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Housing Justice: ‘Disappointing’ that Renters (Reform) Bill falls out of time

31 May 2024

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THE fact that the Renters (Reform) Bill will not be passed before the General Election is “deeply disappointing”, the director for England of Housing Justice, Jacob Dimitriou, has said.

“Reforming the private rented sector and strengthening the rights of tenants is one of a raft of measures needed to prevent rising homelessness in our country,” Mr Dimitriou said on Tuesday. He called on all parties to make a commitment to a Bill in the first King’s Speech after July’s election.

The Bill had been described by the Government as containing “the most significant changes to the sector in 30 years”. A key component was the abolition of Section 21 evictions — something first pledged by Theresa May in 2019. Currently, landlords can issue a Section 21 notice to start the legal process to end an assured shorthold tenancy. They do not need to give a reason for issuing a notice, but must give tenants two months’ notice.

The Bill, which in effect created open-ended tenancies, had its Second Reading in the House of Lords on 15 May. It was not included among the legislation listed for debate before the proroguing of Parliament.

Among those who spoke in the Lords was the Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, lead bishop on housing, who warned that the Bill would not provide “a significantly better private rented sector”. As the Government had said that the abolition of Section 21 would have to wait until the courts were deemed to be ready, she expressed fear that reform would be “delayed indefinitely”.

Currently, one fifth of UK households live in private rented housing in England. The sector doubled in size between 2004 and 2016. Charities, including Shelter, had expressed concern that the Bill had been watered down, and offered insufficient protection to tenants.

In her remarks, Dr Francis-Dehqani described as “outdated” the notion that the country was “a nation of homeowners”. Her own three children, all young adults, were among those renting privately. “Without a significant shake-up of the entire housing market, it is likely that they will struggle ever to buy their own property.”

It was necessary to “think bigger to fix our housing crisis”, she said, drawing attention to the new vision for housing, Homes For All, published last month (News, 3 May). Recommendations included a limit on rises in house prices and rents “in line with inflation”.

The private sector was “often unsafe, insecure, unsociable, unsustainable, and unsatisfying”, and frequently the most expensive tenure for tenants, she said; and reversing this “may require a certain amount of sacrifice”.

Last week, the Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning, Matthew Pennycook, wrote on social media: “The Tories’ decision to cave in to vested interests and abandon the Renters Reform Bill leaves in tatters the promises they made to private tenants five years ago. Labour will pass renters reform legislation that levels decisively the playing field between landlords and tenants.”

Last year, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Shadow Housing Secretary, Angela Rayner, said that the party would scrap Section 21 on its first day in office, if it won the next General Election.

The charity Homeless Link reported in April that, since 2019, more than 80,000 households had approached their local authority for homelessness support, after receiving a Section 21 notice.

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