice. Losing a private tenancy is the second biggest cause of homelessness in England. If the Government are serious about ending homelessness, what are their reasons for delay? No one should be going homeless.

When we know that private sector tenants have to move more often than people in any other tenure, and then face average moving costs of well over £1,500, we should be doing all we can to ensure that constituents are not pushed into destitution following receipt of a section 21 notice. That is more important than ever in the midst of the current Tory-engineered economic chaos that is causing absolute misery to many people throughout the country.

We are all aware of the huge challenges that our constituents face: the skyrocketing cost of living, food prices at a 40-year high, record energy costs and skyscraping inflation. All those conditions make the need for a safe and secure home more important than ever before. Add to that the dwindling supplies of affordable housing, and more than three decades of deregulation, and it is easy to realise how we have created the toxic conditions that we now find ourselves in.

Where is the Government’s plan to deal with this? It may prove to be too late for many people throughout the country. To use just one example, statistics from the Ministry of Justice show that the situation is not getting better for renters but much, much worse: there was a 52% increase in the number of no-fault evictions between April and June 2022.

Conditions for private renters are continuing to deteriorate, and the Government’s neglect is the cause. That increase in forced evictions took place against the background of 11% inflation, and rent increases of 11.8% outside of London, according to Rightmove. Those rent increases are widespread—data from Shelter shows that 1 million private renters were hit with a rent increase in August 2022 alone—and have a clear knock-on effect: eviction claims for rent arrears are at their highest level since records began.

No one from the Conservative party seems to recognise that rent increases also cause inflation. They are frequently eager to call for pay restraint, or for benefits to be held down, but never for landlords to heed the same advice. The Government continue to consult on a rent cap in the social housing sector. Why is it that private sector tenants are always forgotten about? Announcing the consultation, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said:

“Putting a cap on rent increases for social tenants offers security and stability to families across England.”

Highlighting the potential increases of 11% next year for social tenants, the press release stated that this move would

“prevent rents…from rising significantly.”

When we know that price rises will be the same or potentially higher in the private rented sector, why will the Government not provide the same protection to private renters?

In Scotland, emergency legislation has been announced to freeze rents and establish a six-month moratorium on evictions, for both the private rented and social sectors. That demonstrates that, where the political will exists, action can be taken quickly and decisively to provide relief for tenants. What analysis of that legislation have the UK Government carried out? Would the Government be minded to announce a similar pause on evictions?

A dramatic increase in the availability of buy-to-let mortgages, little growth and access to the social rented sector, and now skyrocketing interest rates caused by a mix of backwards ideology and financial illiteracy, have led to a growth in the number of households renting privately. The lack of housing affordability and tenant security in the private rented sector go hand in hand. The cost of frequent, unwanted moves makes people worse off, and money spent on rent is money that is not spent on putting down a deposit or saving for a mortgage.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

The hon. Member cites the experience in Scotland, where they have had to introduce rent controls on the back of abolishing section 21; is he advocating that we should adopt rent controls for the private rented sector?

Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Labour, Liverpool, Walton

Yes, I am. I thought I had laid out that argument quite clearly. We have a system in which housing benefit subsidises landlords who own property. A much wiser use of that money would be to use it to build new council housing. That saves money in the long run, and allows those living in the properties to have the sense of belonging and security that is vital to wellbeing.

Frankly, successive Governments have not taken this problem seriously enough. The Government must recognise the damaging consequences of this delay and announce what is vital legislation as soon as possible. The promise to abolish no-fault evictions was included in the Conservative manifesto of 2019. The renters reform Bill was included in the Queen’s Speech of December 2019. Three and half years, three Prime Ministers and four Secretaries of State later, that legislation has still not been put before the House.

It is no surprise that many organisations simply do not trust the Conservative party to deliver on these much-needed reforms. Just a few weeks ago, in one of her many U-turns, Elizabeth Truss had to reassure the House that it was her policy to press ahead with banning no-fault evictions, after reports had suggested the opposite. Anyone seeking another example of the Government’s half-hearted approach in this area need look no further. Even today, we see another change in Administration. Who knows whether that manifesto commitment will be kept or tossed aside?

We need to see action, not more delay. That is the very least that private renters deserve. We need to keep tenants in their homes. Will the Government investigate incentives to sell with tenants in situ? What will they do to work more closely with councils to help them to create and buy more social housing? Will they look at unfreezing housing benefit, which is currently lagging way behind rents? Will the Minister explain why social tenants may receive a rent cap, following a consultation, but there have been no similar moves in the private rented sector?

I invite the Minister to meet me and organisations such as the Renters’ Reform Coalition to discuss these matters further. Will he give a clear date for the introduction of legislation? To give security and certainty to tenants, it must be in this parliamentary Session.

Before I finish, I pay tribute again to the fantastic organisations that work in this area, particularly all members of the Renters’ Reform Coalition. To use a term that the Government and their allies hold very dear, the renters reform Bill is oven-ready, so set a date and publish it.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton 2:45, 25 October 2022

It is a pleasure, Ms Nokes, to speak with you in the Chair. I realise that when you are in a minority of one, although you are not necessarily wrong, it probably increases the chances of your being wrong, so I will probably swim against the tide of some of the speeches in this debate.

Before I go any further, I should say that there is no doubt that there is a problem in the private rented sector. Everybody would like to see a solution so that people who want to live in accommodation for the longer term are able to. However, let me take Members back to 1985, if I can. I was a relatively young estate agent in York. If someone wanted to rent a property back then, they had a very limited choice—it was probably between three or four quite dark and shabby two-bedroom terraced houses off Bishopthorpe Road in York. There was so little choice back then because we did not have section 21, so if someone invested in the private rented sector and rented a property out—if they were a landlord—and somebody occupied their property, in effect they did so permanently, if they wanted. Members might think that is a really good idea and the solution to our problems; I fear it would lead to many unintended consequences, as it did back then.

Back then we had rent controls. Dan Carden may say that having rent controls is a really good thing, but it would end up putting layer upon layer of legislation on top of what the Government are currently thinking of doing in terms of the abolition of section 21. That will lead to more and more regulation, which will lead to less and less supply. Ultimately, that is very counter—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but that was the reality of the mid-1980s.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Solicitor General

I know we are not here to talk primarily about rent controls, but they go back to at least 1915. On section 21, the hon. Gentleman may be flogging a dead horse. I do not know whether he has seen the briefing from the National Residential Landlords Association, but it says that 70% of landlords could envisage operating without section 21 and another 8% say that it had never been important to them in the first place. The hon. Gentleman may be defending the landlords’ cause, but they may have accommodated the Government’s position and our position already.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

Like the hon. Gentleman, I have seen that briefing. That means that in effect somewhere between 20% and 30% of supply might go overnight, or go very quickly, and we have seen that in Scotland—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman can shake his head, but it is a reality. We have seen in Scotland a reduction in supply on the back of the abolition of section 21, followed by rent controls.

