Cabinet minister Michael Gove is delaying the promised ban on “no fault” evictions until after a reform of the courts is achieved – provoking claims he is kicking the key measure in his own bill into the “long grass”.
The levelling up secretary has told Conservative MPs – worried about the impact of the Renters Reform Bill – that the ban on section 21 evictions won’t be enacted before a series of improvements are made in the legal system.
Mr Gove’s bill– which includes the proposal to ban section 21 so-called no-fault evictions – is finally due for its first appearance in the Commons on Monday.
But in a letter first reported by LBC, Mr Gove said in a letter to Tories earlier this month that they will “reform the courts before we abolish section 21”.
The senior minister said that “implementation of the new system will not take place until we judge sufficient progress has been made to improve the courts”.
Labour fears that the bill could get caught in endless delay. In a response to the levelling up committee, Mr Sunak’s government said it would not bring in “the abolition of Section 21 until stronger possession grounds and a new court process is in place”.
Ms Rayner said that Mr Gove’s “secret” letter shows a “flip-flop” on the section 21 ban which “kicks it into the long grass”. She argued that the unlikely to be brought in before the next election because the Conservatives will act as “judge and jury” in deciding when the courts have been sufficiently improved.
“Having broken the justice system, they are now using their own failure to indefinitely delay keeping their promises to renters in the most underhand way,” Ms Rayner said.
Despite Labour criticism, the Labour-chaired committee levelling up committee said the government should “agree how quickly the courts need to be processing possession claims before landlords can have confidence in the system, and then commit to meeting this target before abolishing section 21”.
There is no timescale for court reform, but a government source told The Independent they were “well aware of the need for urgency” and working to bring it in “as soon as possible”.
Tom Darling, campaign manager of the Renters’ Reform Coalition, attacked the “absurd” idea that “some ill-defined court reform” must happen before section 21 no-fault evictions can end.
The campaigner added: “The government promised to end no-fault evictions in 2019 – what have they been doing with the courts since then? This a pathetic last-minute concession to keep the Conservative party together and the rebellion down, and it will have a terrible human cost.”
Some Tory MPs worried it will hit landlords’ ability to rent out properties have indicated they vote against the bill, with speculation that dozens of backbenchers could rebel.
Tory MP Marcus Fysh tweeted on Monday: “I’ll vote against the Renters’ Reform Bill today … The Bill would reduce supply of rental properties, meaning more inflation. Drop it.”
Ex-cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has also urged Mr Sunak to “drop” the “landlord-bashing” bill. “It is unpopular with Tory MPs and the whips’ office apparently advised against it,” he wrote in the Mail.
Tory MP Marco Longhi told The Telegraph: “If I am forced to vote I will be voting against this … I am a landlord, so I do declare an interest.”
I'll vote against the Renters' Reform Bill today.
- Housing quality standards are already mandated.
- Landlords and tenants should be free to enter into contracts of a length they choose.
- The Bill would reduce supply of rental properties, meaning more inflation.
— Marcus Fysh MP (@MarcusFysh) October 23, 2023
The Renters’ Reform Coalition warned Tory MPs that polling shows one in four of their 2019 voters live in the private rented sector, and that their support for the party is “now in free fall”.
The campaign group, made up of 20 organisations including Shelter and Crisis, also claims is polling shows “broad public support” for the bill. Some 72 per cent of respondents support a ban on section 21 evictions.
Labour claims that 71,310 households have had to leave their homes due to section 21 notices since April 2019, and that 21,332 households have had bailiffs kick them out.
The move to delay the ban on no fault evictions was welcomed by National Residential Landlords Association (NLA). The group had warned that the bill could mean the “shortage of homes will only worsen” and hurt renters.
Chief executive Ben Beadle said: “Following extensive campaigning by the NRLA, we welcome the approach taken by ministers to ensure court improvements are made before section 21 ends.”
Housing minister Rachel Maclean said: “We are delivering our manifesto pledge to create a fairer private rented sector for tenants and landlords, ending no-fault evictions and strengthening landlords’ rights of possession on issues like anti-social behaviour.”
She added: “While Labour are shouting from the sidelines, only the Conservatives are taking the long-term decisions needed to deliver a more secure rental market for tenants and landlords.”
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has previously said the bill will “deliver a fairer private rented sector for both tenants and landlords”.