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 This outdated law currently see renters turfed out of their home with just eight weeks’ notice and for no good reason.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

 
 
 
 

Older people need better homes – but then, so does everybody else

Colne, Lancashire. Image: Getty.

Towards the end of last year, I started as an associate director at the Centre for Ageing Better, working particularly on our goal around safe and accessible homes. Before I arrived, Ageing Better had established some ambitious goals for this work: by 2030, we want the number of homes classed as decent to increase by a million, and by the same date to ensure that at least half of all new homes are built to be fully accessible.

We’ve all heard the statistics about the huge growth in the number of households headed by someone over 65, and the exponential growth in the number of households of people over 85. Frustratingly, this is often presented as a problem to be solved rather than a major success story of post war social and health policy. Older people, like everyone else, have ambitions for the future, opportunities to make a full contribution to their communities and to continue to work in fulfilling jobs.

It is also essential that older people, again like everyone else, should live in decent and accessible homes. In the last 50 years we have made real progress in improving the quality of our homes, but we still have a lot to do. Our new research shows that over 4 million homes across England fail to meet the government’s basic standards of decency. And a higher proportion of older people live in these homes than the population more generally, with over a million people over the age of 55 living in conditions that pose a risk to their health or safety.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to ensure all our homes meet a decent standard. A small number of homes require major and expensive remedial work, but the overwhelming majority need less than £3,000 to hit the mark. We know how to do it. We now need the political will to make it a priority. Apart from the benefits to the people living in the homes, investment of this kind is great for the economy, especially when so many of our skilled tradespeople are older. Imagine if they were part of training young people to learn these skills.


At a recent staff away day, we explored where we would ideally want to live in our later lives. This was not a stretch for me, although for some of our younger colleagues it is a long way into the future.

The point at which the conversation really took off for me was when we moved away from government definitions of decency and accessibility and began to explore the principles of what great homes for older people would be like. We agreed they needed light and space (by which we meant real space – our national obsession with number of bedrooms as opposed to space has led to us building the smallest new homes in Europe).

We agreed, too, that they needed to be as flexible as possible so that the space could be used differently as our needs change. We thought access to safe outdoor space was essential and that the homes should be digitally connected and in places that maximise the potential for social connection.

Of course, it took us just a few seconds to realise that this is true for virtually everyone. As a nation we have been dismal at moving away from three-bed boxes to thinking differently about what our homes should look like. In a world of technology and factory building, and as we build the new generation of homes we desperately need, we have a real chance to be bold.

Great, flexible homes with light and space, in the places where people want to live. Surely it’s not too much to ask?

David Orr is associate director – homes at the Centre for Ageing Better.