Back in York in the mid-1980s, what the Government are saying will happen is—

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

On a point of order, Ms Nokes. I do not mean this with any malice, but I think that the hon. Gentleman should refer to his entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

I appreciate that. The hon. Lady could have made an intervention and I would have responded, but she is absolutely right, and I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. For many years, I owned an estate agency lettings business, which I do not own any more. I have, I think, four private rented properties in the private rented sector, but I absolutely do not speak on my own behalf; if anything, I speak on behalf of tenants, because I think that the measures being advocated would lead to a reduction in supply, which would ultimately be massively counterproductive for tenants. That is the conversation we should be having: one about whether or not this idea is good for tenants.

If the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton will just indulge me for a second in terms of responding to his points—he is shaking his head, but if he just listened to my points, it might be useful. Rent controls applied back then. It was not as if rent controls were set according to market value, because there is no market value at that point. As soon as we introduce rent controls, we effectively get rid of market values. That is what happens. Back then the rent offices would compare a property only with other properties that had been rented out, none of which were accessible by the open market. Rent controls take us away from a free market completely.

The Government are also saying that if a landlord needs to reoccupy a property or wants to sell it, they will allow them to do that and ask the tenant to leave on that basis, but that loophole was closed then and it will be closed again. Back then, if someone wanted to ask a tenant to leave, they had to find another house for them. They had to be provided with another house, because the Government did not want that to be used as a back door to getting that tenant out.

Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Labour, Liverpool, Walton

To bring the debate back to the merits of ending section 21 evictions, does the hon. Member think that his Government should deliver on their promises, or should they backtrack on them?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

My speech is very much in the context of section 21, in that the end of section 21 will not be the end of such measures. I do not think we should abolish section 21, certainly not without more measures relating to how we deal with section 8, which is the other mechanism for getting to grips with difficult tenants—difficult not just for the landlord, but for communities. Some 50% of section 21 notices are used to get people who are guilty of criminal or antisocial behaviour out. Let us not forget the impact of what the hon. Gentleman proposes on local communities.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

I have spoken to every single Government Minister about my opposition to their plans. Section 8 uses a court-based process. It takes around eight months to get somebody out of a property using section 8. If a person is guilty of antisocial behaviour or is well behind on the rent—measures cannot be taken until somebody is about two months behind—it will take months. It is not that much of a problem for Legal and General, Grainger, Fizzy Living or whatever. They have thousands of properties. If they have a few dodgy tenants, they can blend that problem across their whole estate, so everybody pays for the tenants who make trouble, do not pay their rent or behave in an antisocial manner. What about the small landlord?

I like it when the Opposition talk about business. They always talk about small and medium-sized businesses, as do I. They say that we should abolish section 21, but if someone with one or two properties has a tenant who does not pay their rent for eight months, for whatever reason, that can be devastating to their investment, so lots of SMEs will exit the marketplace, particularly if we abolish section 21 without first reforming court- based process.

When the section 21 measures were introduced in the Housing Act 1988, we saw a massive increase in supply, which has been very good for tenants. The reality is that in most parts of the country, most yields on properties—the return on capital investment—are pretty low. We are looking at a rental yield of 2% to 4%. Interest rates will be 5%, 6% or higher, so if landlords borrow money to buy a property, most will not get an annual return. Most landlords are not profiteering from the private rented sector—far from it.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that it is appropriate for people who live in rented accommodation to be subject to the vagaries of the market? We are talking about people who live their lives in these homes. What exactly does he envisage they will do in this scenario?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

That is an interesting point. The vast majority of people in the private rented sector are happy with the shorter-term nature of rented accommodation. I wish the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton, would not shake his head and would listen to what I say. There is a cohort of people who want to live in rented accommodation permanently. They want it as their family home. I absolutely agree that the Government should provide accommodation for those people. The Government should invest in this much more, and provide long-term, affordable rented accommodation and social rented accommodation. That is definitely the Government’s job where there is market failure.

I concede that there are market failures for people who want to live in permanent rented accommodation. I am not against the Government stepping in and ensuring that can happen. However, if they step in, tell the private rented sector to ensure that, and set out the rules that apply to someone who wants to make an investment in the sector, the reality is that we will get a reduction in investment in the private rented sector, which will mean a reduction in supply, which will make it more difficult for the tenants on whose behalf Members are speaking. That is the reality of the situation. So, yes: we should make greater public investment in long-term rental accommodation to deal with this issue. However, we should not tell landlords, who invest their private money in the private rented sector, that they have to let their property for life, which is what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton is considering.

If the hon. Gentleman wants the private rented sector to do that, a way of dealing with the issue would be to offer incentives for that. We could look at capital gains tax, for example; perhaps people who are willing to rent their property for a much longer period—for five or 10 years, or maybe even for life—could get beneficial capital gains tax treatment. Alternatively, we could reverse some of the changes we made in the Finance (No. 2) Act 2015, in which we restricted mortgage interest in the private rented sector; that was pretty damaging for lots of landlords in the sector. We could say to landlords, “We are no longer limiting the way you can deduct interest against your annual rental income, as long as you’re willing to rent your property out for longer, or for life, to give security of tenure to those kinds of tenants.”

I will conclude very shortly, Ms Nokes. The other unintended consequence of what the hon. Gentleman proposes is that private rented sector landlords will prioritise the best tenants. They will not take a risk because of concerns about non-payment of rent. You are going to disadvantage the people you seek to protect through the measures that the Government are planning and that the Opposition

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

I am ever so sorry. That is the first time I have done that in seven years in this place. What is being proposed will disadvantage the people the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton, seeks to protect.

I am fully convinced the Government will push ahead with the proposals, and that the Opposition will double down on this if they ever get into Government. I am just saying that they should be careful what they wish for, because this would be very damaging for the people they seek to protect.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs) 2:57, 25 October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Nokes. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I have a quarter share in a private rental somewhere in the country—it was an accidental rental. I thank my hon. Friend Dan Carden, for bringing this issue to the House and giving us the opportunity to talk about it today. His speech was absolutely excellent. I am grateful for the chance to add my two penn’orth.

