Renters' Reform Bill: How did we get here? And where to next?
The Queen's Speech 2022 put the Renters' Reform Bill back on the government's agenda, and it's had quite a journey so far. Here's where we're at, and where it may be going next.
The Renters' Reform Bill has been officially on the table since back in 2019, although preparation has been underway since as early as 2018. Although abolishing Section 21 has been a mainstay since then, the proposals have undergone some significant changes and refinements in that time. So, how did we get to the current iteration… And where to from here? With so many proposals already, are there any more surprises in store for the lettings industry?
July 2018: Consultation number one
In 2018, the government launched a consultation on "Overcoming the barriers to longer tenancies in the private rented sector".
This was the first step towards creating the Renters' Reform Bill as we know it today, and the first invitation to the industry at large to contribute views on the benefits and barriers of landlords offering longer tenancies.
April 2019: The government responds to the consultation
The government shared that it would ban no-fault evictions, amend Section 8, and reform the court process, to "improve security for tenants". Doing so would also "effectively create open-ended tenancies" and bring about the "biggest change to the private rental sector for a generation".
In the accompanying press release, the government announced a new consultation on eviction and court processes, saying that this was "the start of a process of engaging with landlords and tenants to amend these grounds".
July 2019: Second consultation is launched
In July 2019, the consultation, "A new deal for renting: resetting the balance of rights and responsibilities between landlords and tenants", was launched.
The paper invited views on "how section 21 has been used in the past, and the circumstances in which landlords should be able to regain possession once it has been abolished."
It highlighted that landlords feel Section 21 is more efficient than Section 8, because "the existing grounds for possession do not provide enough flexibility to respond to changing circumstances" - hence why it is consulting to understand how to strengthen Section 8 grounds.
The consultation also examined the implications of removing Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs), how the possession process could be improved, and whether housing associations should also be included under the reforms.
October 2019: Renters' Reform Bill first announced in the Queen's Speech
This second consultation closed in October 2019, and the Renters' Reform Bill was announced officially in the Queen's Speech for the first time in the same month. The Bill promised to "introduce a package of reforms to deliver a fairer and more effective rental market."
The background briefing notes for the speech gave an overview of the elements that the Renters' Reform Bill would include:
- Improving industry standards while targeting rogue landlords
- Improving security for tenants, empowering them to hold their landlord to account
- Professionalising letting agents - a sentiment echoed in the Regulation of Property Agents report, released in July 2019
- Introducing a lifetime deposit, so that tenants "don’t need to save for a new deposit every time they move house"red
- Abolishing section 21
- Reforming grounds for possession
- Improving the court process
- Creating a database of rogue landlords and agents
May 2021: The second Queen's Speech to include renters' reforms
In 2020, the pandemic struck, and the government set aside many pieces of legislation already in the works to focus on the impact of Covid-19. However, in May 2021, the Queen's Speech was back, and so were renters' reforms.
This latest speech committed to:
- Publish a consultation response on abolishing Section 21 and strengthening possession grounds
- Outline proposals for lifetime deposits
- Bring forward reforms to improve standards
- Require landlords to be part of a redress scheme to give tenants a right to redress, plus "explore the merits" of a landlord register
- Strengthen enforcement measures in the industry
- Explore improvements and efficiencies to the court possession process
This second speech appeared to drop the mention of professionalising property agents - a potential blow for the Regulation of Property Agents.
However, it highlighted the social housing reforms planned on electrical safety, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and the Decent Homes Standard.
Most importantly, the government promised to publish a white paper in autumn 2021 detailing the reform package, with legislation "in due course".
Will this cover its response to the second consultation, as well as the consultation "Tenancy deposit reform: a call for evidence", which also closed in 2019?
February 2022: A Levelling Up White Paper with few rental reform details
The industry's expectations were dashed when the autumn 2021 Levelling Up White Paper was published, and the main Renters' Reform Bill White Paper was pushed back to 2022.
The Levelling Up White Paper reiterated some of the previously announced proposals, and shared some new details too, such as the potential to adapt the Decent Homes Standard for the Private Rented Sector (PRS), and to update the rules around material information.
May 2022: The Queen's Speech reconfirms the government's commitment to introduce the Renters' Reform Bill
This brings us to May 2022. It's springtime and the white paper is due.
The Queen's Speech 2022 yet again confirmed the government's intention to bring rental reform proposals forward in the next parliamentary session.
The background briefing notes refined the details announced in previous speeches:
- Ensure a more effective legal framework and stable rental market for landlords to invest in
- Abolish no fault evictions
- Reform possession grounds
- Apply the legally binding Decent Homes Standard to the PRS
- Introduce a new Ombudsman for private landlords
- Create a property portal to help give tenants property performance information to hold their landlords to account - in other words, a landlord register
- Give councils effective tools to crack down on poor practice.
Although very similar to previous versions, this third iteration of the speech dropped lifetime deposits from the agenda and, yet again, didn't mention professionalising letting agents. Whether this means that they won't be addressed going forwards, or if we'll simply see more details in the White Paper, remains to be seen.
Is the White Paper the last step to legislation?
This parliamentary session is particularly important to the current government, as it's one of the last chances it has to fulfil the commitments it made in the party manifesto, before the next general election.
Nikki da Costa, former advisor to No. 10, said in her pre-speech article that the Queen's Speech 2022 heralded "the last major legislating session of this parliamentary term. A final, fourth, session is now more likely than not to begin next May, but it will be vulnerable to truncation by a General Election.
"It is also unwise to leave politically important bills to the last session: this risks backbench rebellions, criticism for not having legislated sooner, and/or distracting from the electoral narrative."
This will increase the sense of urgency around converting these proposals to legislation before the government's time runs out.
The government may also intend to present an airtight, final proposal in the white paper, that has thoroughly addressed all angles and that will see little opposition as it moves through the houses.
We may therefore have confirmation of the final form the Bill will take earlier rather than later.
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