The Renters Reform Bill completed the Committee Stage on 28 November where it went through a line-by-line analysis and debate about each clause, and considered amendments. It is due to move onto the Report Stage and the Third Reading, before being passed onto the House of Lords, but this has been delayed without explanation from the Government.
Michael Gove assured Laura Kuenssberg on 11 February that Section 21 would be “outlawed” by the General Election, so we can expect movement on the Renters Reform Bill in March.
This blog post is a commentary on each stage of Renters Reform Bill towards Royal Assent and eventual implementation. Please bookmark the blog post as I update it every time something new of any consequence happens.
>> Related Post: Renters Reform Bill: What Happens When
>> Related Post: Renters Reform Bill Hub
Last updated: 11 February 2024
Quick Links: What’s the latest progress with the Renters Reform Bill?
- Publication of Government Response to Select Committee Report
- Summary of Second Reading debate of Renters Reform Bill (23 October 2023)
- The Committee Stage of the Renters Reform Bill
- Where we are now: Report Stage and Third Reading
- Further stages of the Renters Reform Bill still to come
Publication of Government Response to Select Committee Report
The cross-party Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee originally published its report, Reforming the Private Rented Sector, on 9 February 2023. The Government finally issued its overdue formal response on Friday 20 October.
After waiting six months to publish its response to the Levelling Up Select Committee’s recommendations, the Government only agreed to one small modification to the Renters Reform Bill, and a delay to the implementation of one key aspect. Here are the two principal concessions to the recommendations of the Select Committee:
Linking of abolition of Section 21 to court reform
Implementation of the new system will not take place until we judge sufficient progress has been made to improve the courts. This means we will not proceed with the abolition of section 21, until reforms to the justice system are in place.
The abolition of Section 21 was in the Conservative Party election manifesto in 2019. According to the White Paper, A Fairer Private Rented Sector, Section 21 was always due to be implemented on the second implementation date, at least 18 months after Royal Assent (say the end of 2025 or the spring of 2026). Yet despite this delay in implementation that was built into the transition arranges, the court system will apparently not be ready in time for what would have been the likely implementation date at least two years from now.
The Government response gives no information as to exactly how “sufficient progress” will be assessed. Instead, the section on court reform refers vaguely to “digitising more of the court process”, “exploring the prioritisation of certain cases, including antisocial behaviour”, improving the bailiff system and providing “early legal advice and better signposting for tenants.” Certainly no SMART objectives here!
There is no detail what “digitising” means (other than it will apparently be “end to end”), or how the prioritisation of cases will work. It also doesn’t explain how the new grounds of possession will be made “faster and easier to prove”.
The briefing notes released after the King’s Speech on 7 November said that the government is “starting work on this now, with an initial commitment of £1.2 million to begin designing a new digital system for possessions. As work progresses, we will engage landlords and tenants to ensure the new system supports an efficient and straightforward possession system for all parties”.
In other words, they’ve still not designed the system, and the £1.2 million is just to start the process. The government has not announced funds for testing and implementation or the indicative timing. No further information has been given to the House of Commons Committee that has been examining the Bill.
>> Related Post: Renters Reform Timetable: What happens when?
New Ground for Possession for student tenancies
We recognise that the student market is cyclical and that landlords must be able to guarantee possession each year for a new set otf tenants, and we will introduce a new ground for possession to facilitate this.
The Government did not accept the Select Committee’s recommendation that fixed-term tenancies be retained for the entire student market (not just purpose built student accommodation). DLUHC justified this by saying that “retaining fixed terms would unfairly lock students into contracts, meaning they could not leave if a property is poor quality or their circumstances should change”.
Instead, DLUHC proposes introducing a “ground for possession that will facilitate the yearly cycle of short-term student tenancies”. The Government introduced this as Ground 4A at the Committee Stage, a mandatory ground.
Summary of Second Reading debate of Renters Reform Bill (23 October 2023)
The Second Reading debate finally took place on 23 October 2023, led by the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, and took about four hours. It passed without a vote due to the cross-party support for the Bill. A “carry over” motion was passed to ensure it wll carry over to the next Parliament after the King’s Speech on 7 November.
The Committee Stage of the Renters Reform Bill
The Committee Stage of the Renters Reform Bill started on 14 November 2023, and was shepherded through the committee by Junior Levelling Up Minister, Jacob Young. He was a last minute replacement for Rachel Maclean, the Housing Minister who was sacked on 13 November.
The witnesses for the oral evidence section are stakeholders and interested parties from the wider private rented sector. They range from Shelter, Citizens Advice, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Crisis, Generation Rent and Renters’ Reform Coalition to the NRLA, Propertymark, and the British Property Federation. Other witnesses include academics, lawyers, Trading Standards, the Local Government Association and The National Union of Students.
