Ending Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions is the right thing to do for private renters – it can also be a vote winner

I’m a private renter. Nothing unusual about that I’m sure you’ll say, lots of people are. And that’s true, but it wasn’t always that way, and the current situation, of growing numbers of private renters, is a recent phenomenon. The most recent figures from the English Housing Survey show that a fifth of people across […]

I’m a private renter. Nothing unusual about that I’m sure you’ll say, lots of people are. And that’s true, but it wasn’t always that way, and the current situation, of growing numbers of private renters, is a recent phenomenon. The most recent figures from the English Housing Survey show that a fifth of people across England now live in privately rented accommodation.

A third of councils have more than 20% of residents renting privately, and research from the campaign group Shelter shows that at the next (currently scheduled) general election there will be 253 constituencies where more than 20% of voters are private renters. This trend has been increasing steadily over the past decades. In 1996/97 just 10% of the population were private renters, but now it’s double that.

And yet our private renting model is based on laws introduced in the late 1980s. That was thirty years ago, and while the demographics of private renters have shifted, the model hasn’t. And so private renters, like me, are demanding an upgrade to private renting policy, to make the system fit for the very different world of the 21st century.

A good illustration of the pressures facing the system was given by a BBC report late last year, which highlighted the growing phenomenon of rising numbers of 35-45 year olds renting privately. Over the past decade their numbers have doubled. It’s a consequence of a number of factors, but chief among them are the chronic lack of social housing and the spiralling cost of buying a property, now almost completely out of reach for those on a low or median wage.

There are now more private tenants than social housing tenants. And instead of being primarily a ‘temporary stop’ for young adults, who used to buy after a few years renting privately, private rentals are now ‘homes’, for families with dependent children, older renters and those near to pension age, people with disabilities, and vulnerable people in low income households, often with complex needs.

It’s right that our party has policy pledges on increasing housing stock and creating more homes, for purchase or for rent. But all of these will take time to enact, and will cost money, which is in short supply. Private renters need secure, affordable and decent homes sooner than that. Fundamentally we need the laws on private renting to change and create tenures fit for purpose in the 21st century.

But this isn’t (just) a tale of woe, it a tale of possible change. Just a few weeks ago, and thanks to the hard work of Baroness Grender and Wera Hobhouse, changes to the law mean that letting agency fees for tenants will be banned from this June. It’s a great step that will help the huge numbers of financially pressed private renters.

But we can’t let the work stop there. Private renters also need better security of tenure. At the moment, many tenants have just six months’ security in their home. After that we can be kicked out via a Section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction’, giving us just two months’ notice, and forcing us to stump up thousands of pounds in unexpected moving costs. With a Section 21 notice, a landlord doesn’t need to provide their tenant with any reason for their eviction. Too often this happens because the tenants have asked for basic repairs or safety issues in their home to be fixed. Renters who make a formal complaint to the council about conditions in their home have a 46% chance of receiving a Section 21 notice within 6 months. It’s nothing less than revenge eviction, and the fear of it prevents many renters from asking for repairs or challenging bad practice. And unfortunately, the recently passed ‘Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act’ won’t provide much help, because with Section 21 still in place any court action to force the landlord to make our homes safe, risks an eviction.

Our party has recognised that Section 21 needs reform and its now policy to bring in a 6-month notice period for tenants subject to a ‘no fault’ eviction. And while is would help a little isn’t enough. What private renters really need is an end to Section 21. Last year over 50,000 people signed a petition to the Secretary of State calling for Section 21 to be abolished. It’s a policy call with widespread appeal, and is backed by many leading housing and poverty charities.

And don’t listen to the strident landlord lobbyists, who say this is just bashing landlords, because it’s not. They would still be able to get their property back if the tenant was in arrears or at fault. We could also add an option to the legislation to cover repossession for property reselling, but importantly, with a requirement that a landlord works with their tenant to ensure no-one loses out.

A Lib Dem campaign to End Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions would reach a group of people who could be a real political force at the next election. Their growth, ignored or forgotten by the Tories and Labour, gives us a real opportunity to win their votes by offering bold yet sensible policies, and is built on a proven commitment to their needs.

And, we could give millions of people security in their homes and their lives that they so desperately want. Wouldn’t that be a campaign worth getting behind?

* Mark Platt is a member of Westminster Liberal Democrats, and was on the London Region Executive Committee (2016-18). He volunteers with Generation Rent, a campaign organisation focusing on tackling the challenges facing private renters in the UK.