As we should all know by now, the economic crisis is putting families at financial risk. Spiking mortgage rates are not just affecting homeowners, but causing massive worries to renters, so it was appalling to see reports that the Government were going to drop rental reform. The Conservative party has promised these reforms over and again without, it appears, ever starting to act on its promise. I can only hope that the incoming Prime Minister will see how the issues of economic stability, renters’ rights and homelessness are linked, but I am not holding my breath. To help families in this country, mortgage rate projections need to come down, inflation needs to be controlled and the economic damage done by this Conservative Government over years needs to be repaired. We can surely all see that. To prevent homelessness from rising even further, the Government need to repair their policy on renters’ rights as well, which means honouring the promise in the Conservative manifesto and finally ending section 21.

Let me tell the Minister a little bit about Newham, just in case he has not come across it during his tenure. We have the highest homelessness rate and the second highest child poverty rate in the country. At the last count, before the cost of living crisis hit, one in 22 people in Newham was homeless. That mostly means that families are stuck in poor-quality temporary accommodation month after month, year after year. That can be a hotel with no facilities for cooking or for washing clothes, and there is a huge cost to the council and a massive cost to those who wait. Imagine having children but no cooking facilities at all. Imagine how expensive and unhealthy that is. In those circumstances, it is massively difficult for people to live a normal life and to give their children the opportunities that all our children deserve. How much worse will that get now, with rents, bills and mortgages all rocketing? We have seen estimates that private rents in London have increased by as much as 16% over the past year. Whose wages are going up by that much?

Let me talk about Syeda, who has been on the waiting list for social housing in Newham for 15 years. She lives with her husband and three children in a basement flat. She and all her children, who are between the ages of five and 18, sleep in one room. Her children are afraid to sleep alone because of the recurring rat infestation, and they have to do their homework on the floor. Understandably, they are falling behind at school. Syeda’s children have increasing breathing difficulties and frequent illnesses because of the severe damp and mould. Syeda has a disability, which makes getting up and down the stairs to the flat very difficult. Unsurprisingly, her mental health is damaged by the family’s awful living situation.

Syeda’s landlord has served them with a section 21 notice, and her family are on the verge of homelessness. The landlord says they want to make comprehensive repairs—from hearing the description, that is absolutely necessary—but instead of recognising the duty that they owe their existing tenants, they are ending the contract. They will no doubt seek a massively higher rent from new tenants once—or if, frankly—any repairs have been effected. Section 21 gives exploitative landlords a free hand to abuse families such as Syeda’s. It makes it much easier for rents to be ramped up far beyond what local people can afford and, frankly, what the property is worth.

Morgan is a single mum of four who already works almost full time. One of her children has a disability. Morgan is on the local housing register and has been waiting for a social home for 18 years. That would be shocking if it was not normal. Until she found her flat, Morgan was in temporary accommodation. She and her children were moved five times from place to place, and had to deal with rats, mould and the additional cost that moving entailed. Her current home ain’t great. It is in bad disrepair, with mould, leaks and broken lights. The flat costs Morgan £1,800 a calendar month—barely affordable even before prices started to increase so much. Having the flat avoids the need for constant moving and the consequent costs, and it is close to Morgan’s work and her children’s schools, but the landlord wants to increase her rent for that poorly maintained flat to £2,500 per month—an almost 50% increase. It beggars belief.

What can Morgan do when the law is on the landlord’s side? What will the Government do to help Morgan and the hundreds of thousands of Morgans and Syedas? I want to hear a really clear reassurance from the Minister that this Government will bring forward a Bill to abolish section 21, and will implement the comprehensive protections for renters that are urgently and desperately needed. If rapid progress is not made, there is surely only one conclusion that we can draw: that this Government and their previous incarnations in the past 12 years have not given a stuff for the plight of renters in Newham, London and across this country. What we need, not just for renters but for the entire fabric of our society, is a general election, and a Labour Government, now.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 3:05, 25 October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Nokes. I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I, too, think that we need reform for renters. I disagree with Kevin Hollinrake that all landlords think that that would be detrimental to them. There has to be a partnership between landlords and renters, and in most cases that goes very well, but we need to protect renters more. That is my firm conviction as a landlord and as a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament.

As the cost of living rises, people in my constituency facing a choice between paying unsustainable rent or becoming homeless. People have been put in a desperate situation, one that is shameful for the fifth richest country in the world. Severe shortages of social housing mean that more people depend on the private rental market, which can be expensive and insecure.

Section 21 evictions make these issues worse. They tie renters into insecure situations and leave landlords with total control. Earlier this year, Shelter found that since the Government’s original commitment to the ban, more than 200,000 private renters were served with a section 21 eviction notice. That gives private renters just two months to find another home, uprooting their entire life, as we have heard. Section 21 evictions create a culture of fear among private renters. They give landlords the leverage to exert undue power. Private renters may complain to their landlord about problems that the landlord should fix, including damp and mould, but in the case of rogue landlords, that sometimes makes it even more likely that they will face eviction. Indeed, private renters who complain about such issues are almost twice as likely to be evicted within six months than those who say nothing. We are creating an atmosphere of fear: people do not say to their landlord directly what needs sorting out, although they are living in unsuitable accommodation. As a landlord, I do not want that. I want people to have good housing, and I do not want other private landlords to get away with providing unsuitable accommodation. People should never be forced to live in poor conditions because they are frightened of an unreasonable landlord.

Shorthold tenancies leave renters at risk of significant rent increases and unfair no-fault evictions. The English housing survey found that a quarter of private renting households in England were finding it difficult to pay rent. The south-west is particularly struggling. Rent prices are soaring in my constituency of Bath. I see constituent after constituent who is at the end of what they can do; they are in a desperate situation.

Renters are already experiencing excruciating pressure. The support has not kept up with the real cost of living and the real cost of renting. That leaves people with a choice of either paying rent or buying food. Numerous organisations have warned that the current crisis will increase homelessness. Section 21, which is already a leading cause of homelessness, will make that even worse. Nearly 20,000 households in England faced homelessness last year as a result of section 21. The number is set to rise in the cost of living crisis.

Our renting laws provide little security. They make it very difficult to plan for eviction. Renters have been living with huge uncertainty during the recent economic shocks. Research by Shelter found that last year nearly 40% of private renters felt anxious and experienced increased mental health issues because of housing problems. People are being placed under horrific stress by rising bills and prices. We must do all we can to ensure that tenants have a safe place to live. Ending section 21 evictions should be just the start. We must promote longer tenancies to give renters more security. We must unfreeze the local housing allowance to ensure that benefits are closely aligned with rent rates, and we need to introduce mandatory licensing to stop rogue landlords once and for all.

