Renters (Reform) Bill falls in Parliament, Government fails in its promise to renters

Picture of Conor O'Shea

Conor O'Shea

Policy and Public Affairs Manager gives Generation Rent's verdict on the fall of the Renters (Reform) Bill.

It’s official: the Renters (Reform) Bill has fallen. Following Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s announcement of a general election to take place on 4th July, the Bill has not been selected to be part of the ‘wash up’ (the last-minute completion of legislation that’s already underway in Parliament), and therefore cannot be completed. Parliamentary rules mean that it cannot be picked up from here, so the next government must start from scratch.

This is another let down for renters who are already long overdue reform. To quote Robin Stewart, housing lawyer, it has been 61 months since the promise to outlaw Section 21 was made, which amounts to 30 eviction notice periods back-to-back (and then half of another). This goes to the heart of what has been lost by the failure of the government to pass this Bill – the fact that so many more of us will be facing that dreaded two month countdown, where our life is turned upside down and we have to find a new home, and often a new school or new job, at the drop of a hat.

It is nothing but a monumental failure on the part of the government that 12 million people remain under this Sword of Damocles and will do for the foreseeable future. Over 90,000 households have received a Section 21 since the promise to abolish them was made, and now that number is certain to rise. It now falls to the next government, whoever that may be, to reform renting for the better.

The story of the Bill

While this legislation has been promised since 2019, the publication of the White Paper A Fairer Private Rented Sector on 16th June 2022 – just under two years ago – fired the starting gun on the legislative process, outlining the broad plans of the government to reform the sector, including a promise to “redress the balance of power between landlords and tenants.” It included plans to abolish Section 21, apply the Decent Homes Standard (DHS) to the private rented sector, and introduce a property portal and an ombudsman to regulate landlords more effectively, all of which became key offers of the Bill itself.

However, what followed was one of the many delays that came to characterise the process. It took 11 months, until 17th May 2023, for the Bill to be seen, with its First Reading in the House of Commons. During that time, Prime Minister Liz Truss came and went, putting the reforms briefly in doubt in her short tenure; the Bill was re-confirmed when Rishi Sunak assumed power. However, it did take six months before its Second Reading on 23rd October 2023. Following a swift Committee Stage in November, undermined by the sacking of Minister Rachel Maclean the day before it began, another five months elapsed until the Commons process was completed on 24th April 2024.

It is clear that these delays were no accident, but instead hold ups to speak to and give concessions to the landlord lobby and a minority of pro-landlord backbench MPs who were intent on slowing and weakening the Bill, denying tenants the rights and power that we so desperately need. Over the course of these long gaps (which are incredibly rare during the passage of a Bill), the government gave the landlords significant changes which would have watered down our rights, including a delay to abolishing Section 21 until an undefined court reform had taken place, the introduction of a ‘tenant trap’ reducing tenants’ ability to move out of an unsuitable home, the removal of student renters from eviction protections and a review of licensing schemes to favour reducing landlord ‘burdens’ over tenant safety. Meanwhile, concerns from Generation Rent and the Renters’ Reform Coalition (RRC) about notice periods, eviction ground loopholes, economic evictions and vulnerability of tenants suffering domestic abuse, amongst others, fell upon deaf ears.

It was clear that tenant concerns would not be heard and that the Renters (Reform) Bill was fast becoming the Landlords’ Bill of Rights. As such, we, as part of the RRC, declared that the Bill as written would be a failure unless significant changes were made during its passage through the House of Lords. This could still have happened, with the first debate in the Lords taking place only last week. Now, with the dropping of the legislation and the upcoming election, those changes will never be made, and the rocky and often unpleasant passage of the Renters (Reform) Bill has come to a sudden end.

What must be acknowledged is the hard work and endeavour made by many to pass this Bill in a successful and fair way. Secretary of State Michael Gove revived the Bill upon re-assuming the position in October 2023 and has been a proponent of rental reform even in the face of opposition from his own backbenchers. For this he deserves credit, even if the Bill he offered was significantly weakened by the time it fell. Successive Ministers ; Eddie Hughes, Felicity Buchan, Rachel Maclean and Jacob Young all progressed the Bill under similar pressures.

The Labour front bench, led by Shadow Minister Matthew Pennycook, worked to improve this Bill and opposed anti-tenant concessions, proposing common-sense and progressive changes which would have tightened up the legislation and made it workable for renters. A number of backbench MPs, including but not limited to Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Fleur Anderson, Andrew Western, Caroline Lucas, Rachael Maskell and Helen Hayes, also made attempts to strengthen the Bill when it was required. From the Conservative benches, Natalie Elphicke (before her defection to Labour) and Richard Bacon also offered support to improve the Bill for renters. The civil servants in the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities who worked on drafting the legislation always engaged in good faith with Generation Rent and have our thanks for their tireless efforts.

Generation Rent also thanks you, our supporters, who have pushed so hard to make reform a reality, emailing and even meeting your MPs at every point when we needed their support over the past two years. It is a shame that it has not resulted in the “rebalancing of power” that we so desperately need.

What comes next

Generation Rent will continue to push for rental reform during and after the election. Given its long delays and ultimate failing, this issue must be at the top of all the parties’ agendas and offer to voters. The watered down version of the Renters (Reform) Bill will not do and more progressive and wholesale changes must be implemented by the next government, including an immediate end to Section 21, mechanisms to limit the sky-high rent increases renters are facing across the country, measures to tackle the energy efficiency crisis in rented homes, and easier ways to fix problems.

Labour have already indicated that they will “pass legislation that level decisively the playing field between landlords and tenants.” We await the offerings of the other parties and will be working with whoever the next government may be to bring about a robust and proper reform of the rental sector.



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