Will scrapping Section 21 fuel homelessness?

Some recent articles have suggested that if the government goes ahead with scrapping Section 21 evictions, this will fuel a rise in homelessness. This is due to the technicalities of being rehomed by local councils, combined with the fact that tenants are allegedly often at fault even in ‘no fault’ evictions.

What is a Section 21 eviction?

A Section 21 eviction is also known as a ‘no fault’ eviction, and is the most common way for landlords to regain possession of their properties. You don’t need any reason to issue a Section 21 notice, and it’s usually the fastest way to evict a tenant since there’s no need to prove grounds for eviction in court. However, it can’t be used if a landlord is wanting to reclaim rent arrears or other costs.

Why does the government want to get rid of Section 21?

Critics say that Section 21 is the main cause of homelessness in the country, and the government feels it’s being used to evict tenants unfairly. They want to abolish the process, arguing that landlords will still be able to regain possession of their properties by other means if they have a legitimate reason for doing so – whether that’s because their tenants are in arrears or because they want to move back into the property themselves.

Why do people think getting rid of Section 21 will fuel homelessness?

What this really centres around is that we have a shortage of council housing. Believe it or not, while local authorities have a duty to help people who are homeless (or at risk of becoming so), they don’t actually have to find new homes for them all. To be assured of getting council housing, you usually have to be in a priority group (such as being pregnant, having young children, living with disabilities or being a recent care-leaver etc.) or to have been made homeless through no fault of your own.

And that’s where it gets tricky, because while people who are made homeless through Section 21 are technically not at fault – and are thus eligible to be re-housed – landlord organisations argue that the majority of evictions are actually due to rent arrears. Landlords use the Section 21 process because it’s quicker and easier than proving grounds for eviction through the Section 8 court processes. If they’ve got a tenant who’s stopped paying rent, most landlords will want to get the property re-let to a paying tenant as quickly as possible, rather than getting embroiled in a lengthy court process – even if that means writing off the lost rent.

If Section 21 is abolished then landlords with tenants who are in arrears will have to use Section 8 and go to court. It’ll take longer to evict the tenant, but the end result will be that when the tenant is finally evicted, it is officially their fault, and thus the council probably won’t have to re-house them.     

What might other potential consequences of scrapping Section 21 be?

If, as landlords claim, rent arrears are the main driver of eviction, then a lot more people are going to have poorer credit ratings. If landlords have to go to court to evict, they’ll also probably try to get the court to award them back rent while they’re at it – potentially leaving poorer tenants even worse off.

Perversely, a low credit rating could then make it harder for a tenant to find a new home. Landlords are generally less inclined to take on tenants with a history of rent arrears, though there’s an argument that simple supply and demand would solve this. If more tenants have poor credit histories, then more landlords will have to accept them if they want to avoid empty properties.

Will all this really happen?

It’s difficult to say without knowing what other measures might be introduced at the same time. And that’s really the problem with this proposed abolition of Section 21. Because it’s the most common method of eviction, getting rid of it will have all kinds of knock-on effects. Before the government does away with it, they’ll need to plan for these consequences very carefully.

While Section 21 is the single biggest cause of homelessness in the country, it’s effectively a catch-all for a huge variety of situations, and the real causes are hidden behind it. Landlords say people are becoming homeless because they’re getting into arrears with their rent; tenants say it’s because landlords are trying to hike rents and sidestep maintenance responsibilities. Any package of measures to abolish Section 21 will need to address the underlying issues, whatever they may be.