The Liberal Democrats would introduce a new regulator for all private renters and require all private landlords with more than 25 homes to register with it. I personally would go further; everybody should register, so that we can make sure that we have only good rented accommodation for renters in this country, who will increase in number. More and more people live in rented homes. People are worrying about whether they will have a roof over their head. We have a new Government; where is the promised reform? I call on the new Prime Minister to end section 21 evictions. Today would be a good day, or maybe tomorrow or next week. Please ban section 21 evictions now, Prime Minister.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West 3:10, 25 October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Ms Nokes. I congratulate my hon. Friend Dan Carden on securing this debate and on his excellent opening speech; he is a powerful advocate for his constituents.

All private renters deserve a safe and secure home. According to the charity Crisis, 4.4 million households live in the private rented sector, including 1.3 million families with children and 382,000 households over the age of 65. Government statistics show that nearly 20,000 households in England faced homelessness in the last financial year, after having received a section 21, or no-fault, eviction notice. It shows that evictions more than doubled in the last year and are a leading cause of homelessness in England. Although there are landlords who use section 21 properly—for a host of reasons, including to combat things such as antisocial behaviour—Shelter has highlighted that there is a significant proportion of rogue landlords, who use section 21 as an excuse to shirk their responsibilities, preventing tenants from accessing safe, decent and secure homes.

In its 2019 manifesto, the Conservative party pledged a “better deal for renters”, including abolishing no-fault evictions. This year’s Queen’s Speech included a rental reform Bill, one of the main elements of which was to abolish no-fault evictions by removing section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. According to the Government, doing so would provide security for tenants in the private rented sector, and empower them to challenge poor practice and unfair rent increases without fear of retaliatory eviction. That Bill was meant to be introduced during this parliamentary Session, but just a few weeks ago it was reported that the then Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Mr Clarke, was reviewing the policy, and that banning no-fault evictions could be delayed or even scrapped altogether. Two weeks ago, the then Prime Minister was forced to confirm that the ban would go ahead as planned. It is interesting to note that the then Secretary of State said last week that the Government would

“introduce the rental reform Bill in the course of this Parliament.”—[Official Report, 17 October 2022; Vol. 720, c. 355.]

That was echoed by the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Andrew Stephenson, who said in response to a written question just yesterday:

“Ensuring a fair deal for renters remains a priority for the Government. We intend to legislate in this parliament.”

I hope that the Minister can give us a guarantee today, given that we have another new Prime Minister—our third in a matter of months—that the commitment to banning no-fault evictions will remain the Government’s policy. I hope he can show that the matter needs dealing with as a matter of urgency and commit to bringing forward a ban as soon as possible, because private renters really cannot wait.

Crisis is clear that banning no-fault evictions will help to reduce the number of people pushed into homelessness. However, a ban could risk an increase in evictions through unaffordable rent rises. The Government need to ensure that there are effective protections against that. Rents are increasing sharply across the country. According to the property website Rightmove, in July this year the average advertised rent outside London was 11.8% higher than the year before; in London, it was up by 15.8%. In August, Shelter reported that more than 3,400 households in the private rented sector were evicted by bailiffs between April and June this year—up 39% on the previous quarter.

Research by Shelter found that 64% of private renters said the current economic climate meant that, if they were evicted, they would struggle to afford the cost of moving. This could put more people at risk of becoming homeless. It could also risk private renters being pushed into illegal renting arrangements to make their rent more affordable because they feel they have no other choice, creating situations whereby renters are not named on tenancy contracts and are therefore powerless to get in touch with landlords over mould, damp and other maintenance issues.

Eviction causes misery, bringing uncertainty, upheaval and financial anxiety. The Government must take action and reaffirm their commitment to ending section 21 no-fault evictions as a matter of urgency. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some solid news this afternoon and a date by which that is going to happen.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central 3:14, 25 October 2022

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Ms Nokes. I congratulate my hon. Friend Dan Carden on his excellent introduction to the debate.

For far too long, housing has been an investment as opposed to a human right. That is why it is so important that we start turning the equation around and ensuring that everybody has access to housing. The reality is that few people want to live in the private rented sector. They aspire to have a home that they can call their own, but as rents increase, they are unable to save up to live the dream. It is important that we build the housing stock required to meet need now and in the future.

Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Labour, Liverpool, Walton

There has been discussion about who exactly is in the private rented sector. People may not wish to live long term in the private rented sector, but too many of our constituents are trapped there. The travesty of this Government is that their economic chaos has probably led hundreds of thousands of people in areas such as mine, who would have wanted to get on the housing ladder in the next couple of months and years, to rethink their plans and stay put.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Many people saved up for that much-wanted mortgage, and events in recent days have meant their sales disappearing before their very eyes. Demand for property is outstripping supply, which means that the availability of property is such that hope is fading fast for so many people.

This issue is about power and control—about who has wealth and who has none in our country. More and more is being extracted from people who are desperate just to have a level playing field. That is why this debate is so important. If a Government have given their word to the electorate, they should keep it—not least when we are dealing with a significant housing crisis. York so exemplifies a place where there is housing chaos and challenge that I would invite the Minister—if he remains in his place this afternoon—to visit us and see what is really happening.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

I will continue my speech for the moment, if I may. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton highlighted the sudden 52% increase in the number of evictions this year. There is a reason for that, and Kevin Hollinrake referred to it: section 24 of the Finance (No. 2) Act 2015.

We have to look at cause and effect in relation to evictions. In came legislation to curb the advantages of the buy-to-let market, meaning that landlords did not get the tax advantages they had previously had. As a result, they are in negative equity, and are therefore looking at how they can derive a profit. I see that happening in two ways in my constituency: first, landlords putting up rents significantly so that they can break even on their investment; and, secondly, landlords evicting tenants, either to put up rents—that is rare—or to flip the house over to become an Airbnb.

In my constituency, we have seen a sharp increase in the short-term holiday let market. The statistics for whole properties show that back in January 2018 there were 973. Now there are 2,118. That decreases the supply of available housing even more, so if more demand is placed on the market, up go the rents again. People in York are pulling their children out of school, giving notice on their jobs and moving out of the area. That has skewed the local economy. We cannot recruit to our public services, and we are in rapid decline, because those 2,000 homes were built to be residential. With a council that is not building, the market is rapidly becoming overheated; it is broken. When someone can make £700 over a weekend on a property—a party house, as we see in the Airbnb market in York—or £945 on rent every month, why would they hang around and not flip their property? That is how the section 21 notices are being used in the residential areas of York. It is breaking communities and harming the market. It also shows how broken the whole market is.

