How many evictions?

Shelter is obviously concerned about people becoming homeless, so we watch the figures published by the courts that show the number of people being evicted and repossessed each month. Recently, we’ve been drawing attention to the fact that evictions by private landlords are growing fast, and have now over taken mortgage repossessions, despite there being far more mortgage holders than renters in the country.

But the latest Ministry of Justice possession stats also show that the total number of evictions carried out by private landlords is still pretty small – in fact only 21,000 out of the 9 million renters living in England show up as being evicted last year. That’s less than 1% every year. Doesn’t sound that bad does it?

These figures, coupled with evidence from the English Housing Survey, which found that a high number of renters choose to leave their homes voluntarily, are often used to argue that there is no problem here, and that renters enjoy having the freedom to end their tenancy.

So what’s really going on? Firstly, both sets of figures come with a serious warning. MOJ possession stats only represent the number of people issued with court proceedings following an eviction notice. They don’t include the much higher number of renters served with an eviction notice, and rather than challenging it, leave on the date requested by their landlord.

Our own survey of over 4000 renters more accurately captures the total number of all those served with an eviction notice. Just over 1 in 5 renters (21%) told us that their main reason for moving over the past five years was because they were served an eviction notice, asked to leave informally without a legal notice, or because the landlord increased the rent.

When I ask people what they would do if they were served an eviction notice, the answer is always the same: they’d leave. That’s what you are being asked to do. For most renters outside the initial fixed period of their contract, landlords will serve a ‘no-fault’ Section 21 eviction notice. Renters have no real ability to challenge this. Why would you risk burdening yourself with crippling legal fees in an argument you almost certainly will not win?

And there are many more renters who leave their homes without being evicted, because they feel that they have no other option available to them. Limited consumer bargaining power in an overheated market often means that renters leave homes which are in a poor condition because they are too fearful to ask for repairs or improvements to be made, or because their landlords simply won’t carry them out. Poor conditions was given as the reason why almost a fifth (18%) of renters we surveyed moved in the past five years.

Research by Savills also highlighted the limited power renters have over whether to leave their home.They found that 15% of renters moved because their landlord increased the rent. A quarter moved because of poor management. Savills’ qualitative analysis revealed that many renters had experienced damp and mould, were unhappy with the fixtures and fittings in their home, and felt that their landlord replaced broken appliances with poor standard equipment. Many renters also felt their landlord was hard to reach or did not listen.

Landlords can evict renters easily and renters know they have little chance of challenging it. The vast majority of eviction cases therefore don’t make it anywhere near a court and for that reason don’t show up in the official stats.

There is also a real need for government research to probe far more deeply to really understand the reasons why renters move. The evidence from Savills, and from our own research, is all too clear. Eviction figures are just the tip of the iceberg. Millions of renters have little choice but to leave homes for reasons that are not of their own making.

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