Government slammed for 'massive act of cowardice' over no-fault evictions

The Bill included a long-promised plan to end tenants being forced from their homes under Section 21 notices -Credit:PA Wire/PA Images

The government has been accused of a 'massive act of cowardice' after failing to abolish no-fault evictions in the latest reforms to the private rented sector.

The Renters (Reform) Bill moved one step closer to becoming law yesterday (April 24), despite warnings it could prioritise landlords' interests over tenants'. MPs and campaigners have criticised the Government for delivering what appears to be an "indefinite delay" on plans to abolish the controversial "no-fault" Section 21 evictions, which the government first pledged to scrap back in 2019.

There has also been worries voiced on the Conservative benches about the overall impact of the bill, with one Tory MP claiming it could have 'dire consequences' for future levels of housing supply.

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The bill started with the intention of bringing an end to fixed-term tenancies, initiating a decent home standard, establishing a new ombudsman and introducing protections to safeguard families receiving benefits from discrimination.

It also encompassed the long-awaited plan to terminate the practice of forcing tenants from their homes under Section 21 notices. However, despite including the pledge in their 2019 manifesto, the Government says it will postpone its termination until court capacities to handle new cases have been evaluated.

On Wednesday, MPs voted by 287 to 144 - a majority of 143 - to permit the introduction of new clause 30 into the bill. The Government claimed the new clause will allow them to determine the impacts its new tenancy system may impose on the county courts prior to rolling out the reforms on a more extensive scale.

However, critics have slammed the new clause as one that could 'indefinitely delay' the abolition of section 21 evictions after a Labour amendment bill - aimed at ensuring the end of Section 21 - was dismissed by a vote of 282 to 158.

Housing Secretary Michael Gove said his aim is for the s21 ban to come in in this Parliament (Lucy North/PA)
Housing Secretary Michael Gove said his aim is for the Section 21 ban to come in before the general election -Credit:PA Wire/PA Images

MPs also voted 283 to 143, majority 140, in favour of the Government's new clause 15 to ensure a tenant's notice to quit an assured tenancy is not valid if it would take effect in the first six months. A landlord could agree in writing to the notice to quit taking effect earlier.

The Bill will now undergo further scrutiny in the House of Lords. However, charities and campaigners have expressed fury at the decision not to abolish section 21 notices within it.

Shelter CEO Polly Neate said: "The Government has led private renters down the garden path and dashed their best chance of a secure home. It has committed a colossal act of cowardice in the Commons by ratifying an indefinite delay to the ban on no-fault evictions, and by sneaking fixed-term tenancies back into the Renters (Reform) Bill."

Tom Darling, campaign manager of the Renters Reform Coalition, opined that the current version of the Bill will "fail renters". He added: "It will preserve the current balance of power that has created the renting crisis we face today. Frankly, it requires major surgery, and if it doesn't get it more legislation will be urgently needed from the next government."

Newly constructed houses
The bill started with the intention of bringing an end to fixed-term tenancies -Credit:PA Archive/PA Images

Conservative MP for Dover, Natalie Elphicke, criticised the Bill as a "betrayal" of the Government's 2019 manifesto pledge. According to Ms Elphicke, the proposed legislation "does not go far enough now in dealing with the fundamental challenges" faced by the private rented sector, adding: "Sadly, the original principle of the Bill, which was to create a fair and responsible new rented sector, has been undermined by the Government's amendments."

Ms Elphicke said: "This is a Bill that the Conservative manifesto in 2019 promised would benefit tenants. Instead, this has become a Bill where the balance too often is in favour of the landlords, particularly with the new clause 30 which could indefinitely delay the abolition of section 21 no-fault evictions."

And ministers were described as engaged in "grubby political horse trading", according to Labour's shadow housing minister Matthew Pennycook. "We remain firmly of the view that the Bill is not yet fit for purpose and that it must be strengthened to the benefit of renters. As a result of the fact that the Government appear determined to do the opposite, and further tilt the playing field to the landlord interest."

Tory backbencher Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) shared his belief in the possibility of banning Section 21 evictions along with the retention of fixed-term tenancies, adding that the Bill must contain "leeway" for the latter to linger beyond specific instances within the student accommodation market.

He stated: "The consequences of removing fixed-term tenancies is essentially the state turning around and saying to individuals what they can or cannot do with their own private properties."

Moreover, he concluded: "We are sending completely the wrong message with dire consequences for future levels of housing supply, we're making an enormous mistake which will reduce long-term lets in favour of short-term lets and result in many properties being taken off the rental market."

The housing minister Jacob Young addressed the Commons at a report stage, stating: "The Bill will abolish Section 21 and bring in new decency standards, giving England's eleven million tenants more certainty of secure and healthy homes." Mr Young admitted that the Government did not have a fixed date for abolishing no-fault evictions, explaining: "Because I can't say until we're confident that the county court system is ready."

Moreover, he informed MPs: "We're investing £1.2 million for the courts and tribunals service to deliver these new processes. If we don't have a ready court system when we make this change, the biggest change in 30 years, if the courts aren't ready for these changes that will not benefit tenants, it won't benefit landlords, but it certainly won't benefit tenants either."