On top of that, the local housing allowance does not meet the levels required, for people who would much prefer to be in social housing. We have to look at the broad rental market area, which is far too large. When there is a heated-up housing market, people who cannot get into social housing also cannot get into private housing, and they have nowhere to go.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

The hon. Lady is making a good point about holiday homes. Does she concede that section 24, which limits mortgage interest for people who provide homes to the private rented sector but does not apply to holiday homes, is one incentive to make a property a holiday home? If section 21 were abolished, there would be at least two reasons to provide a holiday home, rather than a property to the private rented sector.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

The hon. Member makes a point, but it is not an either/or scenario. I appreciate that it is a mess, but the Government have to mop up that mess, as it is of their own making. The fact we have seen landlords rapidly flip their properties demonstrates the urgency of addressing the issue.

I hope hon. Members will support my private Member’s Bill—the Short-term and Holiday-let Accommodation (Licensing) Bill—which is due to have its Second Reading on 9 December. I am looking to license the short-term holiday let market to provide security and allow local authorities the control to prevent some of that flipping. We have to get to the source of the problems. I trust the Minister will address that today.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:21, 25 October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I thank and commend Dan Carden for setting the scene. In Northern Ireland, we do not have section 21 evictions. We have a different system. However, I want to add my support to what the hon. Gentleman and other Members have said.

In the 2019 Queen’s Speech, the Government led by Mrs May stated that abolishing section 21 evictions was one of the main housing priorities. Sadly, today’s debate shows that that was not the case. This issue is so important. Although we do not have section 21 notices in Northern Ireland, housing uncertainty is an issue across the whole UK, so it is great to be here to discuss what we can do to ensure stable housing for our constituents. There are colleagues here who have constituents who are clearly under pressure.

Since the Queen’s Speech in 2019, it has been reported that over 25,000 evictions have been handed out. That is 25,000 families plunged into complete disarray, with their security and shelter taken away. While I understand that there are circumstances where landlords may have to ask their tenants to leave the property, it is completely unjustified to give them no reason and no time to get an alternative property organised. The number of claims under section 21 legislation has fallen since 2019, purely down to the eviction ban over lockdown. Now we are back to some sense of normality, there is no doubt this fear for private renters is back on the rise. As life returns to normal, evictions are back on the agenda.

Back home in Northern Ireland, the rental sector falls under the Department for Communities, as opposed to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities here on the mainland. Under Housing Rights guidelines, there are a set of rules that landlords must follow. If they are not abided by, the council has a right to consider prosecution. Notice is one of the key features of the process, and it depends on how long the tenant has been renting from the landlord. There are 8,406 private rental transactions in Northern Ireland—a 1.3% increase since 2018.

The three council areas that fall into my constituency area are Ards and North Down, Lisburn and Castlereagh, and Newry, Mourne and Down. The highest number of private rentals is in Ards and North Down, where my constituency office lies, with 988 people renting privately. In addition, Ards and North Down has one of the highest average rental prices at £627 per month. I know that does not sound a lot when I hear Ms Brown refer to £1,800, but for those back home on a reduced wage it is difficult to match that every month.

We must take action to ensure that our constituents have security of tenure, especially in the coming months, when the rising of living and the cold winter pose further risks for those in fear of being evicted from their properties. Homelessness is a massive issue across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Statutory homelessness figures for England revealed a 105% surge in families facing eviction, which is again very worrying.

In addition, there are already 20,000 people declared homeless in Northern Ireland. I have no doubt that a percentage of those figures are down to unjust evictions through section 21 notices. The Big Issue and Shelter have been instrumental in rental reform and challenging the Government on delays in introducing legislation this parliamentary term to tackle unjust evictions. There is no doubt there is a clear divide in opinion on the issue. However, with the current rise in the cost of living crisis, our constituents need our assurance that we are here to support them and act for them.

I call on the Minister and the new Prime Minister, where the responsibility now lies, to ensure that the legislation is fixed to protect our constituents from homelessness this winter and beyond. I also call on the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to listen to the concerns of tenants and landlords who have the interest of tenant safety and housing stability at the centre and close to their hearts.

It is a pleasure to see the Minister in his place. He answered me very well in a debate last Thursday, and we were all encouraged by that. No pressure, Minister, but we are looking for the same level of response today. There is a Government commitment and I want to see that on paper, in action and legislated for. I also want to ensure that discussions are initiated with relevant Ministers of the devolved Administrations to ensure that Northern Ireland and Scotland, which have different legislation, are not left behind.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Solicitor General 3:27, 25 October 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Ms Nokes, and to take part in a debate instigated by my hon. Friend Dan Carden.

I will start by trying to agree with Kevin Hollinrake on this point at least: it is a complex matter to get rid of section 21. Just doing so is not going to be an answer to all our problems in the private rented sector or the housing market as a whole. He took us back to 1985—somewhere I am always happier, politics apart. The housing market was very different in those days. We had just had the Housing Act 1985, which introduced secure tenancy for local authority tenants. A few years later, the Housing Act 1988 introduced assured tenancies, which are still the default tenancy, and are the main—should be the exclusive—tenancy for other social landlords, such as housing associations. We also had protected and controlled tenancies. Other Members with constituencies such as mine, with large private rented sectors, will still come across some protected tenancies, which predate that Act. Generally speaking, those tenants have had, by definition, decades-long good relationships with landlords, fuelled by the fact that they not only have security but a degree of rent control—a fair rent, though not entirely.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

That is an interesting point, but the hon. Gentleman will concede that when trying to sell a property with a protected tenancy, the value is usually about 30% below market value. If he is suggesting that that would be the effect of abolishing section 21, that would have a very detrimental effect on property values throughout the country.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Solicitor General

I will develop my argument and hope to take in that point.

I was giving the background to saying that the one thing that dramatically changed—one of the most fundamental changes in housing law, in the Housing Act 1988—was the ability to opt out of an assured tenancy and create an assured shorthold tenancy. Some social landlords do that; I deprecate it, but they do. Certainly, most private landlords would do that. That was a real change: introducing the free market, changing the relationship between landlord and tenant, and treating people’s homes as commodities for the first time. It is not that most landlords are not well intentioned or do not look after their tenants or, indeed, that they are not entitled to make a return on their investments, but I fundamentally believe there is a slightly different relationship because we are dealing with someone’s home.

The dramatic effect of that is disguised by the fact that—even in 1989, after council house sales had been going for most of a decade but had not really taken off—we still had a thriving social housing market in the 1980s. It was the first port of call for people who wanted a secure home in the rented sector. That disguised the full effect of assured shorthold tenancy and section 21. The briefing we have from Crisis for this debate tells us that 1.3 million families with children now live in the private rented sector of nearly 4.5 million households. I am sure that most of them would prefer the security and affordability of living in the social housing sector, but that is simply not open to them.

