Richard Lambert is Chief Executive of the National Landlords Association (NLA). This is a sponsored post by the NLA.
Why has the Conservative Party turned its back on the self-sufficient, the entrepreneur who is prepared to work hard and plan for their future?
The Thatcher Government inherited a dysfunctional housing market, and opened up the sector, fast-tracked home ownership and liberalised the laws around private renting. Over the ensuing three decades this has paid dividends. The UK’s flexible workforce is able to move to where jobs are, students can move to study in other parts of the country and, at the same time, people have been able to restore previously destroyed pension pots. These are Conservative values which Theresa May undermined with an announcement to try and create a legacy.
Private renting has gone from strength to strength, and we have all benefited from the flexibility that it provides, which is why Number 10’s proposed abolition of Section 21 ’no fault’ evictions in April was met by landlords with dismay and outright anger. Anger at a policy that has not been thought through and is based on a news cycle, rather than solving the issues that do exist in the private rented sector. The announcement shows a basic misunderstanding of the private rented sector in the highest echelons of government. Landlords’ anger has yet to dissipate; instead it is now accompanied by incredulity at the lack of consideration Theresa May has shown for the likely outcomes of this proposal.
The importance of Section 21 is not so much in its use – only around 11 percent of landlords have used Section 21 in the last five years, according to YouGov. Section 21 provides landlords with a process through which they can be certain of vacant possession, as long as they comply with the legal requirements to give appropriate notice to tenants and in providing a safe home. As no evidence of fault is required, landlords can follow an accelerated possession claim and avoid attributing blame to an individual and stigmatising them. It also avoids putting both parties through a court hearing, in an already over-stretched court system.
Ministry of Justice statistics show that from July to September 2018, there were 5,183 accelerated possession claims using Section 21 which did not require a court hearing. During the same time period, there were 5,781 private landlord claims heard in court through the standard route. Without Section 21, the courts could see a dramatic and potentially catastrophic increase in the possession claims they would need to hear.
This is compounded by the lack of funding for courts, which has seen 90 out of 240 county courts close between 2010 and 2018, and increased pressure placed on those that remain. Is the Treasury going to reopen these courts and adequately fund the legal system? May’s government has repeatedly underplayed quite how dire the situation currently is for users of the courts system. National Landlords Association members take an average of 145 days at a total cost of £5,730 to regain possession using the courts. The lengthiness, cost and uncertainty inherent in using the courts has resulted in the reliance on no fault eviction.
The reality is, wholesale reform of the court process is a necessary precursor to any changes in possession procedures. A new housing court or tribunal needs to be introduced if the new Prime Minister wants to continue May’s headline-grabbing announcement. There would need to be a meaningful and successful change to the way landlords regain possession. Those involved in the tribunal will need to have specialist knowledge of housing law to ensure clarity and consistency with decision-making; something which is currently lacking. This cannot be accomplished on the cheap; who is going to fund it? Doing nothing will not be an option.
Removing Section 21 and failing to address the courts means piling more and more risk on the households who need the most help. Those who can’t access the social rented sector and who have no realistic opportunity to access finance for a mortgage are the ones who are going to find it increasingly difficult to rent a home. The Government is committed to ending homelessness; this one policy will undermine all the work that has been done and is being done by councils and central government.
The next leader of the Conservative Party has an important decision to make when it comes to housing. Does he want to lead a government which promotes aspiration to property ownership and self-sufficiency or one that can only look to recreate the mistakes of the 1970s? Scrapping Section 21 may seem bold and popular, but in reality, it is a policy that Sir Humphrey would describe as brave, perhaps even courageous.