Section 21:

Shelter claims that since the introduction of the open-ended tenancies in Scotland (18 months ago) their research shows that Scottish tenants have been reaping the benefits.

With the May Government’s stated intention to follow Scotland’s example of ending no-fault evictions, and effectively introduce open-ended tenancies, Shelter thinks that any future prime minister is more likely to win a general election if they follow Scotland.

The Private Residential Tenancy (PRT) in Scotland in December 2017 is “helping tenants worry less about becoming homeless, worry less about getting locked into inflexible fixed term tenancies, and giving them more faith in politicians,” says Shelter. The homelessness charity goes on to explain:

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“Our research shows that Scottish renters on the PRT are only half as likely to worry about becoming homeless than those on the old tenancy agreement. The loss of a private rented tenancy makes a significant contribution to homelessness in Scotland and it seems that the new tenancy, which gives renters stronger rights, makes people less afraid that they’re going to lose their home.

“We know how important this is for renters in England, 75% of whom worry about not being able to find another decent and affordable home when they are asked to leave. The Prime Minister who finally passes legislation to abolish Section 21 will bring peace of mind to the four million people living in the private rented sector.”

Shelter’s argument is that as tenants are an increasingly influential group when it comes to election time, abolishing section 21 not only benefits tenants, it “it promises more trust in the elected officials who give them stronger rights… and [to] win the support of a group of voters who could, sooner or later, have a critical influence in the outcome of a general election.”

And what of the landlords?

What Shelter fails to acknowledge is that without drastic improvements in the way tenancy disputes are handled outside of Scotland, abolishing Section 21 and introducing some form of open-ended tenancy, where tenants can leave at short notice, while landlords are held to a contractual term, this could be highly detrimental to landlords.

The May Government has committed to ending no-fault Section 21 repossessions, whilst strengthening the adversarial Section 8 process. However, landlords have little confidence, in the face of 30% cuts to the Justice Departments budgets, or that any improvements to this slow and cumbersome county court system would result. Currently it takes on average over five months from an eviction notice being served to achieving repossession.

One suggested solution has been the establishment of a national chain of special housing courts, bringing together all housing disputes under a single body, and supported by 91% of all respondents. However, much scepticism has been expressed about this citing cost and resources as the stumbling blocks, given the current public sector economic climate. 

David Smith, RLA policy director, had said that landlord confidence is vital, stating:

“Security of tenure means nothing unless the homes to rent are there in the first place.

“With the demand for private rented housing showing no signs of slowing down it is vital that landlords are confident that they can quickly and easily get back their property in legitimate circumstances. 

“Whilst the system should clearly be fair to tenants, it needs also to support and encourage good landlords.

“Our survey shows how complex it will be to ensure that the grounds on which landlords can repossess properties are both clear and comprehensive.

“This needs to be underpinned by a court system that is fit for purpose and properly resourced. At present it is neither.

“It is vital that the government’s planned reforms are carefully considered to avoid finding ourselves needing to reopen this whole issue later down the line.”

Meanwhile, Paul Shamplina, founder of Landlord Action, has written to Housing Minister, Heather Wheeler, inviting her to gain a greater understanding of the possession process before making drastic reforms. He implores here to “work together” with landlords on changes to possession process as landlords will consider selling up if government scraps Section 21.

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