Comparing plans to overhaul tenant rights in England, Scotland, and Wales [+ video]

24 January 2022

England, Scotland, and Wales all have proposals in the works to overhaul and improve tenant rights in the private rented sector. In this excerpt from our e-book, "Your guide to lettings and the law", we break down how they compare.

The following is an excerpt from our e-book, Your guide to lettings and the law. Download your free copy today!

While England awaits the Renters' Reform Bill white paper - supplemented by proposals outlined in the Levelling Up White Paper - Scotland is consulting on its proposed "A new deal for tenants", and Wales has confirmed that its Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 will become law from July 2022. Each of the three plans includes sweeping changes intending to make renting simpler and fairer for tenants. 

Replacing tenancy contracts

From 15 July 2022, the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 will abolish Assured Shorthold Tenancies (AST), and replace them with a written standard contract for private landlords which need to be issued within 14 days of occupation, shoring up tenant security. All existing tenancies will convert, but landlords will have six months to share a written statement of occupation with their tenants - or "contract-holders" as they'll soon be named. Scotland abolished ASTs in 2017, which were replaced with open-ended private residential tenancies (PRT). The Renters' Reform Bill has yet to outline if there will be changes to tenancy agreements in England.

Reforming eviction notices

Under the Welsh Act, landlords and agents will need to give their tenants six months' notice for a "no fault" eviction, from July 2022 - making permanent a temporary measure that was introduced during Covid-19. Landlords also won't be able to serve notice to a tenant in the first six months of their tenancy, meaning that tenants will effectively be protected from eviction for 12 months from the start of their tenancy, for no-fault evictions.

The English Renters' Reform Bill proposes abolishing Section 21 "no fault" evictions while strengthening Section 8 - and re-confirmed its intentions to do so in its February 2022 Levelling Up White Paper. In Scotland, no-fault evictions were effectively abolished in 2017 with the introduction of the open-ended PRTs. Research has shown that there was "no significant impact" on the size of the sector, rent, or homelessness from the change, paving the way for England to do the same, armed with this knowledge.

Scotland's "better deal for tenants" goes a step further, and proposes increasing penalties for illegal evictions and restricting evictions over the winter period as standard, supporting the action it's already taken in abolishing Section 21. 

Introducing lifetime deposits

Lifetime deposits are one area of blue sky thinking in the Renters' Reform Bill. In England, there's debate around how these deposits - which would follow a tenant from property to property - can be implemented. It aims to help tenants free up cash to move, without the worry of an overlap between receiving an old deposit and paying out for a new one. If it's done right, landlords should receive assurances that their properties will still be protected in the case of a deposit dispute, so it's a win-win for both parties.

Creating a national landlord register

The Levelling Up White Paper revealed that a consultation will analyse the merits of introducing a national landlord register in England. There is already a Scottish and Welsh landlord register in place. A report by the Centre for Public Data previously recommended introducing a national register in England, to achieve "economics of scale which should reduce costs for landlords" and "allow councils to focus on local enforcement."

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Personalising homes and keeping pets

Scotland's consultation is seeking view on how changes can be made to allow tenants to personalise their homes and keep pets more easily too. England's slightly ahead on this point, with a pet clause added to the Assured Shorthold Tenancy template in early 2021. In Scotland, the private residential tenancy agreement templates don't currently include this clause, and tenants must obtain written consent from the landlord. In Wales, pets would fall under the "Additional Terms" in the new tenancy contracts, and have not been directly addressed in the new laws, which has "disappointed" RSPCA Cymru.

Proposing rent controls

Scotland's "deal for tenants" proposes introducing a national system for rent control. Rent Pressure Zones can already be introduced where rents in an area are rising too much in Scotland, but, at time of writing, there are currently none in place.

This firstly begs the question of whether rent controls are necessary, if the current format is so under-used. Daryl McIntosh at Propertymark has commented on Scotland's proposals, saying that: "We have real concerns that the proposed system of rent controls will undermine the viability of the private rented sector and do nothing to tackle the perceived affordability issues." This view is reflected in England, especially while housing stock is low. Propertymark's Timothy Douglas says that "increasing the supply of properties, rather than capping rents will ensure rents fall and landlords stay in the market".

In Wales, nationwide rent control took a step closer to reality in November 2021, when the Welsh Labour government and nationalist party Plaid Cymru announced they would join forces to collaborate on certain policies, including the potential to introduce rent caps. The results of the new Scottish consultation on the topic will be interesting reading for all three nations.

Addressing energy efficiency and housing standards

Scotland's "deal for tenants" also dips into the topic of energy efficiency and housing standards. It outlines its aim to introduce an EPC rating of C for private rented homes by 2025: in England, that rating is expected to be required by 2028.

Scotland has proposed "updating housing standards" too, echoed in the new Welsh laws which will also strengthen existing requirements for making properties fit for human habitation. England followed suit in the Levelling Up White Paper, announcing that it would review the social housing sector's Decent Homes Standard to see if it could apply to the private rented sector too. 

"Establishing a private rented sector regulator" in the Scottish deal likewise sounds very similar to the proposals under England's Regulation of Property Agents to create an "independent regulator" for agents.

Concluding remarks

Scotland and Wales have already implemented many of the "sweeping changes" that England is only now proposing. From no-fault evictions to a landlord register, England has some good templates to follow. However, all three nations face different challenges, and there's obviously not a one size fits all solution to improving tenant rights. It will be interesting to see what each nation can learn from the others' experiences.

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Further reading