Long-awaited reforms to end “no-fault” evictions of renters were finally published yesterday as a white paper. Theresa May announced her intention to scrap “no-fault” evictions more than three years ago. Since then, we have had Brexit, a change in prime minister and a general election. We have also, lest anyone need reminding, been through a pandemic, during which the government banned evictions and came close to ending homelessness. Suffice it to say it’s a different world.
The Conservatives have long privileged homeownership, and one of the stated intentions of the reforms is to create the stability for renters to build up the savings to eventually buy a home. Last week, the government announced plans to extend the Right to Buy to housing association homes. However, with interest rates rising, and the prospect of renters being better able to contest rent rises and secure repairs because they no longer face the imminent threat of a retaliatory no-fault eviction, they could choose to stay rather than take on the risks of a mortgage (assuming they can afford it).
Along with the end of “no-fault” evictions is a set of less flashy, but very important, changes to renting, including requiring properties to meet the Decent Homes Standard, a landlord register in all but name, a new ombudsman, and improving rights for renters with pets.
One weakness of the reforms is the continued reliance on local councils to lead on enforcement. In practice, this varies massively depending on whether local governments are willing and able to invest in enforcement. As the white paper points out, there are regional disparities with renting, with the West Midlands, the north-west and Yorkshire having a higher proportion of homes that don’t meet the Decent Homes Standard. The government’s own Levelling Up white paper includes a commitment to halve the rate of non-decent rentals by 2030.
Similarly, outlawing the blanket bans on tenants on benefits – the infamous “No DSS” – will only have a limited effect. In practice, landlords and lettings agents can still discriminate against tenants – for example, by screening people out when they apply or saying that a home has gone when it’s still available. Empowering local councils and funding them to investigate, tackle and prosecute these practices needs to be a key part of renting reform.
There is still a long way to go for renters. The government could still yet create a back door for easy evictions in its plans to speed up the process for evicting “antisocial” tenants, people in persistent arrears, and in order to sell a property. Nor is there any sign that it will scrap immigration checks under the Right to Rent policy. However, by strengthening the foundation of renter’s rights, the Tories may find they have gone much further than they had intended towards a European-style system where long-term renting is normalised, and home ownership is less important.