How renters could decide the next government

Oh, no. Image: Getty.

In April, the government made private renters the promise of a generation: to end Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. This outdated law currently see renters turfed out of their home with just eight weeks’ notice and for no good reason. It’s a major contributor to homelessness too.

But six months on, as the battle over Brexit rages on, the government risks losing sight of the reasons for this ambitious change – and that will be at its own expense, as well as severely letting down England’s 11 million renters. 

The government’s consultation on how to abolish Section 21 closes on Saturday, followed swiftly by the Queen’s Speech on Monday: the perfect opportunity for the Prime Minister to consign this unfair practice to history. The consultation reassures landlords that they will still be able to get their property back for legitimate reasons, including when they need to sell or move in themselves, or when a tenant has breached their tenancy agreement. 

While there are scaremongering landlord groups trying to kill off these changes, they are outnumbered by the private renters who desperately want and need them. And those renters will make themselves heard at ballot boxes across the country if an election comes soon.

According to Shelter’s new research, 72 per cent of renters who say they intend to vote in the next general election think scrapping ‘no-fault’ evictions should be a priority. Based on the turnout of private renters in the 2017 election, the government could be looking at 3.3 million disgruntled voters if it does a U-turn for the worst. This issue will matter to the country and so it should matter to any political party. 

It’s no surprise to us at Shelter that scrapping Section 21 is such an emotive and critical issue for trapped renters. Our services routinely support distraught families and individuals who have been handed a Section 21 notice out of the blue and given barely any notice to find a new home and safeguard their future. This is no way for people to live.


It’s not just the Section 21 notice itself that floors families, it’s the crippling fear of it, too. A fear which often stops them from voicing concerns about repairs or rent increases. Our research shows that almost one in five private renters (18 per cent) have not asked for repairs in their home because they dread being shown the door. And their concerns are well grounded: Citizens Advice data shows they have an almost 50/50 chance of falling victim to a section 21 ‘revenge eviction’

How can it be right for renting households to pay on average 41 per cent of their income on rent – more than any other type of housing – only to feel frightened of asking for basic services or taking a massive gamble if they do? We simply cannot tolerate a system that allows children to become homeless because some landlords don’t want to fulfil legal obligations.

 We hear from families every day who have been served a no-fault eviction notice and then struggle to find somewhere new to live because of barriers blocking their way – including the fact that so many letting agents and landlords won’t consider renting to anyone receiving housing benefit. Many families then face homelessness as a result and, with nowhere else to turn, end up in unsuitable temporary accommodation. The government has a golden opportunity to stop this dreaded spiral before it starts by simply scrapping Section 21. 

But the benefits of abolishing ‘no fault’ evictions are not just social and economic: they are political too. Two-thirds of those who say they intend to vote in the next election state they are more likely to support a government that pushes this legislation over the line.

Renters are fed up. For too long, they’ve been forced to live their lives at the mercy of landlords. With the consultation ending, now is the time for the government to finally rebalance this relationship and make it fair for renters. All of us need a safe and secure place to call home.

Have your say on the Section 21 consultation here.

Polly Neate is chief executive of Shelter.

 
 
 
 

This election is our chance to treat housing as a right – but only if we listen to tenants

The Churchill Gardens Estate, Westminster, London. Image: Getty.

“You’re joking, not another one... there’s too much politics going on at the moment..!”

Brenda of Bristol’s televised comments in 2017, when told that another election was to take place, could just as well have been uttered when MPs voted to call a general election for 12 December this year. 

Almost immediately the politicking began. “A chance to transform our country”. “An opportunity to stop Brexit/get Brexit done”. ‘We can end austerity and inequality.” “A new revitalised parliament.” “Another referendum.”

Yet dig behind the language of electioneering and, for the first time that I can recall, there is mention of solving the housing crisis by all the major parties. I can welcome another election, if the result is a determination to build enough homes to meet everyone’s needs and everyone’s pocket.

That will require those who come to power to recognise that our housing system has never been fit for purpose. It has never matched the needs of the nation. It is not an accident that homelessness is increasing; not an accident that families are living in overcrowded accommodation or temporary accommodation, sometimes for years; not an accident that rents are going up and the opportunities to buy property are going down. It is not an accident that social housing stock continues to be sold off. These are the direct result of policy decisions by successive governments.

So with all the major parties stating their good intentions to build more homes, how do we ensure their determination results in enough homes of quality where people want to live, work and play? By insisting that current and prospective tenants are involved in the planning and decision making process from the start.

“Involved” is the key word. When we build new homes and alter the environment we must engage with the local community and prospective tenants. It is their homes and their communities we are impacting – they need to be involved in shaping their lived space. That means involvement before the bull-dozer moves in; involvement at thinking and solution finding stages, and with architects and contractors. It is not enough to ask tenants and community members for their views on plans and proposals which have already been agreed by the board or the development committee of some distant housing provider.


As more homes for social and affordable rent become a reality, we need tenants to be partners at the table deciding on where, how and why they should be built there, from that material, and with those facilities. We need them to have an effective voice in decision making. This means working together with tenants and community members to create good quality homes in inclusive and imaginatively designed environments.

I am a tenant of Phoenix Community Housing, a social housing provider. I am also the current Chair and one of six residents on the board of twelve. Phoenix is resident led with tenants embedded throughout the organisation as active members of committees and onto policy writing and scrutiny.

Tenants are part of the decision making process as we build to meet the needs of the community. Our recently completed award-winning extra care scheme has helped older people downsize and released larger under-occupied properties for families.

By being resident led, we can be community driven. Our venture into building is small scale at the moment, but we are building quality homes that residents want and are appropriate to their needs. Our newest development is being built to Passivhaus standard, meaning they are not only more affordable but they are sustainable for future generations.

There are a few resident led organisations throughout the country. We don’t have all the answers to the housing situation, nor do we get everything right first time. We do know how to listen, learn and act.

The shocking events after the last election, when disaster came to Grenfell Tower, should remind us that tenants have the knowledge and ability to work with housing providers for the benefit of all in the community – if we listen to them and involve them and act on their input.

This election is an opportunity for those of us who see appropriate housing as a right; housing as a lived space in which to thrive and build community; housing as home not commodity – to hold our MPs to account and challenge them to outline their proposals and guarantee good quality housing, not only for the most vulnerable but for people generally, and with tenants fully involved from the start.

Anne McGurk is a tenant and chair of Phoenix Community Housing, London’s only major resident-led housing association.