It’s going to take a lot more than a ban on Section 21 notices to tackle the homelessness crisis

Homelessness has become an ever-increasing problem since the Conservatives gained power in 2010, with the loss of a private tenancy being one of the main causes of homelessness in England.

Last week, Liz Truss announced Section 21 (S21) notices, also known as no-fault evictions, will now be scrapped. This news comes after an earlier government leak, claiming that getting rid of these eviction notices ‘are not considered a priority’ by the new administration.

S21 is part of the 1988 Housing Act, which was introduced to Parliament by the Thatcher government and greatly shifts power in favour of private landlords. These notices can be used by landlords  to evict tenants, for no reason at all and, since 2019,  almost 230,000 private tenants have been served with a S21 notice and over 19,700 households in England were at risk of losing their homes because of this type of eviction- the main drivers being lack of protection for the tenant and soaring rental costs

Renters can do everything asked of them and still be evicted, given only two months to find somewhere new to live before the landlord can start legal proceedings against them. No fault evictions are not only a leading cause of homelessness, but also a cause of much insecurity in the rental market, allowing landlords to easily uproot families from their homes. They are used on tenants for a variety of reasons, including when a landlord wishes to re let at a higher price, or wants to avoid making repairs after a complaint.

However, although the news that S21 is to be scrapped, there is widespread agreement there is still a great deal to be done, with wider reform needed to prevent impending misery and homelessness of many private renters. 

ACORN, the community union fighting for housing justice, has been working as part of the Renters Reform Coalition for a number of years, pushing for reforms to give private renters more rights and deliver the changes needed to prevent them losing their homes, including an end to Section 21 evictions. They now have over 1000 tenants and community members in nine cities across the country.

“The government’s U-turn on abolishing Section 21 evictions is welcome, but we need to see action now not more delay. This was first promised in 2019, but successive Tory leaders have dragged their feet instead of delivering ever since. Every day they wait before delivering, sees more people at risk of homelessness. The government must also bring the Renters Reform Bill into action as soon as possible. Renters need safe, decent, and secure housing – we can’t wait any longer. ACORN and our allies in the Renters Reform Coalition will keep fighting to ensure that the government follows through on its promises”, says ACORN’s Jack Yates.

The Tory manifesto commitment, in 2019, promised a ‘better deal for renters’ and, as part of the Renter’s Reform Bill, which aims to redress the balance between landlords and tenants, pledged to scrap S21 evictions, and deliver a package of reforms to enable a fairer and more effective private rental market. However, as yet, changes have not occurred and it remains in doubt what will happen to wider rental reform as planned through the Bill. 

Homelessness has become an ever-increasing problem since the Conservatives gained power in 2010, with the loss of a private tenancy being one of the main causes of homelessness in England. According to research, almost 275,000 people were recorded as homeless in England, in 2021. Tough sanctions to the welfare system and social care cuts have contributed to the problem. So has a severe lack of social housing, which has meant many people are currently relying on private rentals, many of which are insecure, unaffordable or unsafe. Research has shown evictions can have devastating impacts, not only on the finances of tenants but also on their wellbeing. They disrupt children’s education and friendships and also cause many negative health outcomes, both mental and physical.

Generation Rent is fighting for renters to live in safe, decent homes that they can afford. The organisation’s Director, and former Labour Peer, Baroness Alicia Kennedy says “It’s good news that the Prime Minister has confirmed Section 21 will go, but it needs to be part of a Renters Reform Bill brought forward this parliamentary session as planned which includes measures to make it easier for renters to find out who their landlord is, and raises standards.” 

“Even with new legislation we will still have a long-standing affordability crisis which is driving up homelessness. To tackle that we need to build more social housing and ensure that the benefits system covers the actual rents people are being charged”, she adds.

Predictions by the Kerslake Commission, a group of 36 experts from the health, housing and homelessness sectors, suggest that the rising cost of living could also have a  ‘catastrophic’ impact on the number of people finding themselves homeless, if not treated with the same level of urgency seen at the start of the pandemic. Record high rents, increasing bills and housing benefit frozen at 2020 levels, has meant that people are struggling to make ends meet. We are already seeing a record number of tenants being evicted for rent arrears, and between April and June this year, over 3400 households, in the private rented sector, were evicted by bailiffs- an increase of nearly 40 percent on the previous quarter.

According to Osama Bhutta, Director of Campaigns at the housing and homelessness charity Shelter, private renting is ‘completely broken’.

“Although Truss’s words will provide some relief for England’s 11 million private renters, who deserve better than this chaos, anything less than wholesale reform won’t give private renters the security and stability they need” Bhutta says.

“Now the government must also stay true to its word to ban discrimination against low-income families and ensure privately rented homes are decent and safe”. 

The National Residential Landlord Association  (NRLA) is the UK’s largest membership organisation for private residential landlords in England and Wales,and works with all parties to ensure that reforms are fair and workable. NRLA Director of Policy and Campaigns, Chris Norris says “Whatever the Government’s plans, a wide range of reforms are desperately needed to support the sector.

“The supply crisis in the sector must be addressed urgently, while much more needs to be done to root out criminal and rogue landlords. Likewise vulnerable tenants can and should be better supported by unfreezing housing benefit rates. “

However, according to Norris, it is important for tenants who are struggling to communicate with their landlord or letting agency as early as possible, to discuss options.

“In some cases landlords, where they are able, will be open to rent adjustments, repayment plans, or even rent deferment as an alternative to unanticipated arrears and the prospect of having to find new tenants”, he says.

“Ultimately, households need help and the Government needs to go further to support those tenants feeling most squeezed”, Norris adds.

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “Everyone deserves to live in a safe and secure home. The Prime Minister has committed to the ban on section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions to protect tenants. We will bring forward legislation in due course.”

Picture credit: Useche70: Pixabay

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