The Renters Reform Bill: MPs debate the bill for the first time

The Renters Reform Bill: MPs debate the bill for the first time

The Renters Reform Bill was debated in the House of Commons on Monday. MPs gathered to give their views on the bill – a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver a fairer, more secure private rented sector. In this blog, we cover what was said in the debate and what it might mean for the future of private renting.

With the ‘first reading’ being more of a formality, Monday was effectively the first chance for MPs to debate the bill and show their support for England’s 11 million private renters.

And it was a lively debate.

Events over the weekend and Monday’s debate have shown that while the government has decided to kick the bill back into motion, some MPs on the Conservative backbenches are having an influence on the government’s plans – and are winning concessions for landlords that will harm tenants.

We’re campaigning for the government to continue progressing the Renters Reform Bill – you can add your voice to our petition today. Let’s show the government that hundreds of thousands of renters want them to pass a strong bill.

This was a long time coming and more delays expected

The bill was first published on 17 May, some 161 days ago. Worrying stories of a backbench rebellion and fearmongering about the consequences of pushing through these reforms seem to have held up the bill’s progress – with some MPs considering voting against the bill. But while the government argues with itself, hundreds of renters are losing their homes every day.

With the second reading scheduled, we had hoped that the issues previously holding the bill up were behind us. But over the weekend, news broke of a new government policy. In response to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee’s report on the private rented sector, the government revealed they would not be scrapping section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions until they’d made progress on reforming the court system. The intention is to make it speedier for landlords to regain possession of their homes when they’ve served an eviction. In his opening remarks at yesterday’s debate, Michael Gove reiterated this commitment to his backbenchers.

This is very concerning. We’ll be writing more about court reform soon, but it’s safe to say we’re not happy. Kicking vital reforms down the road to an unspecified time in the future while renters continue to be evicted in their hundreds every day is unacceptable.

But MPs know that renters need these reforms

Despite this setback, there were some powerful messages shared in the house, outlining just how crucial it is that we fix our broken private renting system:

…I have had countless people in my surgeries and contacting me via email who have been evicted under section 21. A most egregious case involved a father of two young children, both of whom were gravely ill. He had to tackle the mould in his home himself because the landlord was not dealing with it. Then the landlord evicted him for making the repairs. Will the secretary of state commit to implementing the reform without delay?

Munira Wilson MP, Liberal Democrat, Twickenham

Eviction from a private tenancy is one of the leading triggers of homelessness in England and many of those evictions are unfair. And even where renters can remain in their homes, the threat of eviction looms over them, preventing them from complaining about poor conditions or challenging huge rent hikes.

The Renters Reform Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle these problems. Scrapping section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions – the cornerstone of this bill – is essential in ending the gross insecurity renters currently face. So, it’s good to see MPs like Munira Wilson making this case forcefully in parliament.

Improvements are needed to give renters genuine security

As it currently stands, the bill doesn’t go far enough to give renters the genuine security they need. Crucially, renters need greater protection against short notice, unexpected evictions.

Shelter is calling for:

  • eviction notice periods to be increased from two months to four months where tenants are not at fault, to give renters enough time to find a new home
  • the protected period (the time before landlords can evict tenants who aren’t ‘at fault’) to be increased from six months to two years, to give renters the time to settle and put down roots in their communities

Reforms to evictions need to be robust and watertight

Other potential improvements were also highlighted in the debate. Shadow Secretary of State, Labour’s Angela Rayner, talked about potential ‘loopholes’ in the bill which could allow landlords to continue to evict tenants unfairly, and asked the government to ‘engage with us constructively in Committee [stage] to close all those loopholes and strengthen the bill in a range of areas.’

We too are worried about loopholes in the bill. Without clear requirements to provide evidence and powerful disincentives, unscrupulous landlords could continue to abuse the system and unfairly evict renters.

We’ll be campaigning throughout the bill progress to ensure that all loopholes are shut. In particular, we think the bill should be amended to:

  • lengthen the ‘no re-let’ period (the period in which a landlord cannot use the selling and moving-in grounds) from three months to one year, to disincentivise unscrupulous landlords from using these grounds disingenuously
  • ensure high evidence bars are in place so that when these grounds are used, they reflect the landlord’s true intentions
  • reverse the decisions to lower the evidence threshold and reduce notice periods for anti-social behaviour evictions

Broad support for a national landlord register

The government’s proposals for a national landlord register were welcomed across the house. If designed and developed properly, the government ‘Private Rented Property Portal’ has the potential, as Eddie Hughes MP (Conservative, Walsall North) put it, to ‘allow councils to focus their resource better on landlords who provide poor-quality accommodation and give councils the opportunity to drive them out of business.’

In order to achieve these aims, the portal needs to include all the information tenants and local authorities need to enforce renters’ rights, including whether the home and landlord meet the required standards and local rent levels.

What’s also vital is that local authorities are properly funded to uphold and make use of the property portal. As Fleur Anderson MP (Labour, Putney) explained, ‘there needs to be funding for [enforcement] as well; otherwise, we are shifting the problem from national to local government, which will need to shift around its resources and take funding from other areas.’

Where are plans to tackle discrimination?

Rupa Huq MP (Labour, Ealing Central and Acton) also highlighted the need for government to get on with meeting its promise to tackle discrimination against renters claiming benefits and children. Shelter has been campaigning for years for measures to tackle discrimination in the sector. ‘No DSS’ and ‘No Kids’ ads are locking renters out of homes they can afford.

The first step is outlawing blanket bans and refusals to let to tenants claiming benefits or with children, as the government has promised. But we cannot stop there. There are many other covert ways that landlords and letting agents discriminate against already marginalised renters. We’re calling on the government to get serious about discrimination, starting with addressing unreasonable requests for multiple months’ rent in advance or high-earning guarantors. You can read more about that in our previous blog.

Renters have a fight on their hands

The Renters Reform Bill has been years in the making. And in all that time, the consensus on the need for reform has grown strong. Fixing renting is not a party political issue and the bill, as this blog has shown, is supported right across the House of Commons with all parties having committed to reforming the sector.

As expected, there was some opposition to the bill in the House. It seems a group of MPs – many landlords themselves – are having a significant influence on the government’s plans for England’s 11 million renters. Nick Fletcher MP (Conservative, Don Valley), a landlord of 20 years, highlighted just how much sway these MPs have when he thanked the secretary of state for ‘his recent letter to me, in which he announced changes that he has made to the bill. They were needed. That proves that the secretary of state is willing to listen, but there remain many issues that need addressing.’

So, if you want to make sure renters are heard in these debates, join our campaign to fix renting. Show the government that you’re counting on them to pass new laws that genuinely give renters the rights and security they need.

By signing the petition, you can also opt-in to be kept up-to-date with the bill’s progress and other opportunities to campaign for fairer renting.