The dramatic decline in social housing really began with austerity in 2010, with the almost complete eradication of the social housing grant, after which more and more pressures and misery were piled on social landlords. Post Grenfell, we now have essential work on fire safety, but it is costing individual landlords tens of millions of pounds and they are getting very little of that back from the building safety fund. There is also retrofitting to comply with environmental standards. There are all those issues, along with the lack of resources among housing associations.

I have a major housing association in my constituency that has no build programme until at least 2030. It is selling off hundreds of its properties as they become void, just to make ends meet. The social housing that was the first port of call for people who wanted secure, affordable rented accommodation is no longer there for many people. As for the other source, which was through planning gain, I am afraid we are still—despite the best efforts of the Mayor of London and others, along with individual councils—subject to viability assessments. Therefore, we are not in any way delivering the degree of social housing that we need to.

Such is the context in which we see the private rented sector. It will take time and a Labour Government, I am afraid, to turn that round. I wish the last Labour Government had done more on building social housing and possibly on reforming the private rented sector. Yet as I say, the problems were not as apparent then; they are now. It will take years to build the properties we need. To make the substantive changes in the law, we probably need another major piece of housing legislation. In the time it takes to turn that round, the private rented sector has to be reformed; that is a quicker option. That includes getting rid of no-fault evictions to give people that basic security, but that will not be sufficient in itself. It has to be done in the round.

We have to look at rent levels; if landlords can put rents up as high as they want to, that will just be another way of evicting people without due cause. We have to look at disrepair, which is worse than I have seen it for 20 or 30 years. We have to look at what the exemptions and exceptions are that would allow a landlord to evict. Clearly, there have to be some, but if there are too many and they are too vague, we will simply be replacing one type of no-fault eviction with another.

I do not say all that to get the Government to say, “We will take this away and bring it back in a couple of years’ time.” We would like the Minister to keep the promise that has been made. I know it was a couple of Prime Ministers ago—I think it was last week—but I think we heard from Elizabeth Truss that this was still part of the legislative agenda. I hope it still is and I hope they get on with it and do it. What they must not do is think that that is the end of the matter. We will have to wait for a Labour Government to have wholesale housing reform, but if the Minister is going to surprise me on that, I will be very grateful.

This is my last point. I mentioned earlier that the National Residential Landlords Association had given a very thoughtful briefing for this debate. As a body, it is helpful in engaging with people, including with tenants’ organisations and trying to represent decent landlords in that way—all their members probably are decent landlords, because indecent landlords would probably not be members of the NRLA. It specifically mentioned improving tenants’ access to legal support. That is absolutely vital, whereas other things that the Government are doing are not.

If tenants want to challenge matters—even section 21 notices can be challenged if they have not been properly served or executed, or if there are other matters, or if there has been harassment—legal advice is very important. Next April, the Government will impose fixed recoverable costs, which means that not-for-profit organisations such as law centres and those few solicitors who still operate under legal aid will not be able to subsidise their housing work by recovering costs inter partes in that way. I have nothing against fixed recoverable costs in principle, but in practice they will mean a further collapse in the housing legal sector, which in turn will mean that it will be increasingly difficult for people to challenge matters.

The other issues that the NRLA raised are local housing allowance and universal credit, including the delay in paying universal credit, and the gap between what housing allowance gives and the actual cost of properties. Those are all legitimate points. If the Government think they will get a big tick from the private rented sector—any part of it—simply by dealing with the section 21 issue, I need to disabuse the Minister of that notion. Nevertheless, we would like to hear a little more confirmation about what the Government are going to do to about the situation—most of these people, whether they would prefer to be in social housing or to be owner-occupiers, increasingly do not want to be in the private rented sector.

If we had a decent and thriving private rented sector, then some people would make it their first choice, but many people are in the sector because they have no other option. They have run out of options in terms of their living conditions, their overcrowding, their security and the amount of rent they have to pay. The sector needs a proper look. Since the Housing Act 1988, we have declined into a society in which people’s right to a decent home—that is a human right, although if we are going to have another change of Lord Chancellor, perhaps it will not remain one for very long—has declined. The Government need to look at this sector in the round. They cannot just say, “We will do one or two piecemeal things”. They cannot tinker with the housing market; it needs full, wholesale reform.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:37, 25 October 2022

It is a pleasure, Ms Nokes, to serve with you in the Chair.

This has been an important and timely debate because, as we have heard in the many excellent contributions this afternoon, the problems inherent in a sector that for far too many renters has always been characterised by insecurity, high rents and poor conditions, have become far more acute over recent months, as those renting privately struggle to cope with the impact of high inflation and rising prices.

I start by congratulating my hon. Friend Dan Carden on securing the debate and on the characteristically powerful way in which he opened it. He always speaks with strength and clarity on behalf of his constituents and he did so again today, making a powerful case that overhauling the private rented sector in Liverpool and across the country is a matter of the utmost urgency.

I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for West Ham (Ms Brown), for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), as well as the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), for their excellent contributions. Although there are common problems and solutions, I am always mindful of the fact that there are different “geographies” of renting and challenges that are specific to certain parts of the country. The debate usefully highlighted that point.

Doubtless it was not the choice of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton, but when I read the title of this debate late last week it struck me as somewhat odd, given its implicit suggestion that the merits of ending section 21 evictions are still essentially being contested. While there are, of course, those who remain resolutely opposed to reform of any kind, the reality is that there is now a broad political consensus on the need to ban these so-called no-fault evictions. It is obvious why such a consensus exists. As things stand, and as we have heard again today, landlords can evict tenants, after giving as little as two months’ notice, at any point after their fixed-term tenancy has come to an end. They do not have to give a reason for doing so, or even have one.

As a result, large numbers of private renters live day to day in the knowledge that they could be uprooted with little notice and minimal justification, if any. With the threat of summary evictions hanging over them, a significant proportion of those people concentrated at the lower end of the private rental market, who have little or no purchasing power, have to put up with appalling conditions for fear that a complaint will lead to an instant retaliatory eviction. Far too many tenants are evicted each year using a section 21 notice, which is why it is a leading cause of homelessness in England. Abolishing section 21 no-fault evictions is therefore long overdue and will give private renters much-needed security in their homes.

The available evidence also suggests that scrapping section 21 is likely to provide private renters with greater certainty and control over their lives without any corresponding detrimental consequences—unintended or otherwise—or disruption. I draw the attention of Kevin Hollinrake to research carried out by Shelter into the impact of the effective abolition of no-fault evictions in Scotland, following the introduction of new private residential tenancy agreements there in 2017. It found that the measure had no discernible impact on either the size or functioning of the private rented sector there, or on increased levels of homelessness.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

I add my thanks to Dan Carden for bringing forward the debate. He raised some good points at the start of his speech, which we should consider.

