The number of renting households made homeless because of “no-fault” evictions has surged higher than pre-pandemic levels, sparking fresh calls for the government to ban the practice.
Close to 20,000 households in England were made homeless by landlords using section 21 notices in 2021/22, up from almost 9,000 the previous financial year, “alarming” new government figures reveal.
Housing activists complain no-fault notices are sometimes used to trigger “revenge evictions” if tenants complain about conditions or rent rises. This week the former head of the civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake, warned of a “catastrophic” homelessness crisis unless the government reintroduced the eviction ban that protected tenants during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Conservative government promised in 2019 to end the practice, but it has yet to pass legislation.
The more than doubling in homelessness from no-fault evictions is largely down to the fact that landlords were prevented from using the eviction system for much of the pandemic as the government successfully moved to prevent a surge in homelessness, including its “everyone in” strategy on rough sleeping. But the latest figures show no-fault evictions are now causing more homelessness than in 2018/19 and 2019/20.
The figures were “alarming”, said Fiona Colley, director of social change at Homeless Link, a membership organisation.
“The economic pressures we are facing are pushing more and more people to the edge as the pandemic protections ended,” she said. “But the cost of living crisis has exacerbated rather than caused this issue.”
Nick Ballard, head organiser at ACORN, a tenants activist organisation, said it had seen a big increase in the number of members seeking help to fight no-fault evictions.
“It can be devastating,” he said. “At the milder end it means uprooting entire families … at the more extreme end, this is the leading cause of homelessness. People end up in overcrowded temporary accommodation … and rough sleeping.”
There was also a 24% surge in the number of households with children asking for help from councils to prevent them becoming homeless, compared with the previous year, and notable increases in the number of working people and black and Asian people presenting as homeless. Overall, however, the number of households threatened with homelessness remained below the pre-Covid level in 2019-20.
During the pandemic, the government introduced a stay on evictions and the usual two-month notice period was extended. But the eviction ban was lifted in England in June 2021, and in October eviction notice periods reverted to two months.
Section 21 notices are allowed under the 1988 Housing Act and permit property owners to evict tenants without giving a reason.
The Conservative government has been criticised for failing to act on its promise to end the practice. In 2019 its manifesto promised its abolition in “a better deal for renters”. Legislation is yet to be passed. The Queen’s speech in May 2022 confirmed a renters reform bill would be introduced in the 2022-23 parliamentary session, but the new government’s policy is unclear.
The proposal is that a tenancy can end only if the tenant ends it, or if the landlord has a valid ground for possession. New grounds will be created to allow landlords to sell or move close family members into the property and grounds concerning persistent rent arrears and antisocial behaviour will be strengthened.
“The prime minister must commit to introducing the renters reform bill, to help give renters proper protection from being hit with a no-fault eviction and set out a clear plan to provide genuinely affordable homes,” said Matt Downie, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis. “Only through such decisive action can thousands more people be protected from homelessness in the coming months.”
The Department for Levelling Up, Lousing and Communities has been approached for comment.