In 2021, I experienced two subsequent no-fault evictions. I learned first-hand just how destabilising they can be, which is why a year ago I wrote about the urgent need for the government to keep its promise to private renters to ban no-fault evictions.
The White Paper on private rental reforms was finally published in 2022, and laid out plans to reform the sector, including banning no-fault evictions. This was celebrated throughout the UK’s housing and homelessness sector as a milestone achievement for charities who have been campaigning on this issue for years.
The political chaos of the year of the three prime ministers delayed the passing of the bill into law yet again, with the Government only committing to introducing the bill at the end of this parliamentary session. Renters deserve better than this. We need urgent action to address the scale of the problems we face.
What’s happened in the private rental sector since the White Paper was published?
Since the White Paper was published in June 2022, the private rental sector – and the housing sector more broadly – has only seen an increase in the kinds of issues that have been plaguing tenants for years.
Private rents have continued to rise to record levels – jumping by 16% in London in July-September 2022 compared to the previous year – alongside competition for ever more limited homes. People are pressured into paying months of rent upfront to secure properties, or entering into bidding wars, with properties sometimes let at up to £300 over the asking price. With private rents set to rise by a further 3.5% over 2023-4, these issues are not going to disappear anytime soon.
While some landlords may also be impacted by the cost of living crisis, research from Generation Rent found that that only 11% of landlords cited increases in mortgage payments as the reason behind raising rents, with 40% citing ‘higher market rents’. In other words, landlords are putting up rents not because they have to, but because they can get away with it. This research also showed that anxiety about being able to pay rent during the cost-of-living crisis has increased, with 21% of renters cutting back on spending to pay rent as of November 2022, up 17% from July 2022.
There are problems outside the private rental sector too, which the renters’ reform bill will not directly address. There continues to be a shortage of social housing, which in turn forces more people into an already overcrowded private rental sector. Even for those on the property ladder – rising mortgage rates will pull an additional 400,000 people into poverty over the next year.
How will banning no-fault evictions help people during the cost of living crisis?
It’s clear that the cost-of-living crisis has made it harder to keep up with rising rents, so it’s more urgent than ever that parliament passes the Renters’ Reform Bill. As wages continue to fall behind inflation, and a likely recession makes redundancies a reality, it’s likely that many people renting their homes will be unable to meet their monthly outgoings.
While the reform will not prevent those in rent arrears from legal eviction, it will stop landlords using Section 21 to pre-emptively evict tenants so they can readvertise homes at substantially higher rents.
The new bill will also prevent landlords from using no-fault evictions to avoid making repairs, and will enforce the social sector’s Decent Homes Standard in the private sector. This will be particularly crucial for those living in homes with damp or mould at a time when rising energy bills means these issues are only likely to get worse, as people seek to save on central heating. 23% of homes in the private rental sector are already failing the Government’s Decent Homes Standard, with 11% reporting problems with damp specifically. This affects social renters too; research from the Resolution Foundation shows that 45% of social renters are currently unable to turn the heating on when they need to, which will exacerbate existing issues with damp.
Enforcing these standards is also essential in the longer-term for helping us adapt to the climate crisis. As heat waves and damper winters become more common, it’s more important than ever to adapt homes to keep people safe and healthy. Ensuring properties are well-insulated and damp-free will also benefit tenants now by lowering their energy bills.
What do private renters need from government?
We already know that it is the most disadvantaged groups in our society who are at the sharp end of three crises – the housing crisis, the cost of living crisis, and the climate crisis. The government must introduce its Renters Reform Bill without delay if it is serious about addressing deepening inequalities across the country.
We also need communities, charities, and policymakers to continue advocating for change within a system that is increasingly shown to be broken. We need to back existing campaigns from housing charities like Shelter and Generation Rent, and keep sharing the stories and experiences of those living in the current system with MPs and other decision-makers with the power to convince the Government that it needs to act urgently.
If the Government is serious about ‘delivering the biggest change to renters law in a generation’ and taking real, practical action to level up the country, this Bill must be introduced as a first step at tackling these complex problems. The White Paper sets out some welcome and significant improvements, but we must continue to build on this and prioritise these issues in the coming years, to make sure the system works for everyone.