Authors:Sue James
Last updated:2024-04-29
Editorial: A kick in the teeth
Marc Bloomfield
Description: Housing_Mike Bird_Pexels
In the week that the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, informed us that he had found 25 courtrooms to process Rwanda asylum claims, parliament was told that the courts weren’t ready for reform to the law on no-fault evictions – usually known as s21 evictions (in reference to Housing Act 1988 s21). So, the Renters (Reform) Bill will be reform in name only – until the courts are ready. The detail of what ‘ready’ means is still not clear now the bill has been through its third reading in the House of Commons, but I understand it’s something to do with going digital. Of course it is!
Caroline Lucas MP announced in parliament on 24 April 2024 that nearly a million people had been issued with s21 notices since the Conservative party pledged to ban them in its 2019 manifesto, which committed to a ‘Better Deal for Renters’ (page 29). The white paper went further, by promising a bill with ‘quality, affordability, and fairness at its heart’. All those promises have been broken by this bill and it is a kick in the teeth for renters. When I tweeted that exact phrase (and received 184 ‘likes’, as people are rightly angry) I was responding to a tweet I had seen earlier by the Law Society Gazette’s John Hyde, who was also responding to Sunak’s announcement. His reaction was in relation to the criminal courts backlog: ‘What a kick in the teeth for the thousands of people waiting for their day in court due to the government letting the backlog spiral out of control’ (the Crown Court backlog rose to 68,842 cases in February 2024, compared with 60,275 a year earlier).
If the courts aren’t ready for rental reform, then what are they ready for? It certainly isn’t the appeals by the hundreds of Post Office employees who have been wrongly convicted – the government has created its own bill, the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill, for that.
We have a justice crisis. Everywhere you look, there just isn’t the money to make the system function effectively, but at the same time more and more cases are forced needlessly into courts and tribunals because of poor decision-making, underfunding of care and social support – I could go on … When I was a front-line duty solicitor, more than half of the rent arrears cases had a benefit issue at their heart – issues that people had been struggling to resolve and were unable to get advice about because those lawyers had disappeared along with the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. These cases just don’t need to be in court – we need to be resolving the issues upstream, not waiting for people to fall in the river. This just isn’t joined-up thinking.
As chair of the Renters Reform Coalition (RRC) for the past three years, I feel like I have been on a rollercoaster ride. Sitting round the table in Michael Gove’s office a year ago with representatives from tenant and landlord groups, I had hope that we would see change. I am old enough to have had cases that had Rent Act protection – tenants had long-term security and fair rents. Houses were homes, not commodities.
The RRC’s statement that ‘[i]n its current form, the Renters (Reform) Bill will be a failure’ caused a stir in government, which resulted in a response on the DLUHC in the Media blog: ‘Abolishing section 21 notices is a manifesto commitment and we have been very clear that we will end these no-fault evictions as soon as possible.’ Which basically says nothing at all – the point that the RRC was making!
All of which leads me nicely to a
plug of LAG’s annual Housing Law Conference …
The housing crisis is causing considerable injustice and we can’t rely on this government to make change. Come along to LAG’s Housing Law Conference on 7 June 2024, where we will be creating toolkits for change. When the government kicks you in the teeth, fight back!