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What’s the problem with section 21 of the Housing Act 1988?

Section 21 enables private landlords to repossess their properties from assured shorthold tenants (ASTs) without having to establish fault on the part of the tenant. Hence it is sometimes referred to as the ‘no-fault’ ground for eviction.

Private tenants, their representative bodies, and others working in the sector argue the ability of landlords to terminate an AST at short notice has a detrimental effect on tenants’ wellbeing.

Research has found evidence of tenants who are reluctant to exercise their rights to secure repairs and/or challenge rent increases due to the ease with which landlords can evict them. Respondents to a 2018 consultation on, ‘overcoming the barriers to longer tenancies in the private rented sector, said:

…those renting from private landlords have been left feeling insecure by short fixed-term tenancies, unable to plan for the future or call where they live a home. This insecurity can have wide-ranging effects – from disrupting children’s education and the impact on mental health through to the cost of frequent moves undermining people’s ability to save for a deposit.

Consultation on abolishing section 21 (2019)

On 15 April 2019, the then-Government announced: “Private landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants from their homes at short notice and without good reason.” This was followed by a consultation process which ran between July and October 2019. The consultation paper proposed the abolition of section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.

In addition to abolishing section 21, the consultation paper proposed measures to strengthen and extend the Grounds for possession which are preceded by the service of a section 8 notice, particularly where the property is needed for the landlord’s or a family member’s use, and if the landlord wants to sell. The Government response was initially expected later in 2021.

The Conservative manifesto and proposed Renter’s Reform Bill

The manifesto promised “a Better Deal for Renters” which included “abolishing ‘no-fault’ evictions and only requiring one ‘lifetime’ deposit which moves with the tenant.” There was also a commitment to strengthen landlords’ rights of possession.

The 2019 Queen’s Speech said a Renters’ Reform Bill would be introduced to “enhance renters’ security and improve protections for short-term tenants by abolishing “no-fault” evictions and introducing a lifetime deposit.”

The 2021 Queen’s Speech announced an intention to publish the Government response to the 2019 consultation exercise and provide details of a full reform package in a White Paper in autumn 2021. At the end of October 2021, the Government told stakeholders the White Paper would be delayed until 2022.

Various bodies, including the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee, called for the Bill to be fast-tracked to improve protection for tenants affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. There’s concern that tenants in financial difficulty who benefited from temporary restrictions on landlords’ ability to seek repossession will face homelessness as restrictions are lifted.

The Government has been pressed on timing. The response to the Committee’s interim report (251KB, PDF) on protecting rough sleepers and renters (June 2020), repeated the commitment to abolish section 21 but emphasised the need to take forward reforms in “a considered manner.”

On 3 March 2021 the Housing Minister, Christopher Pincher, said the Renters’ Reform Bill will be brought forward “once the urgencies of responding to the pandemic have passed.”

Reactions to the proposed abolition of section 21

There is a clear divide in opinion between organisations advocating on behalf of tenants and those advocating on behalf of private landlords. Broadly, tenant organisations support the abolition of section 21 while landlord bodies oppose it.

The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) argues a reformed and improved court system which has bedded-in, together with improvements to the Grounds for possession, should be introduced before section 21 is amended or abolished. Landlord organisations argue there is a risk of landlords leaving the sector, which could reduce the amount of housing available for people who cannot afford to buy and who cannot access social rented housing.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

Scotland legislated to abolish no-fault evictions in respect of tenancies created on or after 1 December 2017. Research into the impact of these changes published by Shelter, a strong proponent of abolition, argues that some of the ‘scare’ stories in England on the potential impact of section 21’s abolition are misplaced (149KB, PDF).

The Senedd has legislated to introduce minimum notice periods of six months for tenants in the private rented sector with a standard contract. These provisions are expected to come into force in 2022.

In Northern Ireland, tenancies created after 1 April 2007 are generally ‘non-protected’. If a landlord wishes to end a non-protected tenancy on a no-fault basis, the length of the notice depends on how long the tenant has lived in the property. Legislation to extend notice periods for tenancies over 12 months is currently before the Northern Ireland Assembly.

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