The Renters Reform Bill

Samantha Robinson
Samantha Robinson

Published: June 28th, 2022

7 min read

The Renters Reform Bill is shortly due to receive royal assent, the Bill aims to 'level up' the private rented sector, ensuring that the percentage of none-decent homes is greatly reduced, tenants are protected against the rising cost of living and the balance of power between landlords and tenants is more finely balanced. The Bill is part of a wider reform agenda seeking to enhance lives and level up the country, delivering more housing and greater safeguards for tenants and homeowners.

Ahead of this, on 16 June 2022 the Government released the Fairer Private Rented Sector White Paper which sets out further details of how the Government aim to achieve their objectives.

At face value, it may seem that the planned reforms do not relate to social landlords and do not need to be considered, whilst many of the proposals don't relate directly to the social housing sector, there are several points to note in what is coined to be 'the biggest shake up of the private rented sector in 30 years' which may impact upon the social housing sector.

Around 473,000 households living in the privately rented sector (11%- of the privately rented sector) are 'struggling families,' those likely to be on low incomes without savings and in receipt of housing support. Around one in ten are on the waiting list for social housing and 27% of the households are expected to move into social housing longer term. Further, of around 424,000 (10% -of the privately rented sector) of vulnerable single households, 10% are presently on the waiting list for social housing.

Decent Homes Standard:

The Decent Homes Standard will be extended to the private sector for the first time, ensuring that rented homes are free from serious health and safety hazards and that the properties are in a good state of repair. Initially, this may have a negative impact upon the social housing sector as a percentage of homes currently privately rented may not meet the necessary standards and tenants may need to look to social housing providers if they are having difficulties finding and securing new properties in the privately rented sector. Notably, there are plans to ensure that tenants can take their landlord to Court to seek repayment of rent if their homes are not of an acceptable standard. Ultimately, if the standard of all rented properties improves, this will likely lead to more individuals content to privately rent and financially able to do so, having avoided the need to spend hundreds of pounds in moving costs to try to secure accommodation of a good standard.

Rent increases:

Presently, rents are increasing at their fastest level for around five years. The Bill will allow increases to rent only once per year, increase the notice of rent changes to at least two months and provide tenants with increased powers to challenge unjustified rent increases. These changes will hopefully stop many renters being priced out of the privately rented sector and only having the option of social housing available to them.

Section 21:

Michael Gove has described the threat of section 21 no fault evictions as 'unfair,' the Government have committed to abolish the use of the same, meaning that the tenancy can only end if the tenant decides to end it or alternatively if the landlord has a valid ground for possession, something which the Bill will look to extend. The proposed reforms could of course have an impact on the Court system with the number of possession claims needing to be heard increasing or increased protracted proceedings. The changes aim to encourage landlords and tenants to work together and reduce the fear that many tenants have that they may be served with section 21 notice should they raise a complaint with their landlord regarding any aspect of their tenancy. In 2018, Citizens Advice found that tenants receiving a Section 21 notice were five times more likely to have recently made a complaint to their council compared to those who had not.

Tenancy structure:

The proposals include moving all tenants who have an assured tenancy or assured shorthold tenancy onto a single system of periodic tenancies, the aim being to provide greater security which may result in longer tenure and less renters moving across to the social housing sector. Currently, private renters have on average lived in their present home for 4.2 years compared with 10.8 years for social renters.

ADR/ Court System:

In order to try to mitigate the potential impact upon the Courts of any of the proposed reforms and to try to tackle present delays, the Bill proposes bolstering mediation and alternative dispute resolution to try to avoid matters proceeding to Court including by implementing a new Ombudsmen service.

Further, the ministry of justice is working on improving earlier access to legal advice, debt advice and welfare advice to try to avoid cases being escalated and resulting in costly and protracted proceedings.

HMCTS have already taken steps to introduce new efficiencies for the Bailiff teams by removing administrative tasks and increasing the number of ways Defendants can make payment, reducing the need for home visits and in turn increasing the amount of available time to actually carry out evictions.

Additionally, subject to Judicial agreement, there is also mention of work with the Courts to try to find a way to expedite certain types of cases such as those involving antisocial behaviour. As well as simplifying claim forms and introducing a new online process for Court possession action.

Pet ownership:

According to the 2021 English Private Landlord Survey, 45% of landlords would let to tenants with pets. A blanket ban on pet ownership will be removed, with a change to the model tenancy agreement which stipulates that all tenants have a statutory right to request pet ownership and the landlord must reply to the request within 28 days and must not unreasonably refuse their request. Many social housing tenancies do have a blanket ban on pet ownership or restrict the type of animal a tenant is allowed to keep, as a result of the changes it will likely become even more difficult to enforce a breach of pet ownership clause, even if there are additional factors at play such as nuisance or poor care. To assist landlords, The Tenant Fees Act 2019 will be amended so that landlords can request that their tenants buy pet insurance.

Families with children/ in receipt of benefits:

It will become illegal to have a blanket ban renting to families with children or in receipt of benefits, this should in turn result in a higher percentage of renters having the option to rent in the privately rented sector rather than being limited to the social housing sector only.

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