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New eviction laws could stop homeless people getting help, charities warn

Government ignored warnings that abolishing section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions could leave people ineligible for support

Ruby Lott-Lavigna
18 May 2023, 2.04pm

Housing Secretary Michael Gove, who this week put forward the Renters' (Reform) Bill.

Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The government ignored warnings that its flagship renters’ bill could create a loophole leaving vulnerable people at risk of homelessness.

Charities sounded the alarm last year that otherwise welcome plans in the Renters (Reform) Bill to abolish so-called “no fault” evictions could leave people more vulnerable to other types of backdoor evictions that do not attract the same level of automatic help from local councils.

Ministers say the long-awaited bill, published on Wednesday, makes renting fairer by modifying existing housing laws. There are plans to introduce a housing ombudsman to mediate between tenants and landlords, as well as helping pet owners.

While the legislation will ban “section 21” no-fault evictions, other grounds to kick people out have been strengthened. Instead of automatically receiving emergency “homelessness prevention duty” assistance from a local authority, tenants evicted in this manner will have to be manually assessed by cash-strapped councils to determine whether they are eligible for help.

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“People who are subjected to this will fall into rough sleeping, or be put in temporary accommodation, where we’ve seen an incredible rise in use,” said Dr Tom Kerridge, policy and research manager at youth homelessness charity Centre Point. “It puts much more pressure on councils to relieve homelessness rather than preventing it, and it threatens to undermine what the government did in passing the Homelessness Reduction Act in 2018 and the Rough Sleeping Strategy in 2022.”

The Conservative government has pledged to end rough sleeping by 2024, but MPs and charities have raised concerns that not enough is being done, as openDemocracy revealed this year.

“While getting rid of section 21 is incredibly important,” Kerridge added, “we also need to ensure that people’s rights to support aren’t undermined.”

When tenants are evicted under so-called “section 8” grounds, for example because they are in rent arrears, their local authority does not have an immediate duty to help, and may declare them “intentionally homeless”, freezing them out of longer-term social housing too. Campaigners fear the draft Renters (Reform) Bill will make landlords more likely to evict people on these grounds if they do not have the option of a swift section 21 eviction.

Homelessness charity Crisis told openDemocracy it was “worried” about the “dilution of homelessness prevention duty”.

Multiple charities told the government that changes to homelessness law could cause ‘a reduction in support for people facing homelessness’

Senior policy and parliamentary affairs officer Saskia Neibig said: “People who would previously have got advice because they were served a section 21 notice will now face gatekeeping from the local authority. They’ll face people assessing whether they’re really at immediate risk of homelessness rather than intervening as early as possible.”

Multiple charities told the government during a consultation last year that changes to homelessness law under the Renters (Reform) Bill could cause “a reduction in support for people facing homelessness”.

“For some people,” Shelter warned, “this could mean the difference between life in suitable accommodation or the risk of an untimely death on the streets.”

Deborah Garvie, the charity’s policy manager, told openDemocracy she was “very concerned” that the government had pressed ahead with its proposals.

“We hope our worries will be addressed by the government and we hope that the legislation will be strengthened with the aim of preventing homelessness,” she said. “We’ve got record numbers of households that are in temporary accommodation – the focus must be on prevention.”

The draft legislation, which will be debated in Parliament in the coming months, has also garnered criticism for lowering the threshold landlords must meet if they want to evict people for antisocial behaviour. They would now be able to kick tenants out simply for being "capable of causing" antisocial behaviour, rather than being “likely to” cause it.

A spokesperson for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: "Measures in the Renters’ (Reform) Bill will protect renters while supporting responsible landlords to manage their properties. The Bill will deliver a fairer, more secure, and higher quality private rented sector by enabling tenants to challenge eviction, poor practice and unfair evictions – helping prevent homelessness."

Update 19/05/2023: The article was updated to include a comment from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

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