Matthew Pennycook might be interested to know that, in the past year, UK rents have risen fastest in Scotland. If he was including me among the people who do not want any reform, then he should not: I absolutely do want to see reform. I would like to see property rental standards that landlords must adhere to, and reforms of the section 21 process, but just not the abolition we are talking about today.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I deliberately did not assign to the hon. Gentleman a blanket position of “no reform”, but I think that, on this point, he is fundamentally wrong. We need reform, on section 21 and more widely; I will come on to that point.

That research for Shelter is telling because the predictions made by landlord groups in Scotland prior to the introduction of PRT agreements, including that they would kill the sector entirely, have ultimately not come to pass. We should have that at the forefront of our minds when vested interests in the English sector warn of the dire consequences of renters reform.

We in the Opposition still appreciate that good landlords may still harbour concerns about how reform will impact them. We recognise that when section 21 evictions are finally abolished, landlords will need recourse to robust and effective grounds for possession in circumstances where there are good reasons for taking a property back—for example, anti-social or criminal behaviour. We also share the sector’s concern about how ongoing delays in court proceedings could impact on a landlord’s ability to make use of such grounds. However, it is a welcome sign that most landlords and landlord associations now appreciate that greater security and better rights and conditions for tenants are the future of the lettings sector.

When it comes to reforming the private rented sector, scrapping section 21 evictions is obviously not the end of the matter. Among a wide range of necessary measures, we need action on standards to address the shameful fact that one in five private rented homes does not meet the decent homes standard, and one in 10 has a category 1 hazard posing a risk of serious harm. We need changes to landlord-to-tenant notice periods and a national register of landlords. We must make it illegal for landlords and agents to refuse to let to renters claiming benefits, and we need effective measures to address unreasonable within-tenancy rises.

Those go alongside other reforms that are desperately needed. As my hon. Friend the Member for York Central will know, we have argued for many months in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill Committee that the Government must act with far more urgency on the growing short-term and holiday lets sector. That is why Labour has made clear that, in Government, we will introduce a new renters’ charter, a new statutory decent homes standard, and take action on short-term and holiday lets.

Thankfully, there is significant consensus across the Chamber on the need to reform the sector more fundamentally, and a number of the measures that I have just outlined were in the White Paper published by the Government earlier this year. The problem is that, as things stand, not only do we not have any firm parliamentary timeline for a renters reform Bill, but, given the disarray within Government, we do not even have the certainty that one will ultimately come forward in this Parliament or, if it eventually does, that it will contain all the proposals set out in the White Paper. As such, I would like to use the opportunity presented by this debate to ask the Minister two simple questions to which private renters following our proceedings will expect answers.

First—as many hon. Members have asked today, and as I have asked many times without receiving a satisfactory answer—when do the Government plan to finally introduce a renters reform Bill? It was in the Conservative party manifesto, so presumably the Government intend to have it secure Royal Assent before the end of this Parliament. However, the Minister must appreciate that private renters facing a difficult winter cannot wait until 2024 for the Government to act. If they introduced emergency legislation, we would support it, but private renters deserve at least some assurance today that the Government will make that a priority.

Secondly, can the Minister confirm that if and when it is finally published, the promised renters reform Bill will contain all 12 of the proposed reforms set out in the White Paper? The last piece of legislation that fundamentally altered the relationship between landlord and tenant in England was the Housing Act 1988, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith rightly made clear in incredible detail, the private rented sector has changed beyond recognition in the more than three decades since that legislation was put on the statute book. It is simply no longer possible to regard its role as primarily a residual tenure for those temporarily unable to access owner occupation or social housing.

Some 11 million people now rent from a private landlord. As well as the young and mobile, the sector now houses many older people and families with young children, for whom greater security and certainty is essential to a flourishing life. At the end of the day, that is what we need to be thinking about here—not the price of housing or the commodification elements involved in the sector. To ensure that private renters get a fair deal, we in this place need to transform how the private rented sector is regulated and level the playing field between landlords and tenants.

As hon. members have said, it is now well over three years since the Conservative Administration of Mrs May promised to abolish section 21 no-fault evictions. In that time, over 45,000 households have been threatened with homelessness as a result of section 21 evictions, and the figures released so far this year suggest that possession claims resulting from them are increasing markedly as the cost of living crisis intensifies. It is high time that the Government stopped talking a good game about renters reform and got on with legislating for it, and the Minister needs to make it clear this afternoon that they will do so.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 3:46, 25 October 2022

It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Nokes. I thank all hon. Members present for their considered contributions to the debate. It was valuable to hear real-life examples from different Members’ constituencies. To those who have invited me to visit, such as Rachael Maskell, I say that I will be delighted to do so if I remain in post.

I thank Dan Carden for securing this important debate on the merits of ending section 21 evictions. He made a number of pertinent points regarding issues in the private rented sector. Those issues are faced in all our constituencies, including my own constituency of Pendle, and the Government are committed to tackling them.

As Members will know, the private rented sector is the second largest tenure in England. More than 11 million people call the private rented sector home, and it represents around 19% of households in England. Many of those households—1.3 million of them—are families with children. It is right that they and all tenants feel that their rented house is a home and that they can take jobs and start schooling, confident in the knowledge that they have long-term security. Right now, families across the country are worried about having to uproot their lives at short notice, and millions of tenants have less security than those who own their own homes or are in social housing. That does not need to be the case and should not be.

Everyone deserves a secure and safe home, and the Government are committed to ensuring a fair deal for renters. To do that, we will introduce a renters reform Bill in this Parliament to protect tenants, support responsible landlords and improve standards across the private rented sector. The reforms will be the largest changes to private renting for a generation, so we know how important it is to get them right. We are grateful to those across the sector who have worked closely with the Government on developing the reforms, and we will continue to listen to their concerns, just as I will ensure that the concerns set out by hon. Members are reflected in our responses.

Hon. Members are right to mention the insecurity caused by section 21 no-fault evictions. It is not right that a landlord can ask a tenant to leave without giving a reason, and with as little as two months’ notice. The Government are clear that they want to support the majority of landlords, who act responsibly, but it is not right for tenants to live in fear that their lives may be uprooted at the whim of a minority of rogue landlords. Too many tenants do not complain about dangerous conditions, criminal behaviour or unjustified rent increases, fearing they will be subject to revenge evictions if they do.

