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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 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 assured shorthold tenancy 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 they felt unable to plan due to housing insecurity, with knock-on effects on children’s education and residents’ mental health.

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. 

The Renters Reform Bill and private rented sector white paper

The Conservative Manifesto 2019 promised “a better deal for renters” which included abolishing ‘no-fault’ evictions. The Government announced a Renters Reform Bill in the Queen’s Speech December 2019 but the Bill was not introduced in the 2019-21 parliamentary session.

The Queen’s Speech 2021 announced an intention to publish the Government’s response to the 2019 consultation exercise and provide details of a private rented sector reform package in a white paper in autumn 2021.

The white paper, A fairer private rented sector, was published on 16 June 2022. It sets out a 12-point action plan to deliver “a fairer, more secure, higher quality private rented sector.” The reforms will require legislation. The Queens Speech 2022 confirmed a Renters Reform Bill will be introduced in the 2022-23 parliamentary session (but see below).

The white paper outlines proposals to abolish section 21 evictions and introduce a simpler, more secure tenancy structure. A tenancy will only end if the tenant ends it or if the landlord has a valid ground for possession.

The grounds for possession will be reformed to ensure landlords have effective means to gain possession of their properties when necessary. New grounds will be created to allow landlords to sell or move close family members into the property. Grounds concerning persistent rent arrears and anti-social behaviour will be strengthened.

Alongside the white paper the Government published:

While Liz Truss was Prime Minister there was a suggestion that tenancy reforms would not be taken forward. Matthew Pennycook, Shadow Housing and Planning Minister, asked about the Government’s intentions during oral questions on 17 October 2022. Simon Clarke, Secretary of State at DLUHC said “I can confirm that we will introduce the rental reform Bill in the course of this Parliament.” This may mark a shift from introducing the Bill in the 2022-23 parliamentary session.

Reactions to the proposed abolition of section 21

There’s a 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 initially opposed it. 

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, described the white paper as “a game-changer” for private renters. Generation Rent welcome the abolition of section 21 but called for: greater protections for tenants to ensure landlords do not abuse the strengthened section 8 grounds for possession; and longer notice periods when tenants are evicted through no fault of their own. Local government has emphasised the need for strong enforcement powers and resources to help ensure tenancy reform is successful.

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 contend there is a risk of landlords leaving the sector, which could reduce access to housing for those who cannot afford to buy and who cannot access social rented housing.

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