Delays in courts system could hamper tenancy reform plans, MPs warn

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A “creaking and unreformed courts system” could risk undermining Government plans to protect renters, MPs have warned.

The Government has previously stated its intention to bring forward legislation this year to ban Section 21 no fault evictions, which currently allows landlords to quickly evict tenants without having to give a reason.

The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities committee said it welcomes the plans, branding unfair evictions and insecurity a “blight” that is experienced by “too many tenants today”.

Committee chair Clive Betts said the Government must find a practical way forward to enable courts to fast-track claims (Lauren Hurley/PA)
Committee chairman Clive Betts said the Government must find a practical way forward to enable courts to fast-track claims (Lauren Hurley/PA)

The Government has outlined plans to introduce stronger protection for tenants as part of its Renters’ Reform Bill.

The committee repeated its recommendation for the Government to introduce a specialist housing court as the best way to ensure improvements in the system – saying the idea had previously been rejected “for reasons we find unsatisfactory”.

MPs described the affordability crisis in the private rented sector in England as the source of many other problems in that area and said the only way to solve it properly is by a “significant increase in house building, particularly affordable housing”.

The committee urged the Government to recommit to delivering the affordable homes it said the country needs, citing its own 2020 report in which MPs concluded England needed at least 90,000 additional homes for social rent every year.

Stating their reasons, they said: “We conclude that abolishing fixed-term contracts here could make letting to students considerably less attractive to private landlords, as the student market mirrors the academic year
and benefits greatly from 12-month fixed tenancies.”

They added that not exempting this part of the sector could drive up rents or reduce the availability of student rental properties.

The committee also said it supports the introduction of a legally binding decent homes standard (DHS), but said that will not succeed in improving standards unless local authorities can enforce it “vigorously”.

In their report, MPs said: “The precarious position of local government finances, the shortage of qualified housing and environmental health officers, and the lack of reliable data are all obstacles to effective enforcement.”

They recommended the Government should consult local authorities on what amendments are needed to the civil penalties regime and include any necessary legislative changes in the proposed renters reform bill.

Clive Betts, chairman of the committee, said: “By its own admission, the Government’s White Paper did not address the underlying cause of the affordability crisis in the private rented sector, namely the decades-long failure of successive governments to build enough homes.

“Only a significant increase in housing, particularly affordable housing, will ultimately tackle the rocketing costs of renting for many tenants. We call on the Government to recommit delivering the affordable homes the country needs, particularly the 90,000 social rent homes needed every year.

“The Government should remedy the blight of unfair evictions and insecurity of tenure experienced by too many tenants today. From our inquiry, it’s not clear the Government fully appreciates that a creaking and unreformed courts system in England risks undermining their own tenancy reforms, including the welcome commitment to ban ‘no fault’ evictions.

“For landlords and tenants, it’s vital the Government now finds a practical way forward to enable courts to fast-track claims.”

She said: “Without the wholesale reform of private renting, and every loophole closed, bad landlords will continue to exploit their tenants and deprive them of the security they need.

“We urgently need to see an end to no fault evictions, as well as a boost in standards with the introduction of a landlord register that works for tenants and allows local councils to crack down on shoddy landlords.

“Renters can’t wait any longer, the Renters’ Reform Bill is ready to go and it’s time for the Government to stop stalling and make it law once and for all.”

The Government has already taken action to tackle delays in the court system, according to a spokesperson.

They said: “This Government is absolutely committed to delivering a fairer deal for renters and welcome the work of the committee in this area.

“We will bring forward a Renters’ Reform Bill in this parliament, abolishing no fault evictions so that all tenants – including university students – have greater security in their homes and are empowered to challenge poor conditions and unreasonable rent rises.

“We are investing a significant amount of funding to improve waiting times in the civil courts, opening extra courtrooms and recruiting more judges, and will continue to engage with stakeholders across the private rented sector.”

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