As we have set out in our manifesto, which has been mentioned by several Members, and confirmed in the House, the Government are committed to abolishing section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 and giving millions of private renters a secure home.

At the same time, we will simplify complex tenancy structures and move all tenants who currently have an assured tenancy or assured shorthold tenancy on to a single system of periodic tenancies, which will allow either party to end the tenancy when they need to. This will enable tenants to leave poor-quality properties without remaining liable for the rent or to move more easily when their circumstances change, such as when they take up a new job opportunity. Landlords will always have to provide a specific reason for ending a tenancy, which will provide greater security for tenants while retaining the important flexibility that private rented accommodation offers. This will enable tenants to put down roots and plan for the future.

Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Labour, Liverpool, Walton

The Minister is clearly aware of the very difficult circumstances that face so many of our constituents. I said in my contribution that 200,000 people have been evicted because the Government have not acted since they promised to act. If the new Prime Minister leaves the Minister present in his job, will he give us a sense of urgency that the Government are going to act?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

We are in strong agreement that we need to act. It has not been mentioned too many times today—[Interruption.] Well, the hon. Gentleman will remember that the December 2019 manifesto was soon followed by a global pandemic, when the Government took swift and decisive action to protect tenants across the country, so we have taken action. However, we were unfortunately unable to pursue other legislative priorities included in the manifesto with as much speed and vigour as we wanted. We are making significant progress, though. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the White Paper was published in June and some of the consultations that came under it closed only earlier this month.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Just to clarify—I think it might be helpful. I think the Minister said it is the Government’s intention to introduce a renters reform Bill in this Parliament. Will he give us a firm commitment today that the Government intend to make the necessary parliamentary time available to get that Bill on to the statute book by the time this Parliament ends?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank the shadow Minister for that remark. It is very much the priority of the Government to introduce the Bill and provide parliamentary time for it to proceed. Obviously, the Government’s policies can change, but, in today’s speech, the new Prime Minister underlined his commitment and the new Government’s commitment to the Conservative party’s 2019 manifesto, which included commitments in this area. I am sure that, whether it is myself or another Minister in post, this will remain a priority for the Government and we will want to bring forward the legislation in good time so that it can go through all the stages before the next general election.

We know that landlords need certainty, too. If a tenant needs to leave a tenancy, we will increase the amount of notice they must give. This will ensure that landlords recoup the costs of finding a new tenant and avoid lengthy void periods. The new system will be simpler for tenants and landlords to understand, enabling them to exercise their rights and fulfil their obligations. We are striking the right balance between improving security for tenants and ensuring that landlords continue to feel confident to invest in the market.

Good landlords play a vital role in providing homes for millions of people across the country, and we want to reassure them that the new system will continue to be a stable market for landlords to invest and remain in. No one will win if our reforms do not support landlords as well as tenants.

It is only right that landlords should be able to get their properties back when their circumstances change or tenants break the rules. We will reform the grounds of possession so that they are comprehensive, fair and efficient. We will streamline the possession process, removing unnecessary restrictions on landlords seeking to recover their properties, introduce a new ground for landlords wishing to sell their property and allow landlords and their close family members to move into a rental property. This, alongside the existing grounds for moving in, will give landlords confidence that they can get their property back if their circumstances change.

The vast majority of tenants abide by the rules, but landlords have told us how difficult it is to act when they are unfortunate enough to have an antisocial tenant. Antisocial behaviour causes misery to a tenant’s neighbours and the wider community. Where a tenant’s behaviour cannot be addressed in the property, we will support landlords to end the tenancy. In cases of criminal or serious antisocial behaviour, we will reduce the notice period, with landlords being able to make a claim to the courts immediately. We will explore prioritising those cases in court so that communities do not have to suffer for longer than necessary. We are working across Government to develop guidance for landlords on identifying and addressing antisocial behaviour, and we welcome further input from hon. Members on what we can do to further support landlords with antisocial tenants. Alongside that, we will continue to listen to landlords who provide much-needed accommodation for the thousands of students across the UK every year, to ensure that the sector continues to work for those in higher education.

Hon. Members here will agree that going to court should be the last resort when all other avenues have been exhausted, but sometimes it is unavoidable. Court proceedings can be costly and time-consuming for landlords, which is why we are working with the Ministry of Justice and His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to streamline the process and ensure that the most serious cases are prioritised. Alongside that, we are reviewing the bailiff process. It is currently the biggest source of frustration and delays for landlords, and we want to make sure that it is as efficient as possible.

Removing section 21 will help millions of tenants, but we understand that many are facing real pressures with the cost of living now. That is why the Government have provided over £37 billion-worth of cost of living support this year to those who need it most. We have also announced unprecedented support to protect households and businesses from the high cost of energy. The energy price guarantee and the energy bill relief scheme are supporting millions of businesses with rising energy costs. That is in addition to the £400 discount already announced through the energy bill support scheme. We have boosted investment in the local housing allowance by nearly £1 billion since 2020, and we are maintaining housing allowance rates at that increased level this year. Those most at risk of homelessness are able to access discretionary housing payments, alongside £316 million-worth of financial support through the homelessness prevention grant.

Finally, several hon. Members have raised the issue of the poor quality of some private rented homes. Most landlords and agents treat their tenants fairly and provide good-quality, safe homes. However, that is not always the case. Too many of the 4.4 million households that rent privately still live in poor conditions, paying a large proportion of their income to do so. Poor-quality housing undermines renters’ health and wellbeing, and we are determined to act. More than one in 10 privately rented homes have serious health and safety hazards that we need to address, as mentioned by the shadow Minister. We have strengthened local authorities’ enforcement powers by introducing financial penalties of up to £30,000, extending rent repayment orders and introducing banning orders for the most serious and prolific offenders, but we intend to go much further.

I hope that all Members here recognise that the Government are committed to reforming the private rented sector in a fair and balanced way, abolishing no-fault section 21 evictions and providing more clarity for landlords when seeking repossession. We are committed to giving tenants more security, meaning that they can stay in their communities and put down roots. In that spirit, I thank the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton for his thoughtful speech, and hon. Members across the Chamber for their contributions. Delivering a fair deal for renters through these reforms remains a priority for this Government, and I look forward to working with hon. Members to deliver on that agenda.

Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Labour, Liverpool, Walton 3:58, 25 October 2022

It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I thank all the Members who have contributed. There has been widespread agreement and support for these changes. I will finish on this point alone: our constituents are facing a terrible winter, with economic pressures from all sides. I encourage the Minister to start the process of acting on these commitments. The Government could act now to cap rents and stop evictions, as our constituents face a torrid winter.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered the potential merits of ending section 21 evictions.