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Housing: Section 21 Evictions

Volume 836: debated on Tuesday 20 February 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to implement a ban on section 21 evictions before the end of this parliamentary session.

My Lords, the Renters (Reform) Bill is progressing through Parliament. The Bill will bring an end to Section 21 evictions, and our priority is to pass this vital legislation before the end of this Parliament. We will work with the relevant sectors to implement these changes effectively.

My Lords, the Secretary of State told the BBC on Sunday 11 February that the Government’s proposed ban on Section 21 eviction would be operational before a general election. However, the Government have repeatedly told parliamentarians that this ban cannot be enacted before reforms to the court system are in place. In response to a Select Committee report in October 2023, the Government said that they would not commence the abolition of Section 21 until stronger possession grounds and a new court process were in place. In Committee on the Renters (Reform) Bill, the Minister has said that the ban cannot be enacted until court reforms are complete. Can the Minister please set out what court reforms are to be put in place and the timetable for delivering them, so that the ban on Section 21 can be operational before a general election?

My Lords, we have always set out our intention, in the White Paper that preceded the Bill and in the guidance that goes alongside the Bill, that we will need to give six months’ notice for implementing Section 21 for new tenancies. That is to give time for a number of things to happen. The noble Baroness is right that we need to allow time for the courts to prepare for this, to allow evictions, court rules, forms and administrative systems to be updated. It is also to allow for secondary legislation that flows from the primary legislation to be laid, and for guidance to be put in place. But we are working hard, and we have already provided upfront money to the court system to kick-start that process, so that we can move towards implementation as soon as possible.

Could the Minister clarify that? On the Laura Kuenssberg programme, Michael Gove said that Section 21 would be “outlawed” before the general election. Does that mean that, by the time of the general election, a landlord will not be able to serve a Section 21 notice on a tenant?

My Lords, I looked very carefully at what my right honourable friend said, and he said that we will have outlawed it by the next general election—we will have passed the Bill and put money into the courts to ensure that we can enforce it. We are already putting money into the courts—£1.2 million this year.

Could the Minister answer the question that she was just asked by her noble friend Lord Young? She was asked whether it would be possible still before the general election, and indeed possibly after it, for tenants to be issued with a Section 21 eviction notice. I do not think that she answered that question.

My Lords, the position since the White Paper and the introduction of the Bill has been that we will need to give six months’ notice on the implementation of Section 21 for new tenancies. We are committed to passing the Bill before the end of this Parliament and putting in place the resources we need to get everything in place during that six months’ notice period, so that we can implement the ban on Section 21 as soon as possible.

My Lords, to avoid asking the same question for the fourth time, has any assessment been made of the impact of this legislation, well-intentioned though it is, on the availability of rental accommodation? Does the Minister accept that the truly bad landlords, at whom this is presumably targeted, do not bother with Section 21 but use men in balaclavas with baseball bats to get rid of tenants?

The noble Lord is right that landlords have nothing to fear from the removal of Section 21. Where they have a valid reason, landlords will be able to get their properties back. As well as removing the inherent unfairness of Section 21, our reforms will improve existing Section 8 possession grounds, which is a key ask of landlords. In response to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, we need to bring in the ban on Section 21 alongside the new possession grounds as part of a coherent package, so that it works for tenants and landlords.

My Lords, I am very pleased to hear the Minister mention fairness. For renters, often struggling to make ends meet and facing losing their homes, access to a legal aid provider is vital to fighting their case in court. Given that, according to the Law Society, 42% of the population cannot access a legal aid provider, can the Minister assure us that the Government are investing in the courts and legal aid, so that the proposed reforms are fair and work for both landlords and tenants?

My Lords, we are not only putting more money into the courts system but strengthening the rights of tenants and seeking to put in place a process that avoids the need to go to court altogether. That will be the best outcome for both tenants and landlords.

My Lords, language matters in politics and tendentious phraseology has consequences. How have we reached the point where the expiry of a contract, freely entered into by two parties, at the end of its term is now widely referred to as an eviction, let alone a no-fault eviction?

My Lords, the vast majority of landlords do an excellent job, but we know that a small minority use the threat of Section 21 evictions to hike up rents or intimidate tenants into not challenging completely unfit conditions. That is why we have brought forward our proposal to abolish Section 21 evictions, but we have also brought forward a widening of the grounds for possession, so that the system works for both sides in this situation.

My Lords, we keep this matter closely under review. We do not see evidence of a reduction of available rental properties in the market and would be concerned if we did. We have worked very hard to make sure that these reforms work for landlords and tenants.

My Lords, do the Government agree that the housing shortage has in some cases led to people queueing up to get access to a rented property? Under those circumstances, does the Minister agree that the contract between the landlord and the tenant is often not fair, because one is at a serious disadvantage?

The noble Lord is right that, if we increase the supply of homes, whether for private rent, social rent or home ownership, we will alleviate pressure in the market and bring down costs for renters and home owners. That is why this Government have put such emphasis on housebuilding and have such a track record on it, delivering 1 million homes over this Parliament and 2.5 million new homes since 2010.

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister please explain this to me? I went to Blackpool last year to look at some of the worst cases of rented housing and the abuses that terrible landlords inflict on tenants who are vulnerable. When I hear this debate I find that we bundle all landlords together and do not target interventions on the type of landlords that we really want to get out of the system. Will we look at how we can have targeted interventions at the type of landlords that we really want to improve?

My noble friend is absolutely right that the vast majority of landlords do a great job. The availability of private rented accommodation is a really important part of our property sector. We are bringing forward other measures in the Bill that will focus on standards and targeting enforcement of them. There will be a new private rented sector ombudsman and a new decent homes standard for the private rented sector. The majority of people will already comply with that, and we will focus our efforts and enforcement on that minority.

Does the Minister think that increased taxation and rising interest rates have had any effect on why private landlords are giving up and selling off their properties? She has not mentioned that at all.

My Lords, the Question was about our plans to bring forward the end of Section 21 evictions. The noble Lord is absolutely right that there are a number of different dynamics in the property market that are affecting buy-to-let landlords and housebuilders. We keep them under regular review, alongside industry, to make sure there are plans to reform the sector and increase housing supply to stay on track to deliver what people need.