The end of no fault evictions is a start – but the government still needs to tackle rental costs

Oh, lovely. Image: Getty.

It is absolutely right that people have a secure and stable home, to provide and anchor and a firm foundation for building a better life. This applies to renters as well as homeowners – so the government’s decision to put an end to no-fault evictions is really good news.

Under the current system, landlords can turf their tenants out without having to give them a reason, sweeping many into uncertainty and insecurity. Moving to open-ended tenancies and requiring landlords to prove ‘grounds’, such as rent arrears or damage to the property, will be a major step forward in reforming the private rented sector for the 4.7 million households who currently call it home.

This move, a more significant reform than anything floated in the communities department’s recent consultation on tenancy length, is a big win for the campaigners, many of them grass roots organisations, think tanks and politicians who have been making the case for reform.

It will be a step change for tenants. Research by Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research found that the rising evictions in the private rented sector have been almost entirely due to the increasing use of ‘no fault’ evictions. This has significant impacts for tenants on low incomes, risking pulling them deeper into poverty. This problem can be seen in homelessness figures, where the end of private rented sector tenancies have swept many into homelessness in recent years, with the number of families being accepted as homeless due to the end of a private rented quadrupling between 2012-13 and 2016-17.

What is more, the end of section 21 will give tenants much greater power in the housing market. Under the current system, tenants are often scared to complain to landlords for fear they might be kicked out as a result. Research by the Citizens Advice Bureau found that tenants who had received a section 21 "no-fault eviction" notice were twice as likely to have complained to their landlord, five times more likely to have gone to their local authority, and eight times more likely to have complained to a redress scheme.

As always though, the true impact of this proposal is to be seen and much will depend on the totality of government’s reforms. Firstly, with Theresa May having stated she will stand down as Prime Minister in the not too distant future, the pressure will be on to ensure that any future party leader adopts this position and sees it through into legislation. Secondly, many are rightly asking for further detail, specifically about how the new rules will work with a court system already thought to be too slow to deal with cases.

It is also important that we acknowledge that insecurity in the private rented sector is not only a product of legal structures. The high cost of rent, which sweeps too many into poverty, is also of significant concern. Government will need to set out how they will deal with in-tenancy rent increases if it is to ensure that its new open-ended tenancies are genuinely secure. If landlords can increase rents frequently without good reason, then these tenancies will not offer the anchor that tenants need to keep them steady in hard times.

It is also essential that the social security system effectively supports people to meet their housing costs. Since 2012, Local Housing Allowance has not been increased in line with local rents, meaning that the benefit designed to support housing costs has been disconnected from the actual cost of renting. Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, shows that, since 2011, the freeze on Housing Benefit means the number of private renters whose financial support does not meet their rent has grown by 200,000 households. Half those households are families with kids.

If the current policy continues, then by 2025 another 200,000 people will face a gap between their rent and the amount of housing benefit they receive. About half of that growth will occur between now and 2020, when the freeze is due to end.

We must recognise that the private rented sector is not always a tenure of choice. For those on low incomes, too many are renting as they cannot access a genuinely affordable home. This is the result of decades of insufficient social house building and the decision to allow local authorities to discharge their homelessness duty into the private rented sector.

If we want to hold back the rising tide of poverty, then we need to ensure this move towards intervention in the housing market is matched by investment in the 90,000 genuinely affordable homes a year we need.

For now, though, this is a big step forward for people swept into poverty and one that we should celebrate.

Darren Baxter works on housing policy at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. He tweets as @DarrenBaxter.


The mountain in North Wales that tried to stop the UK’s blackout

Elidir Fawr, the mountain in question. Image: Jem Collins.

Last Friday, the UK’s National Grid turned to mush. Not the official term perhaps, but an accurate one after nearly one million people were left without power across the country, with hundreds more stranded at train stations – or even on trains (which isn’t nearly as fun as it might immediately sound). 

Traffic lights stopped working, back-up power failed in hospitals, and business secretary Andrea Leadsom launched an investigation into exactly what happened. So far though, the long and short of it is that a gas-fired power station in Bedfordshire failed just before 5 o’clock, followed just two minutes later by Hornsea offshore wind farm. 

However, amid the resulting chaos and inevitable search to find someone to blame for the outage, a set of mountains (yes, mountains) in North Wales were working extremely hard to keep the lights on.

From the outside, Elidir Fawr, doesn’t scream power generation. Sitting across from the slightly better known Mount Snowdon, it actually seems quite passive. After all, it is a mountain, and the last slate quarry in the area closed in 1969.

At a push, you’d probably guess the buildings at the base of the mountain were something to do with the area’s industrial past, mostly thanks to the blasting scars on its side, as I did when I first walked past last Saturday. 

But, buried deep into Elidir Fawr is the ability to generate an astounding 1,728 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2.5 million homes, more than the entire population of the Liverpool region. And the plant is capable of running for five hours.

Dubbed by locals at the ‘Electric Mountain’, Dinorwig Power Station, is made up of 16km of underground tunnels (complete with their own traffic light system), in an excavation which could easily house St Paul’s Cathedral.

Instead, it’s home to six reversible pumps/turbines which are capable of reaching full capacity in just 16 seconds. Which is probably best, as Londoners would miss the view.

‘A Back-Up Facility for The National Grid’

And, just as it often is, the Electric Mountain was called into action on Friday. A spokesperson for First Hydro Company, which owns the generators at Dinorwig, and the slightly smaller Ffestiniog, both in Snowdonia, confirmed that last Friday they’d been asked to start generating by the National Grid.

But just how does a mountain help to ease the effects of a blackout? Or as it’s more regularly used, when there’s a surge in demand for electricity – most commonly when we all pop the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup, scientifically known as TV pick-up.

The answer lies in the lakes at both the top and bottom of Elidir Fawr. Marchlyn Mawr, at the top of the mountain, houses an incredible 7 million tonnes of water, which can be fed down through the mountain to the lake at the bottom, Llyn Peris, generating electricity as it goes.

“Pumped storage technology enables dynamic response electricity production – ofering a critical back-up facility during periods of mismatched supply and demand on the national grid system,” First Hydro Company explains.

The tech works essentially the same way as conventional hydro power – or if you want to be retro, a spruced up waterwheel. When the plant releases water from the upper reservoir, as well as having gravity on their side (the lakes are half a kilometre apart vertically) the water shafts become smaller and smaller, further ramping up the pressure. 

This, in turn, spins the turbines which are linked to the generators, with valves regulating the water flow. Unlike traditional UK power stations, which can take hours to get to full capacity, at Dinorwig it’s a matter of 16 seconds from a cold start, or as little as five if the plant is on standby.

And, designed with the UK’s 50hz frequency in mind, the generator is also built to shut off quickly and avoid overloading the network. Despite the immense water pressure, the valves are able to close off the supply within just 20 seconds. 

At night, the same thing simply happens in reverse, as low-cost, surplus energy from the grid is used to pump the water back up to where it came from, ready for another day of hectic TV scheduling. Or blackouts, take your pick.

Completed in 1984, the power station was the product of a decade of work, and the largest civil engineering project commissioned at the time – and it remains one of Europe’s largest manmade caverns. Not that you’d know it from the outside. And really, if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that looks can be deceiving, and that mountains can actually be really damn good at making electricity. 

Jem Collins is a digital journalist and editor whose work focuses on human rights, rural stories and careers. She’s the founder and editor of Journo Resources, and you can also find her tweeting @Jem_Collins.