In light of the Fairer Private Rented Sector white paper released in June 2022, the UK Government plans to remove Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. While acknowledging the need for reform in the private rented sector (PRS), Propertymark argues that abolishing Section 21 without ensuring robust grounds for eviction under Section 8 would weaken the sector and drive landlords away.
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 introduced duties that enabled crucial intervention by local authorities at an earlier stage. This intervention should be preserved in legislation to offer support to tenants who are at risk of homelessness, whether due to their actions or no-fault reasons such as the landlord's need to sell the property, helping them secure alternative housing before becoming homeless.
Although the UK Government claims that Section 21 makes tenancies less stable, evidence indicates that tenants are more likely to give notice or not renew at the end of a tenancy. The majority of notices issued by landlords are a result of rent arrears, as stated by the English Landlord Survey. The survey found that the most common reasons for ending tenancies were rent arrears (46%), lack of property care (39%), and tenant engagement in anti-social behavior (32%). Therefore, it is unlikely that the number of notices to quit will decrease, and unintended consequences, such as stricter tenant referencing and landlords leaving the sector, leading to rent increases, will emerge.
Considering the inevitable increase in Section 8 notices, Propertymark calls for the establishment of a dedicated housing court to process claims efficiently and fairly. Delays in court proceedings are currently the main reason why landlords opt for the Section 21 eviction process. To maintain landlord confidence in the sector and protect their investments, the government must provide a legal and efficient process for landlords to regain their properties.
While the PRS plays a crucial role in providing housing, it is important to recognise that it cannot meet the needs of everyone. A balanced housing sector should include a healthy housing sales market and adequate social housing for the most vulnerable.
The UK Government itself stated in its Ending Rough Sleeping for Good report (September 2022) that social housing provision is vital in preventing homelessness and rough sleeping. However, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show a 25% decrease in public housing construction since February 2020.
The upcoming reforms should address broader issues surrounding homelessness, such as improved enforcement by local authorities to tackle rogue landlords and agents, a review of Local Housing Allowance rates, and an increase in the supply of social housing.