Citizens Advice Salford
Submissions to Government consultation – “A new deal for Renting” July 2019
Salford Citizens Advice provides advice to more than 20,000 people each year, and of these some 2,800 come to us with housing related advice problems, making us the biggest provider of housing advice in Salford.
From those that approach us with housing problems, over 1,000 a year relate to private sector housing problems, a significant number of which are related to the issue of Section 21 notices.
We note that the second biggest driver of homelessness in Salford is the issue of Section 21 notices, representing 23% of homelessness in the last reported data. This is only marginally less than the ‘friends and family no longer to accommodate’ category, which in all likelihood probable includes some people who are essentially homeless because of the application of Section 21.
We, in last year’s consultation ‘Overcoming the Barriers to Longer Tenancies in the Private Rented Sector’, called for the creation of non-time limited tenancies in the private sector. This remains our view.
When we wrote our response to this earlier consultation we relied extensively on our five year research project looking into the operation of the local private rented sector, running from 2016 through to 2021. The second (the latest) of three reports is also enclosed for your information.
Our specific responses to your questions is as follows:
Do you agree that the abolition of the assured shorthold regime (including the use of section 21 notices) should extend to all users of the Housing Act 1988?
We agree that the Assured Shorthold tenancy (AST) regime should abolished for all sectors. We acknowledge that there may need to be specific provision made for homeless households placed in non-LA temporary accommodation but this could be a separate ground for possession rather than retaining the whole AST regime for this sector.
Do you think that fixed terms should have a minimum length?
We would be in favour of not having any fixed terms as it appears to be an unnecessary complication. If there is to be a no-fault means of eviction after expiry of a fixed term, or a break clause during a fixed term, then this is equivalent to a Section 21 notice. If Grounds are always going to be needed for possession, a fixed term is of limited use apart from possibly providing a degree of certainty as to rent increases, but that could be built into a periodic contract anyway or by using Section 13. We note the discussion elsewhere about not being able to use some grounds within the first 2 years anyway and this seems to be a neater way of providing security than having a fixed term.
Question 3- not applicable
Do you agree that a landlord should be able to gain possession if their family member wishes to use the property as their own home?
No. This is a no-fault possession ground that appears to be at odds with the introduction statement in the document “for tenants, this means being able to rent with certainty”.
If Ground 1 is left in place, without proper safeguards, it could be used as a de facto Section 21 notice. How will the court determine that the ground is made out when it’s based on a supposed future event that the landlord does not actually have control over? The relative could decide not to move in, or it could happen at an unspecified date much later in the future. If the landlord just needs an intention to move back in, then it’s a no-fault ground with no real defence – so again effectively a Section 21. The only reason landlords don’t use Ground 1 (along with the other no-fault grounds) now is because s21 is easier/quicker – it’s a potential loophole that needs tightening to prevent arbitrary, no-fault evictions.
Questions 5-11 – not applicable
We propose that a landlord should have to provide their tenant with prior notice they may seek possession to sell, in order to use this new ground. Do you agree?
This is a no-fault possession ground that appears to be at odds with the proposed intention of the policy to give tenants certainty.
Questions 13-16 – not applicable
Should the ground under Schedule 2 concerned with rent arrears be revised?
Given the 5 week delay in getting the first Universal Credit payment, clients in receipt of UC could immediately be at risk of possession if only 4 weeks arrears can result in an order being made. We would suggest 3 months arrears would be more appropriate before the court can award possession.
We would suggest that the loss of someone’s home is a serious matter and the courts should have discretion to determine whether or not to order possession when the Grounds are made out. Making grounds “Mandatory” removes the power of the court to consider the wider picture as to whether outright possession or suspended possession on terms (etc.) may be appropriate.
Should the Government provide guidance on how stronger clauses in tenancy agreements could make it easier to evidence ground 12 in court?
Government guidance on tenancy agreements would be welcomed.
Questions 19-23 – applicable only to landlords
Question 24 -27
Should this new ground apply to all types of rented accommodation, including the private rented sector?
Should a landlord be able to only evict a tenant who has perpetrated domestic abuse, rather than the whole household?
In the event of an abusive partner threatening to terminate a tenancy, should additional provisions protect the victim’s tenancy rights?
Should a victim of domestic abuse be able to end a tenancy without the consent of the abuser or to continue the tenancy without the abuser?
Not sure. Extended use of Ground 14A would not help the victim to remain in the property (as they have already left with no intention to return). There are family law injunctions available to remove perpetrators of violence from the family home and Legal Aid is available in cases where there is domestic violence. The removal of someone’s home appears to be an extra civil sanction on top of the criminal charges and may lead to increased community instability, and possibly put victims at further risk, if a perpetrator of violence became homeless in an area.
The family law already provides for transfers of tenancy from joint to sole names by means of court order.
Would you support amending ground 13 to allow a landlord to gain possession where a tenant prevents them from maintaining legal safety standards?
We are not sure that an extra ground is necessary here. A possession ground already exists for breach of tenancy agreement. Section 11 (6) Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 implies a right of access for the landlord to inspect for repairs into every tenancy agreement that could be enforced by injunction without resorting to possession.
Which of the following could be disposed of without a hearing?
We would suggest that the loss of someone’s home is a serious matter and the courts should have discretion to determine whether or not to order possession when the Grounds are made out.
We would point out that there appears to be no proposed restraint on landlords seeking possession where there has been no Gas Safety Check, no Energy Performance Certificate, non-compliance with Local Authority Licensing requirements and/or failure to protect tenant deposits. There are also no safeguards to protect against the retaliatory eviction of tenants who attempt to assert their rights to repair.
Should ground 4 be widened to include any landlord who lets to students who attend an educational institution?
Do you think that lettings below a certain length of time should be exempted from the new tenancy framework?
Should the existing ground 5 be reviewed so possession can be obtained for re-use by a religious worker, even if a lay person is currently in occupation?
Should there be a mandatory ground under Schedule 2 for possession of sub-let dwellings on tenanted agricultural holdings where the head tenant farmer wants to end their tenancy agreement and provide vacant possession of the holding for their landlord?
Should there be a mandatory ground under Schedule 2 for possession of tenanted dwellings on agricultural holdings where there is business need for the landlord to gain possession (i.e. so they can re-let the dwelling to a necessary farm worker)?
Are there any other issues which the Government may need to consider in respect of agricultural tenancies?
These appear to be no-fault grounds for possession, they deprive tenants of the certainty of ongoing accommodation.
Questions 37 – 44 (for landlords)
Question 45 & 47
Do you think these proposals will have an impact on homelessness?
Do you think the proposals will impact landlord decisions when choosing new tenants?
Should dramatically reduce homelessness presentations. It may initially be more difficult for some households to access the PRS if landlords are more reluctant to let properties on low or unstable incomes.
Do you think these proposals will have an impact on local authority duties to help prevent and relieve homelessness?
Local authorities may find it more difficult to discharge duties if they cannot use PRS properties as Temporary Accommodation.
Question 48 & 49
Do you have any views about the impact of our proposed changes on people with protected characteristics as defined in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010?
If any such impact is negative, is there anything that could be done to mitigate it?
We have no evidence relevant to this issue.
Do you agree that the new law should be commenced six months after it receives Royal Assent?
Yes. It would appear to be equitable to allow a period of transition for landlords and agents to adjust to a new regime and amend standard tenancy agreements etc. and 6 months may well be sufficient.
Finally, permissions etc.
We confirm that our comments may be recorded, reported and shared in relation to this consultation.
If you would like any further explanation to our answers please do not hesitate to contact us further.
Salford Citizens Advice
October 7, 2019.