YOUR GUIDE TO THE COURTS PROCESS REFORMS IN THE RENTERS (REFORM) BILL
The government aims to align the abolition of section 21 “no fault” evictions with speeding up the courts process. But what does this mean?
However, the government announced in October 2023 that it will not proceed with abolishing section 21 “until reforms to the justice system are in place”. It has further stated that they will only continue with abolishing section 21 when “sufficient progress has been made to improve the courts.”
So what are the current issues with the judiciary process, and what changes is the government proposing?
- What are the current issues with the courts process?
- Why is the government focusing on the courts process now?
- What needs to change in the courts process?
- What about the proposed Ombudsman?
- Want to know more?
1. What are the current issues with the courts process?
There has been a general sentiment in the property sector and the property industry press that the courts are suffering from backlogs. Property Industry Eye reported in September 2023 that landlords were “at their tether” dealing with delays caused by funding cuts and the aftermath of the pandemic.
The government stated in October 2023 that “the court system needs to improve”. It acknowledged that while most tenancies do not need to ever result to going to court over issues, the system needs to be as “smooth and efficient as possible” for when there are disputes.
Proposals to change the court system were first outlined in the 2022 report, ‘A Fairer Private Rented Sector’. This included committing to work in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and the HM Courts and Tribunals Service. However, it was only in October 2023 when the government explicitly stated that this needed to be a priority - above implementing Section 21.
2. Why is the government focusing on the courts process now?
It has been widely reported in the press that backbench MPs - predominantly, but not exclusively, from the Conservative party - were unhappy with the proposed abolition of section 21. This is because many are landlords themselves.
Section 21 has been a huge area for debate among landlords, although sentiment had been starting to soften. Goodlord’s State of the Lettings Industry report found that 72% of landlords felt negatively towards Section 21 in 2022; vs. 62% this year.
By agreeing to focus on reforming the courts first, the government has offered a significant concession to backbench MPs to win their support.
Two of the questions that will come from the Second Reading and future debates will be:
- Whether the concessions are enough to win over Conservative backbench MPs
- Whether the opposition party - Labour - will accept that the courts system needs to be reformed before Section 21 is abolished.
3. What needs to change in the courts process?
The government has identified key areas that need to be addressed before Section 21 is abolished. These include:
- Digitising more of the court process to be simpler and easier for landlords to use
- Exploring how the courts can prioritise cases that involve antisocial behaviour. This includes mandating that tenancy agreements should have clauses that antisocial behaviour can result in an eviction.
- Improving bailiff recruitment and retention - reducing admin to prioritise possession
- Providing early legal advice and better signposting to help tenants
4. What about the proposed ombudsman?
The Renters (Reform) Bill outlines the creation of a new private renters’ ombudsman that all landlords must join.
The proposed changes, announced in October 2023, are to “address the gap in housing redress in relation to private sector tenant complaints.”
This means a focus on strengthening the mediation process, so cases do not have to immediately go to court.
In October 2023, the government suggested that it is still looking at different options around how the ombudsman service will be delivered, including how it fits within the existing landscape of agency redress schemes.
The government also seems to indicate the potential for landlords to initiate proceedings in cases of arrears or antisocial behaviour. For both tenant and landlord-initiated proceedings, the default assumption seems to be to try to resolve disputes through mediation wherever possible.
5. Want to know more?
Here are some extra resources on the Renters (Reform) Bill:
- 📜 Take our free, CPD-accredited Renters (Reform) Bill course
- 🎥 Watch our webinar on the bill (May 2023)
- 🎧 Listen to our podcast on the changes to come
This article is intended as a guide only and does not constitute legal advice. Visit gov.uk for more information.