As Liz Truss enters office, housing campaigners are urging the new prime minister to carry out commitments made to renters by her predecessor.
In the closing days of the Johnson administration, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities published a white paper: A fairer private rented sector. This white paper was due to be turned into legislation, the renters’ reform bill, later this year.
The renters’ reform bill
This blueprint for reform of the private rental sector included a number of positive steps to make life easier for renters, including:
- Banning Section 21 ‘no fault evictions’, frequently used by landlords when they want to sell or move into a property currently being rented privately.
- Limiting rent increases to once per year and giving more power to renters to challenge these in tribunals.
- Introducing an ombudsman for the private rental sector and compelling landlords to join it.
- Strengthening the powers of councils to crack down on rogue landlords.
- Ending the ability of landlords to impose blanket bans on renters on benefits or with children.
- Granting the right to tenants to request a pet in their home, which landlords cannot unreasonably refuse.
These reforms are sorely needed. Research by the Northern Housing Consortium has revealed that 38% of properties in Yorkshire failed to meet the government’s decent homes standard. Meanwhile, towns like Harrogate have seen a 60% increase of applications to the waiting list for social housing, as local authorities face a ‘perfect storm’ of homelessness.
Upon their announcement, these reforms were greeted universally across the housing sector, with the principal objections coming from landlords, several of whom threatened to quit the private rental market if no fault evictions were ended.
Will the Truss government implement this legislation?
However, with a new administration entering Downing Street, there is no guarantee that the promises made in this white paper will ever make it to legislation.
Truss has not yet guaranteed that the renters’ reform bill is still on the table. Famous for her deregulatory attitudes, it may well be that proposals like a private landlords’ ombudsman would not be on her priority list.
Truss’s decision to pick Simon Clarke for the housing brief could well be a positive indication. Clarke has been an outspoken advocate on the housing crisis for many years, and has more experience at the ministerial top table than many of his cabinet peers, having served in various roles across the Treasury and levelling up department since 2019.
With hope of reform up in the air, campaigners have been active in urging the government to honour the commitments made in the white paper. Baroness Alicia Kennedy, chair of the group Generation Rent, emphasised the need to follow through on the promises made:
“The renters’ reform bill could be a game changing piece of legislation for renters. That’s why it is essential for the new prime minister to publish this legislation as soon as possible. With the cost of renting crisis affecting the lives of millions of families, this bill has never been more important than it is now.”
Hold them to account
Luckily, activists have a great deal of power to keep the bill on the table. All Conservative MPs were elected in 2019 on a pledge of a renters’ reform bill, and so constituents can more than reasonably lobby Conservative MPs to push the government to introduce it. Generation Rent is currently running a campaign encouraging activists to email their local representative to ask them to do so.
If you’d like to get involved, you can find out more on Generation Rent’s website.
With the cost-of-living crisis getting worse by the day, now more than ever renters need to be able to live securely and affordably in a home fit for human habitation. These proposed reforms could go some way to achieving that end.
However, far more needs to be done, not only in protecting renters, but on increasing housing supply to rebalance the housing market as a whole. Whether or not Truss’s new administration is able to meet the moment and deliver a housing sector fit for all is yet to be seen.