Renters’ Reforms – Queen’s Speech 2021

By Allison Fewtrell

We received a whopping 158 page document – “Queens Speech 2021 Pack” which contained quotes from the speech and the government’s comments for each. As expected, it’s a mixed bag, with some positive things and some not so great. Here’s our take on it – no holds barred!

Quote: “My Government will help more people to own their own home whilst enhancing the rights of those who rent.”

Until affordability is addressed, you will not enable more people to move from rented to home ownership. How can anyone save for a deposit and associated home buying costs when over a third and in some areas over half of their income is eaten up by rent?

In addition – implementing rent control would probably cause house prices to fall – something that horrifies property speculators, but something that would really help those wishing to buy their own home. The over inflated property market is why so many people are renting in the first place.

In 1997 the average UK house price was just 2.5 times the average median salary, but the current cost of a home in Manchester will set you back 8 times workers annual earnings.

At our recent Housing Hustings, Andy Burnham committed to supporting rent controls and has invited us to work with him on the Good Landlords Charter for Greater Manchester. See the recording of the hustings with the mayoral candidates here

The government says it is committed to having a “Better Deal for Renters in England”, by publishing it’s consultation response on abolishing Section 21 and improving security for private sector tenants.

Binning Section 21 is something we have been demanding for years, but we need to remember that Landlords have plenty of loopholes at their disposal to get around this and will use them to rid themselves of ‘inconvenient’ tenants, simply by hiking the rent to an unaffordable amount or pretending they are going to sell the property when they have no intention of doing so.

The remark about improving security for tenants is potentially a good thing – if they mean security of tenure. The ability to have a long term tenancy of 5 or even 10 years will provide stability and end the constant worry of tenants on statutory short hold tenancies which can be terminated at the landlord’s discretion at any time – leaving the tenant only a couple of months to find somewhere else that is within their budget – something that is becoming increasingly difficult with a shortage of genuinely affordable homes in the private rented sector.

We will outline proposals for a new ‘lifetime’ tenancy deposit model that eases the burden on tenants when moving from one tenancy to the next.

We like this one – 1 in 10 people in the UK have no savings at all, and with so many in rent arrears and fuel debt after the disastrous effects of the pandemic, the prospect of moving to another tenancy and having to pay a deposit up front is a grim one. The only fly in the ointment is, we know how landlords try it on when tenants move out, making bogus claims for damage that is either fair wear and tear or simply repairs that were neglected by the landlord. With that in mind, we want to see more clarification on this point.

Bring forward reforms to drive improvements in standards in rented accommodation, including by ensuring all tenants have a right to redress, and ensuring well targeted, effective enforcement that drives out criminal landlords, for example exploring the merits of a landlord register.

Don’t just ‘explore the merits’! A landlord register is absolutely essential – we need it now. It’s good to see this mentioned though – along with acknowledgement that the quality of rented accommodation needs addressing. The quality of your home has a direct effect on your health – both mental and physical. We’re pleased these things are getting a mention.

Explore improvements and possible efficiencies to the possession process in the courts, to make it quicker and easier for landlords and tenants to use.

Wait, what? Making it quicker and easier to render someone homeless is not something we approve of. Why the mention of tenants in this statement? Why would a tenant want it to be easier to get evicted and where is the safety net for someone who’s been fast-tracked out of their home?

In the ‘Key Facts’ section of the document the government takes the opportunity to pat itself on the back, reminding us of 

  • 6 month pause in court possession proceedings between March and September 2020
  • 6 months notice required before eviction between 29 August 2020 and 31 May 2021 
  • restrictions on bailiff enforcement until 31 May in all but the most egregious cases

Yet we know for a fact people were evicted throughout the pandemic.

Rent arrears that have built up during the pandemic must be cancelled. Means test the landlords so that those in genuine hardship can apply for govt support. Moreover – we and other tenant unions, charities and campaign groups repeatedly fought tooth and nail to force them to extend the eviction ban – they make it sound as though it was handed to us on a silver platter!

Their self congratulation continues:

  • extensive financial support has also been provided for renters through the furlough scheme
  • boost to the welfare safety net of billions of pounds
  • an increase in the Local Housing Allowance in April 2020 to cover at least 30 per cent of market rents

People on furlough did not necessarily have the remaining 20% topped up by employers, many were still expected to do their jobs for 80% of their wages, freelancers, agency staff and those in bogus self employment could not get furlough, people on zero hours contracts or poverty wages were driven into further hardship and rent arrears.

In spite of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit – many people had to use food banks for the first time, and as we have mentioned before countless people are in rent arrears and fuel poverty.

Covering 30% of market rents is nowhere near good enough – it needs to cover the bottom 50 percentile of rents. 

We are also providing £140 million for this year through Discretionary Housing Payments to help people pay their rent.

This sounds great, but depends on the criteria – we’ve not heard anything about this so we’re keen to find out how tenants can apply.

They say they are publishing a White Paper in the autumn – we’ve already waited two years for this bill, so now we know the deadline, we can spend the next few months campaigning and pressuring the government to properly address the things we desperately need. 
Get involved! Join us so we can build power for renters, and hold the government to account so that we can finally live better lives.

Allison Fewtrell is Campaigns and Comms Officer for GMTU