After two days of oral evidence from a wide range of witnesses, the Committee moved onto debating every clause of the Bill, and amendments from the government and opposition.
Key clauses and amendments passed in the Committee Stage of the Renters Reform Bill
The Committee completed its consideration of the clauses in the original draft of the Bill, and amendments tabled by the government and opposition. The short version is that the Renters Reform Bill as drafted, plus the government amendments, were approved and the Bill has now been “reported” to the House of Commons for debate in the Report Stage. The date for the Report Stage has not yet been fixed. Here is a link to the Committee Stage Decisions and this is a new version of the Bill which incorporates the amendments at the Committee Stage.
Here is a summary of the decisions of the Committee on the key clauses:
- Clause 1 – Assured tenancies to be periodic with rent period not exceeding a month – passed. This means that as the Bill currently stands, there will be no minimum fixed term period.
- Clause 2 – Abolition of assured shorthold tenancies – passed. This means that the default tenancy will now be an assured tenancy. As this clause deletes Chapter 2 of Part 1 of the Housing Act 1988, it also means that the Committee has approved the abolition of Section 21, subject to the transition provisions.
- Clause 3 – Changes to grounds of possession – passed, with the inclusion of a reference to the new Mandatory Ground 4A for student HMOs.
- Schedule 1 – Changes to Grounds of possession – passed. This is the detailed schedule with the new Grounds For Possession which I have summarised in this blog post: Guide to Terminating Tenancies with the New Section 8.
- Clause 4 – Form of notice of proceedings for possession – passed. This clause allows the Secretary of State to make regulations for the form which landlords will need to use, which will be a revised version of the current Form 3 used for Section 8 notices.
- Clause 5 – Statutory procedure for increases of rent – passed. This is makes it compulsory for landlords to use a Section 13 notice if they wish to increase the rent. Landlords will need to give two months’ notice to increase the rent. An amendment by a Labour MP to introduce a rent cap was not passed.
- Clause 6 – Challenging amount or increase of rent – passed. This clause sets out the process for tenants to challenge the rent or rent increase at the First Tier Tribunal. The Opposition’s amendments to prevent the Tribunal for increasing the rent to an amount higher than the landlord originally requested were not passed. Also, the Opposition’s attempt to outlaw “bidding wars” for rental properties was not passed. The Labour Party amendment had proposed prohibiting both landlords and letting agents from “inviting or encouraging” to pay a rent higher than the amount stated in the listing, although a prospective tenant could offer more.
- Clause 7 – Right to request permission to keep a pet – passed. The Opposition’s amendments to reduce the landlord’s time period for consideration of a request to keep a pet from 42 days to 14 days were not passed. Jacob Young (Housing Minister) said guidance would be published, but would not give a date.
- Clause 8 – Pet insurance – passed. There was a detailed discussion about how pet insurance will work in practice.
- Clause 9 – Duty to give statement of terms and other information – amended. This was replaced by an amendment which had been tabled by the government to extend the obligation to “contractors”, ie letting agents, with the heading “Duty of landlord and contractor to give statement of terms and other information”.
- Clause 10 – Other duties of landlords and former landlords – amended. This clause was replaced by an amendment tabled by the government so to extend the prohibition on re-letting after relying on Ground 1 (landlord selling up) or Ground 1A (landlord or family moving in) to “persons acting or purporting to act on behalf of landlords” (eg letting agents) as well as landlords themselves.
- Clause 11 – Landlords etc: financial penalties and offences – passed with government amendments. One amendment makes it an offence for landlords and “people acting on their behalf, or purporting to do so” (eg letting agents), to serve notice using a ground for possession on which the landlord is not entitled to rely, if the tenant surrenders the tenancy within 3 months following service of the notice. Another government amendment makes it possible for directors of a company to be prosecuted for offences committed by the company.
- Clause 74 – Rent Repayment Orders (Offences) – the offences listed in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 will be extended continuing or repeat breaches of the PRS database and PRS Ombudsman, and providing false or misleading information to the PRS databse. (See my blog post on Rent Repayment Orders for more information).
- Clause 78 – Rent Repayment Orders (General) – doubles the maximum amount of rent that a landlord might be ordered to repay from 12 months to 24 months. Enables the First-tier Tribunal to make an order against a “superior landlord” in a rent-to-rent structure, reversing the decision in Jepsen v Raksusen. (See this post on Rent-to-Rent for more information).
>> Related Post: The 10 key changes in the Renters Reform Bill
Where we are now: Report Stage and Third Reading
The Renters Reform Bill has now been “reported” to the House of Commons, which means it is due to be debated in the main chamber and pass to the Third Reading. The date for the Report Stage has still not yet been fixed as of 11 February.
Further stages of the Renters Reform Bill still to come
After the Third Reading, the Bill will move to the House of Lords to go through the same process.
>> Related Post: Renters Reform Timetable