3 December 2018 – today’s press releases

It’s been a busy day, perhaps not a great surprise as the Brexit debate in the Commons reaches its denouement… Cable: Halt “egregious imbalance” of May vs Corbyn Brexit debate Lib Dems back amendment to stop no deal Brexit Lib Dems: Govt have held Parliament in contempt Govt remain clueless on immigration Lib Dem peers […]

It’s been a busy day, perhaps not a great surprise as the Brexit debate in the Commons reaches its denouement…

  • Cable: Halt “egregious imbalance” of May vs Corbyn Brexit debate
  • Lib Dems back amendment to stop no deal Brexit
  • Lib Dems: Govt have held Parliament in contempt
  • Govt remain clueless on immigration
  • Lib Dem peers defeat Government on civil liberties (see here for our earlier coverage)
  • PM must stop pandering to the Saudi regime
  • Lib Dems lead fight for renters’ rights
  • Govt must publish Brexit legal advice

Cable: Halt “egregious imbalance” of May vs Corbyn Brexit debate

Today Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable has called on the TV networks to widen the proposed TV debates, putting himself forward as providing a real alternative, a people’s vote.

In letters to the BBC, Sky and ITV Cable called the proposed set up in which two pro-Brexit figures debate each other an “egregious imbalance”.

Cable wrote:

Such a debate is clearly highly unsatisfactory, and will reveal almost nothing about the alternative options before the country.

The principal alternative to the withdrawal agreement is for the UK to remain as a full and influential member of the European Union.

All the evidence suggests that there is now a majority in the country for doing so, and a substantial majority for a People’s Vote. Yet neither Jeremy Corbyn nor Theresa May supports this route.

Lib Dems back amendment to stop no deal Brexit

Today Liberal Democrat MPs have added their names to a cross party amendment which would force the Conservative Government to take no deal Brexit off the table and pave the way to a people’s vote.

Commenting on the amendment originally put down by Hilary Benn, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson Tom Brake said:

The Liberal Democrats will work with MPs from all parties to get the country out of this mess.

Given that the Conservative Government wholeheartedly accept that a no deal Brexit will create chaos and mayhem, they must do the responsible thing and take No Deal off the table.

This amendment paves the way to a people’s vote on Brexit, with an option to remain in the EU.

Lib Dems: Govt have held Parliament in contempt

The Liberal Democrats, alongside Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green party have written to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, asking for his consideration of a motion that the Government have held Parliament in contempt.

The Government have failed to provide parliamentarians with the ‘final and full advice provided by the Attorney General to the Cabinet concerning the terms of any withdrawal agreement’ that was requested by the House on the 13th November, and was not opposed by the Government.

Commenting on the letter that has been sent to the Speaker, co-signatory of the letter, and Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said:

The Attorney General, in his most bombastic court-room manner has shown Parliament two learned fingers and refused to comply with Parliament’s request to publish the full legal advice.

This must constitute contempt of Parliament which will be pursued by all legal means.

The Liberal Democrat’s demand better than this sorry mess of a Government.

Govt remain clueless on immigration

Responding to Stephen Barclay’s evidence session for the Select Committee for Exiting the EU, Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse said:

The Conservative Government is insistent on ending free movement, but it doesn’t have a plan to make it happen. The Cabinet can’t agree and therefore won’t release the immigration white paper meaning we are all being left in the dark, including the Brexit Secretary himself.

Stephen Barclay cannot answer how we will control migration without a hard border in Ireland. It is time the Government came clean and admitted that Brexit won’t end free movement. And why would we want to? As the Government’s own analysis shows, EU migration has been an real benefit to the UK economy.

Nobody voted for a chaotic visa system or to make the UK poorer. There must be a People’s vote, with the option to remain in the EU.

PM must stop pandering to the Saudi regime

Responding to the Prime Minister’s statement on the G20 Summit, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable said:

Given her candid friendship with Prince Mohammed and the Saudi regime, the Prime Minister must urgently make an appeal for clemency on behalf of the 12 men who are currently facing imminent execution for the crime of practising a different religion.

Considering their disregard for human rights and the rule of law, it is long overdue that the Conservative Government stopped pandering to this regime and suspended arms sales.

Lib Dems lead fight for renters’ rights

After pressure from Liberal Democrat Peers, the Government have today announced major concessions on the Tenant Fees Bill.

The amendments, published this evening, would significantly limit the fees that could be charged to a tenant by their landlord or lettings agent, require a greater amount of transparency when deciding not to refund a holding deposit, and limit the maximum security deposit a landlord can require to five weeks rent.

Responding to the Government amendments, Liberal Democrat Housing Spokesperson John Shipley said:

It is good to see the Government have listened to the concerns we raised during the progress of the Bill. These amendments will make a huge difference for tenants, who will save hundreds of pounds every year.

