My Lords, we remain committed to abolishing Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 to enhance renter security and improve protection for tenants. However, our collective efforts are currently focused on responding to the coronavirus outbreak. We will bring forward a renters’ reform Bill once the urgencies of responding to the pandemic have passed and when parliamentary time allows.
My Lords, by all metrics, tenants started this pandemic with less savings and have lost more jobs and income than property owners, but the Government, in the name of balance, have made the callous move of including arrears accrued during the pandemic as grounds for eviction. They have therefore broken the promise that loss of income will not mean the loss of a home. Can the Minister share the data used to guide this decision? If it is not available, will he please write to me?
Given the significant level of financial support that has been available to renters throughout the pandemic, through furlough and welfare, it is unlikely that this expansion of rent arrears would have accumulated solely through Covid-related arrears. I point out the Citizens Advice data that 250,000 renters owe landlords some £360 million.
My Lords, Generation Rent analysis states that:
“Section 21 is the leading cause of statutory homelessness.”
The report continues, saying that
“92% of the rise in homelessness cases … in London can be explained by no-fault evictions”.
However, turning to the immediate, the Government’s ban on bailiff enforcement of eviction ends on 21 February and does not extend to renters in more than six months of arrears. What plans, if any, do Her Majesty’s Government have to revisit these two very important issues?
I point out that the new court rules will certainly prioritise cases such as anti-social behaviour, and that bailiffs do not currently enforce evictions. There have been plenty of protections for tenants throughout this pandemic, and those protections continue. It is important to get a balance between protecting tenants and providing the rights to landlords.
My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register. I support the ending of no-fault evictions and believe that the tenant should receive extra support during the pandemic and the current lockdown. The Minister will know that very many private landlords own just one or two properties. Can he say what the grounds for repossession would be should the landlord need to reoccupy their home or sell for financial reasons?
I declare my interests as recorded in the register. As part of a renters’ reform Bill, the Government have committed to improving the court process for landlords to make it quicker and easier for them to get their property back where they have a legitimate reason for doing so. Given this, when will Ministers publish their response to the consultation, Considering the case for a Housing Court, which closed over two years ago?
My Lords, campaigners have asked for a coronavirus home retention scheme of £750 million in support to be made available to help renters in arrears, recover loss of income and avoid rent debt. Have the Government conducted a cost-benefit analysis comparing such a fund with the potential cost of making many families homeless because of rent arrears?
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. Does my noble friend agree that tenants must have confidence that their landlords will treat them properly, but that the law should not penalise landlords unfairly—most of whom are responsible, have only one or two properties and may have lost significant amounts of rental income in the pandemic? I agree that we must be careful not to give unbalanced rights to tenants to occupy indefinitely—for example, if their landlord needs to sell or move in themselves.
My Lords, it is very important that, when we remove the ability to evict someone through no-fault evictions and Section 21, we also strengthen the rights where there are specific grounds for eviction. That is the nature of the tenancy reform and the Bill that we will bring before the House.
My Lords, the Government are definitely doing the right thing in giving renters greater security. But is there a problem that a rogue landlord could simply double the rent, thereby forcing the tenant to leave despite the extra security? Would the Minister agree that the forthcoming renters’ reform Bill will need to introduce not clumsy rent controls but a straightforward time period—perhaps four years—during which a tenant’s rent cannot be increased by more than inflation?
My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. In March 2020, the Government made a commitment that no renter would lose their home due to coronavirus. Can the Minister tell the House how ending the evictions ban aids that commitment?
I point out that billions have been provided in welfare support. In addition, raising the local housing allowance of the lowest 30th percentile is adding nearly another £1 billion of support—some £600 of support to people—in the private rental sector. There is a great deal of support in addition to the discretionary housing payments. All of this shows that we are committed to supporting renters at this time, but we need to get the balance, with support for landlords.
I declare my interests as in the register. It seems that the eviction moratorium had benefits in Covid prevention interests as well as, or perhaps even more than, the interests of renters or landlords. Given that public interest aspect, is it not incumbent on the Government to try to provide a solution to the rent arrears, especially for those—of whom there are quite a few—who have been ineligible for the other types of support?
My Lords, I am not really sure how the Government can solve the issue of rent arrears. We have just discovered the £360 million in rent arrears calculated by Citizens Advice. The most important thing is, where a landlord faces a tenant not paying their rent and where there is a level of egregious rent arrears caused not just by the pandemic, they are able to evict the tenant.
Is there not a very simple way of accepting the fact that, if we pay the rent of people in this period, we can look at the knock-on effect at a particular time? For anybody who slips into homelessness, the cost will double, and sometimes treble. We know the evil cost of homelessness, and it would be much more sensible if we said, “Okay, all we are going to do is pay your rent, pay your arrears and spend to save”.
My Lords, I would argue that the furlough scheme and the support we have given in billions in welfare, in addition to the commitment towards homelessness, which is increasing from £700 million this year to £750 million, is precisely the sort of leadership the Government are providing to support people to remain settled in accommodation and take rough sleepers off our streets.
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. The Citizens Advice survey found that 46% of tenants who make a complaint are then evicted by their landlord using Section 21—the no-fault eviction power. Can the Government find the time to deal with this very real problem through some form of legislation due before this House, whether in its own Bill or by piggybacking the relevant clauses into another Bill, as this is now even more pressing in this coronavirus and lockdown era? People, particularly families, have more than enough to cope with at the moment, and need to know that they have a safe and secure roof over their heads.
My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked, and we now move to the third Oral Question.