We took a removals van to the Ministry of Housing. Here’s why

Some to let signs. Image: Getty.

If you were in Westminster this week you will have struggled to miss the members of Extinction Rebellion demanding action from our politicians to stop cooking the planet. If you were anywhere near the Ministry of Housing, you might also have spotted one of the culprits behind the climate emergency: a removals van.

Right now if you’re a renter, thanks to a law called section 21, you could be told to leave your home with just two months’ notice. It might be because you’ve complained about the single glazed windows in your home or a leak in your roof. And what that means is hauling your worldly possessions across town, not to mention another trip to IKEA to try and make your next house loosely resemble a home, and not a squat.

So that’s why yesterday we found ourselves lugging a replica van down to the heart of government , to deliver a message for the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick: England’s 4.5m private renters need somewhere to call home.

The government has already taken a major, welcome step towards this, with a promise to abolish Section 21, the right of landlords to evict tenants without needing a reason. Its consultation on how this will work in practice closes this Saturday.

The proposals are designed to stop unscrupulous landlords evicting tenants for no good reason or using the threat of an eviction to bully tenants into staying quiet about mistreatment or disrepair. It’s no surprise that private rented homes are more likely to be classed as unsafe when landlords who don’t want to provide a decent home can avoid their obligations by turfing out tenants who try to exercise their rights.

Many landlords tell us they want their tenants to stay long term. But because every landlord has Section 21 up their sleeve, few tenants know for sure that their landlord definitely won’t get annoyed enough to serve an eviction notice when the cooker breaks.

That’s why the government wants to require landlords to provide – and prove – valid grounds in order to take back their property. Tenants would have more confidence to make requests and develop good communication and trust with their landlord. Clearer expectations make it easier to plan our lives.

But the proposals have gaps that could keep tenants in a precarious position. An unscrupulous landlord could avoid the evictions process altogether and try to raise the rent to an unaffordable level. While tenants would be able to challenge rent hikes at a tribunal, decisions are based on what the market rent is, so if you live somewhere that’s got fashionable in recent years (hello East Londoners), you could still get priced out for speaking out.

The proposals also contain grounds for eviction that mean tenants can lose their home for reasons outside their control: if the landlord wants to sell up or move back in.

In both those cases, a decent landlord would make alternative arrangements: to sell to another landlord with the tenants in situ, or find somewhere else to live. Whether they like it or not, landlords are running a business and their personal decisions should not trump the interests of their customers.

If there is no option but to take back possession, landlords should have a duty to help rehouse their tenant – that means giving them plenty of time to find somewhere new and covering the costs of finding a new deposit, paying rent on two properties at the same time, and getting a removal van. According to the English Housing Survey, nearly two-thirds of private tenants have no savings, so Section 21 is currently plunging thousands of tenants into debt and putting unnecessary strain on local councils’ homelessness teams. This would continue under the current proposals.

Safeguards around “no-fault” grounds for eviction would help tenants during what is a stressful time whoever wanted to end the tenancy, encourage landlords to find alternatives that don’t involve someone uprooting their life, and cut the numbers experiencing homelessness.

We have put these demands in an open letter to Robert Jenrick and Boris Johnson, which has so far been signed by more than 50,000 supporters of the End Unfair Evictions campaign. We have also whittled the long, dry consultation down to a survey with the most important questions to make it as easy as possible for renters to be heard as the government considers responses to the consultation.

And as the urgency of action on climate change builds there are a couple more modest benefits of overhauling tenancy law. You will have more incentive to ask for your home to be insulated properly. And without thousands of unwanted moves every year, we would eliminate the carbon emissions of thousands of trips by removal vans. 

Dan Wilson Craw is director of Generation Rent. The End Unfair Evictions coalition is made up of Generation Rent, ACORN, London Renters Union, Tenants Union UK and New Economics Foundation.


As EU funding is lost, “levelling up” needs investment, not just rhetoric

Oh, well. Image: Getty.

Regional inequality was the foundation of Boris Johnson’s election victory and has since become one of the main focuses of his government. However, the enthusiasm of ministers championing the “levelling up” agenda rings hollow when compared with their inertia in preparing a UK replacement for European structural funding. 

Local government, already bearing the brunt of severe funding cuts, relies on European funding to support projects that boost growth in struggling local economies and help people build skills and find secure work. Now that the UK has withdrawn its EU membership, councils’ concerns over how EU funds will be replaced from 2021 are becoming more pronounced.

Johnson’s government has committed to create a domestic structural funding programme, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), to replace the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF). However, other than pledging that UKSPF will “reduce inequalities between communities”, it has offered few details on how funds will be allocated. A public consultation on UKSPF promised by May’s government in 2018 has yet to materialise.

The government’s continued silence on UKSPF is generating a growing sense of unease among councils, especially after the failure of successive governments to prioritise investment in regional development. Indeed, inequalities within the UK have been allowed to grow so much that the UK’s poorest region by EU standards (West Wales & the Valleys) has a GDP of 68 per cent of the average EU GDP, while the UK’s richest region (Inner London) has a GDP of 614 per cent of the EU average – an intra-national disparity that is unique in Europe. If the UK had remained a member of the EU, its number of ‘less developed’ regions in need of most structural funding support would have increased from two to five in 2021-27: South Yorkshire, Tees Valley & Durham and Lincolnshire joining Cornwall & Isles of Scilly and West Wales & the Valley. Ministers have not given guarantees that any region, whether ‘less developed’ or otherwise, will obtain the same amount of funding under UKSPF to which they would have been entitled under ESIF.

The government is reportedly contemplating changing the Treasury’s fiscal rules so public spending favours programmes that reduce regional inequalities as well as provide value for money, but this alone will not rebalance the economy. A shared prosperity fund like UKSPF has the potential to be the master key that unlocks inclusive growth throughout the country, particularly if it involves less bureaucracy than ESIF and aligns funding more effectively with the priorities of local people. 

In NLGN’s Community Commissioning report, we recommended that this funding should be devolved to communities directly to decide local priorities for the investment. By enabling community ownership of design and administration, the UK government would create an innovative domestic structural funding scheme that promotes inclusion in its process as well as its outcomes.

NLGN’s latest report, Cultivating Local Inclusive Growth: In Practice, highlights the range of policy levers and resources that councils can use to promote inclusive growth in their area. It demonstrates that, through collaboration with communities and cross-sector partners, councils are already doing sterling work to enhance economic and social inclusion. Their efforts could be further enhanced with a fund that learns lessons from ESIF’s successes and flaws: a UKSPF that is easier to access, designed and delivered by local communities, properly funded, and specifically targeted at promoting social and economic inclusion in regions that need it most. “Getting Brexit done” was meant to free up the government’s time to focus once more on pressing domestic priorities. “Getting inclusive growth done” should be at the top of any new to-do list.

Charlotte Morgan is senior researcher at the New Local Government Network.