We also want to congratulate Shelter, Citizens Advice and Generation Rent who have worked so hard to get this Bill in the right place.

Many of the provisions in the Tenant Fees Bill were proposed in the previous session of Parliament by Lib Dem Peer Olly Grender, in her Renters’ Rights Private Members’ Bill.

Commenting on the changes to the Bill, Olly said:

It is the vulnerable in our society who are most affected by the extortionate fees imposed by landlords and lettings agencies. The inability to pay these fees upfront can often lead to homelessness.

While I welcomed the Government bringing forward this Bill, there were a number of outstanding issues that could have had severe consequences for low income tenants or tenants on benefits in the private rented sector.

There is still more work to be done to get tenants a fairer deal, but I am delighted that the Government have listened to our suggestions and others to improve this Bill. The task now is to get this change for tenants through as quickly as possible.

Govt must publish Brexit legal advice

Responding to the announcement that the Speaker of the House has granted a debate on the cross-party contempt motion over the Government’s refusal to fully publish the Brexit legal advice, cosignatory Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson, Tom Brake said:

Parliament is finally taking back control from this chaotic government.

The Attorney General put on a good show, but the House did not want TV drama. MPs expect the publication of the full legal Brexit advice before the debates on the withdrawal deal begin.

The government must not be allowed to use this chaotic situation to take focus away from the mess they are making of Brexit.

South East Liberal Democrats back dynamic ideas for “People’s Advocate” in planning issues and bigger role for chambers of commerce in local economic development

Liberal Democrats from across the south east of England gathered in Canterbury on 17thNovember for their annual regional conference. Held at the city’s Spires Academy, the conference heard from MPs Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne), Ed Davey (Kingston) and Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) as well as Baroness Judith Jolly and the Leader of the Opposition on […]

Liberal Democrats from across the south east of England gathered in Canterbury on 17thNovember for their annual regional conference. Held at the city’s Spires Academy, the conference heard from MPs Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne), Ed Davey (Kingston) and Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) as well as Baroness Judith Jolly and the Leader of the Opposition on Kent County Council, Cllr Rob Bird. 

Canterbury and Coastal Liberal Democrats proposed two motions. Both were endorsed by the conference by overwhelmingly majorities.  They will now be considered at national level.

The first idea proposed is in response to the widely held feeling in communities across the country that ordinary people don’t get a proper hearing on planning matters. 

In cities, towns and villages across the South East ordinary voters feel the cards are stacked against them. They see developers hiring expensive lawyers, planning consultants and PR firms that dominate the process and shut out objections. 

The Liberal Democrat idea is that communities will be able to able to apply for a match funded grant of up to £5,000 from their local council. With money from their own resources added to the council grant, a community will be able to hire a legal, planning or public relations expert, known as “A People’s Advocate,”  to guide them and help them shape their campaign. 

Canterbury  Liberal Democrats say this is a  simple, cheap and understandable proposal that would introduce a safety valve into the democratic process. “It is not a ‘Nimby’s charter”, said one of its proposers, “but a way of putting a bit more power and influence into the hands of local people. It should also improve the dialogue between communities, developers and councils by giving residents a bit more muscle.”

The grant money would not come from local taxpayers but from central government. Each council will be awarded an annual  ‘Grants pot” of £50,000, with large councils getting proportionately more. 

Empowering Chambers of Commerce

Another overwhelming majority backed the Canterbury party’s second proposal to help develop the chambers of commerce movement across England, so that every town and region would have its own chamber. A fund of £100 million would be allocated by central government over five years to meet the cost of setting up new chambers and strengthening existing chambers. 

Canterbury  Liberal Democrats say that for too long central government has imposed economic development strategies that are often remote and unaccountable. They say that chambers of commerce can be empowered to have a bigger say in developing business skills, apprenticeship training and all life training. Chambers would become economic development hubs, as much for farmers and growers as accountants and hoteliers. 

“We want to make sure that Chambers of Commerce become a force for progress everywhere. That they are listened to and have the legal right to be heard. There are now five million self-employed people in the UK and they need a voice and towns can have a more powerful engine for economic development,” says one of the idea’s originators.

Genuine debating chambers

“More than any other party, Liberal Democrats depend on members to originate and develop policy,” says Nigel Whitburn, Chairman of Canterbury & Coastal Liberal Democrats. “Our Federal Conferences are not just a platform for party big wigs to be seen on TV, but genuine debating chambers where policy proposals are considered, amended, adopted or rejected. I am delighted that local members are coming up with innovative ideas that may soon be national policy.”

* Martin Roche is a member of Canterbury Liberal Democrats