Ban on no-fault evictions may face long delays amid fears of Tory rebellion

A government pledge to ban no-fault evictions could face long delays after Michael Gove told his backbenchers he would not enact the policy until courts have been reformed.

A promise to outlaw Section 21 evictions was made by the Conservatives in its 2019 manifesto - although the plan was only confirmed in May this year - and it forms part of the government's Renters Reform Bill.

However, there has been disquiet amongst some Tory MPs over the move, which will stop landlords taking back possession of a property from tenants without giving a reason, with reports suggesting those who own properties themselves see the measure as "un-Conservative" and "anti-landlord".

Mr Gove wrote to backbenchers earlier this month in what appears to be an attempt to ease their concerns.

In the letter, seen by Sky News, the housing secretary promised to "reform the courts before we abolish Section 21" - adding: "While over 99% of tenancies end without involving the courts, a fast and efficient court system is critical to making sure the new system works in practice. This remains a top priority for both my department and the Ministry of Justice.

"I can confirm that implementation of the new system will not take place until we judge sufficient progress has been made to improve the courts. That means we will not proceed with the abolition of Section 21 until reforms to the justice system are in place."

The "reforms" in the letter include digitising more of the courts' processes, exploring the prioritisation of certain cases - such as anti-social behaviour - and improving bailiff recruitment and retention.

"While it is critical for the legislation to provide better quality accommodation for renters, we must ensure landlords retain their right to swiftly get their properties back when they need to," Mr Gove added.

But Labour has dubbed it a "grubby deal" with Tory MPs that will see the planned ban "kicked into the long grass".

The party's deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: "The government plans to act as judge and jury in deciding when the courts have been sufficiently improved, meaning their manifesto pledge will likely not be met before the next election.

"This comes at a heavy price for renters who have been let down for too long already. Tens of thousands more families who the government promised to protect, now face the prospect of being threatened with homelessness or kicked out of their homes by bailiffs."

Downing Street was unable to confirm when the ban would be enforced - with the prime minister's official spokesman just promising the bill would "deliver on the government's manifesto commitment to abolish no-fault evictions".

The Liberal Democrats have called on all Tory MPs who are landlords - a number they put at 68 - to reveal if they have ever used a Section 21 notice against their tenants "in order to have greater transparency over why they may oppose the ban on them".

The party's housing spokesperson, Helen Morgan, said: "It is not right that those thwarting this legislation do not have to make clear why they have such a keen personal interest in stopping it becoming law.

"Any MP who has ever used a Section 21 notice needs to make that clear to the House and to the public."

During the debate, a number of Tory MPs spoke out against the bill - including former minister Sir Edward Leigh.

"I know that many people in this House and rental reformers have argued in favour of getting rid of no-fault evictions to help give renters security," he said. "I believe the reality is the opposite.

"Banning no-fault evictions will make the rental market even more stagnant and will lead to a further drying up of it."

Conservative MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown also said the bill would have a "disastrous effect" on areas including his constituency "in reducing the number of rental properties, and therefore increasing the price of rent, and for youngsters this is really serious".

Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker said the government seemed "to be tarring every landlord with the same brush" with the bill.

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However, Mr Gove sought to defend the bill from claims it was "un-Conservative", telling MPs that Section 21 "has been used to silence those who have complained about the quality of their property, to intimidate them into accepting excessive rent rises".

"It is in nobody's interest to allow unscrupulous landlords to continue to behave in this way, to allow vulnerable people to be rendered voiceless in this way, and to force the taxpayer to pick up the bill," he said.

"The idea that abolishing Section 21 is somehow un-Conservative is to me absolutely nonsensical. Conservatives exist to protect the vulnerable in society, to make sure markets work and to save the taxpayer money."

The bill passed its first reading and will be carried over to after the King's Speech on 7 November.