The idea of abolishing “no fault” eviction has long been on the Government’s agenda and is once again being considered by Parliament. In an article I previously wrote in 2019 the plans for the proposed abolition of Section 21 notices and the expansion of the Section 8 procedure were addressed - read here
The Government placed the plans on hold until the urgency of responding to the pandemic had passed. The position is now to be re-addressed in the Renters Reform Bill and a White Paper entitled “A fairer private rented sector” was published on 16 June 2022. The plan is to abolish so-called ‘no fault’ evictions by repealing Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. The Government say that abolishing ‘no fault’ evictions, they are aiming to offer greater security for tenants in the private rented sector. Section 21 currently allows landlords to serve notice on a tenant without giving a reason for evicting them and thereafter subject to certain limitations use the accelerated possession procedure to evict a tenant. The Government has committed to introducing the Bill within the Spring 2023 parliamentary session where Members of Parliament will have the chance to debate and vote on the proposals within the Bill.
The reforms will mean that to evict a tenant, landlords will need to use the Section 8 procedure whereby the landlord is required to have a valid ground for possession. The grounds that a landlord can rely on will be strengthened by extending existing grounds and adding new ones. The key grounds which the Government intends to introduce will assist the landlord to gain possession in the following circumstances:
- Where a member of the landlord’s close family wishes to reside in the property (a ground formerly only applicable to the landlord themselves). Landlords will not be able to use this ground in the first six months of a new tenancy;
- Where there have been repeated incidents of rent arrears. Eviction will be mandatory where a tenant has been in at least two months’ rent arrears three times within the previous three years, regardless of the arrears balance at a Court hearing. The required notice period is to be increased from two to four weeks;
- Where the landlord wishes to sell the property. Landlords will not be able to use this ground in the first six months of a new tenancy.
In addition, measures to improve the efficiency and speed of possession claims are expected to be introduced in 2023. Such measures include the introduction of an online process for possession claims (Courts and Tribunal Service Possession Reform Programme), reviewing bailiff capacity and strengthening mediation services to reduce claims that result in court action.
It remains to be seen whether the accelerated possession procedure (currently only available following service of a Section 21 Notice) will become available to possession claims relying on certain more serious grounds to evict a tenant (known as the mandatory grounds).
Another key measure addressed in the White Paper is to introduce an Ombudsman to deal with disputes between landlords and private renters.
New Tenancy System
In addition, the Government intends to move all existing assured or assured shorthold tenancies onto a single system of periodic tenancies which will be governed by the new rules. In particular, the landlord will be required to provide a written agreement.
The plans have been described as a “game changer” for private renters however seem to be opposed by those advocating on behalf of private landlords. A factor which contributed to the growth of the private rented sector was the ability of landlords to regain possession of their properties on a ‘no fault’ basis. There is concern that landlords will leave the sector due to the abolition of the Section 21 procedure, increasing the risk of homelessness.
The proposals, along with the Government investment of an extra £10 million injection into housing Legal Aid due in August 2023, will mean that those facing eviction will automatically qualify for early legal advice via Legal Aid. Tenants will be informed from an early stage as to their legal rights and the possibility of any defences to challenge the Possession procedure. Landlords should ensure access to legal advice to avoid any delays and/or additional costs in securing vacant possession. This area of law is particularly complex and the proposed reforms do not seem to offer any simplification of the regime.
If you are a landlord seeking possession of a residential property or would like further information about the new system, our Commercial Litigation & Dispute Resolution team can help advise you of your options.