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 This outdated law currently see renters turfed out of their home with just eight weeks’ notice and for no good reason.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.

 
 
 
 

Transport for London’s fare zones secretly go up to 15

Some of these stations are in zones 10 to 12. Ooooh. Image: TfL.

The British capital, as every true-blooded Londoner knows, is divided into six concentric zones, from zone 1 in the centre to zone 6 in the green belt-hugging outer suburbs.

These are officially fare zones, which Transport for London (TfL) uses to determine the cost of your tube or rail journey. Unofficially, though, they’ve sort of become more than that, and like postcodes double as a sort of status symbol, a marker of how London-y a district actually is.

If you’re the sort of Londoner who’s also interested in transport nerdery, or who has spent any time studying the tube map, you’ll probably know that there are three more zones on the fringes of the capital. These, numbered 7 to 9, are used to set and collect fares at non-London stations where the Oyster card still works. But they differ from the first six, in that they aren’t concentric rings, but random patches, reflecting not distance from London but pre-existing and faintly arbitrary fares. Thus it is that at some points (on the Overground to Cheshunt, say) trains leaving zone 6 will visit zone 7. But at others they jump to 8 (on the train to Dartford) or 9 (on TfL rail to Brentwood), or skip them altogether.

Anyway: it turns out that, although they’re keeping it fairly quiet, the zones don’t stop at 9 either. They go all the way up to 15.

So I learned this week from the hero who runs the South East Rail Group Twitter feed, when they (well, let’s be honest: he) tweeted me this:

The choice of numbers is quite odd in its way. Purfleet, a small Thames-side village in Essex, is not only barely a mile from the London border, it’s actually inside the M25. Yet it’s all the way out in the notional zone 10. What gives?

TfL’s Ticketing + Revenue Update is a surprisingly jazzy internal newsletter about, well, you can probably guess. The September/October 2018 edition, published on WhatDoTheyKnow.com following a freedom of information request, contains a helpful explanation of what’s going on. The expansion of the Oyster card system

“has seen [Pay As You Go fare] acceptance extended to Grays, Hertford East, Shenfield, Dartford and Swanley. These expansions have been identified by additional zones mainly for PAYG caping and charging purposes.

“Although these additional zones appear on our staff PAYG map, they are no generally advertised to customers, as there is the risk of potentially confusing users or leading them to think that these ones function in exactly the same way as Zones 1-6.”


Fair enough: maps should make life less, not more, confusing, so labelling Shenfield et al. as “special fares apply” rather than zone whatever makes some sense. But why don’t these outer zone fares work the same way as the proper London ones?

“One of the reasons that the fare structure becomes much more complicated when you travel to stations beyond the Zone 6 boundary is that the various Train Operating Companies (TOCs) are responsible for setting the fares to and from their stations outside London. This means that they do not have to follow the standard TfL zonal fares and can mean that stations that are notionally indicated as being in the same fare zone for capping purposes may actually have very different charges for journeys to/from London."

In other words, these fares have been designed to fit in with pre-existing TOC charges. Greater Anglia would get a bit miffed if TfL unilaterally decided that Shenfield was zone 8, thus costing the TOC a whole pile of revenue. So it gets a higher, largely notional fare zone to reflect fares. It’s a mess. No wonder TfL doesn't tell us about them.

These “ghost zones”, as the South East Rail Group terms them, will actually be extending yet further. Zone 15 is reserved for some of the western-most Elizabeth line stations out to Reading, when that finally joins the system. Although whether the residents of zone 12 will one day follow in the venerable London tradition of looking down on the residents of zones 13-15 remains to be seen.

Jonn Elledge was the founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.