Decision details

Section 21 Consultation

Decision Maker: Director: Housing and Landlord Services

Decision status: Recommendations Approved

Is Key decision?: No

Is subject to call in?: No

Purpose:

Central Government sought views on: A new deal for renting: resetting the balance of rights and responsibilities between landlords and tenants. This consultation, which ran between 21 July 2019 and 12 October 2019, asked for opinions on implementing the government’s decision to remove Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 and improving section 8 eviction grounds.
As the proposals outlined in the consultation are likely to have a positive impact on homelessness and on the ability of local authorities to prevent and relieve homelessness, it was felt important that the authority respond to this consultation. The Cabinet Member for Housing was consulted and was supportive of the final draft used for submission.

Decision:

Bristol City Council (Housing Options Service) responded to this consultation as follows:
Bristol City Council (Housing Options Service) is grateful for the opportunity to respond to the Government’s consultation on A new deal for renting: resetting the balance of rights and responsibilities between landlords and tenants. We have submitted a response to the consultation questionnaire, but would also like to submit this written statement.
The following is a summary of some of the key issues raised by colleagues in the Housing Options service in response to this consultation.
Overall, we welcome the proposals to abolish the assured shorthold regime (including the use of section 21 notices).
However, we recognise that there may be circumstances where no fault possession is still required, specifically with respect to supported accommodation. Some types of supported housing rely on the delivery of support, either directly or by means of financial provision, from an external agency. If this is withdrawn, for reasons that may be entirely beyond the control of the provider of that accommodation, such housing cannot currently be sustained and section 21 is used to end the tenancy. There would have to be a similar arrangement in place in future to avoid supported housing being ‘log-jammed’ and/or occupied by people who no longer require support or pose some kind of risk if they continue occupancy.
Most supported housing is supplied in circumstances where the need for it is likely to cease to apply at some future point. If section 21 notices are completely withdrawn, some special form of legislative process will need to take its place.
In general we would like to see more emphasis on discretionary rather than mandatory grounds for possession.
With respect to the premise of question 4 – ‘that a landlord should be able to gain possession if their family member wishes to use the property as their own home?’ – we would wish to see greater clarification as to what is meant by ‘family member’ in this context. It is suggested that this should be a discretionary ground which is best considered on a case by case basis. Both nationally and locally, the ‘end of an assured shorthold tenancy’ has been recorded as the top cause/trigger for homelessness. In 2018/19 there were 433 presentations to Bristol City Council’s homelessness service who reported their last settled home as a private rented tenancy and this has consistently been the foremost reason for people presenting as homeless in Bristol for the past five years. In many cases, landlords state that they want to move back into the property or want vacant possession for a family member. Landlords are not obliged to provide any proof that this is actually the case and there may be occasions where landlords use this reasoning when in fact they require vacant possession to re-let a property at a higher rent.
Question 5 asks – ‘Should there be a requirement for a landlord or family member to have previously lived at the property to serve a section 8 notice under ground 1?’ We would question how this will be policed and what will be the sanctions if the law is improperly used in such cases. We believe that such cases should be discretionary and considered by the courts on a case by case basis.
We do not agree that the ‘ground under Schedule 2 concerned with rent arrears be revised so: The landlord can serve a two week notice seeking possession once the tenant has accrued two months’ rent arrears.’ The implementation of welfare reform/universal credit has led to lengthy delays in payment for some people. Bristol also has a high number of short term, temporary, low paid and zero hours contract jobs. We recognise that many people on such contracts are frequently in and out of work, making it difficult for low income households to meet housing related costs. Nor do we agree with the proposal that courts ‘must grant a possession order if the landlord can prove a pattern of behaviour that shows the tenant has built up arrears and paid these down on three previous occasions’. We would reiterate our concerns about the implementation of welfare reform and the proliferation of low paid/zero hours contracts. In fact, if a tenant household has accrued arrears but has ‘paid these down’ it does suggest irregular income, but more importantly, a tenant intention to maintain the tenancy by eventually paying the rent. It is felt that the proposals outlined in this section could undermine our ability to tackle and prevent homelessness.
With respect to the grounds available to end a tenancy where anti-social behaviour is a problem, we believe that 7A (‘The tenant has been convicted of a serious offence in or around the property, against someone living in or around the property, or against the landlord’) – should be a discretionary rather than a mandatory ground, considered on a case by case basis. Our reasoning is that there is no definition or examples of ‘a serious offence’ provided in the consultation. We can imagine that there may be cases where such an offence has been committed but that this in no way affects the ability of the tenant to sustain a tenancy and be a good neighbour.
We are in agreement with the proposals concerning domestic violence. With respect to question 27 (‘Should a victim of domestic abuse be able to end a tenancy without the consent of the abuser or to continue the tenancy without the abuser?’) we would agree that a victim of domestic violence should be able to continue the tenancy without the abuser and would like to see it specified that the tenancy should continue on its original terms. We would also like to propose consideration of how such a victim can be enabled to continue their tenancy through financial and other support if needed i.e. if their financial situation would lead to hardship in paying the rent.
Question 28 (on Property Standards) asks whether we would ‘support amending ground 13 to allow a landlord to gain possession where a tenant prevents them from maintaining legal safety standards’. We would argue that a landlord should be able to gain access to the property, to ensure legal safety standards, not gain possession.
We would like to see this considered on a case by case basis.
Overall, we believe that the proposals outlined in the consultation will have a positive impact on homelessness and on the ability of local authorities to prevent and relieve homelessness, though we would reiterate our belief that a number of the mandatory grounds outlined in the proposals should be reduced in favour of discretionary grounds. By moving the homelessness relief stage to a point earlier than when a possession order is being sought, local authorities will have more time to focus on early intervention and working with households to prevent their homelessness. Offering the victims of domestic violence the opportunity to remain in their homes is also likely to have a positive impact on reducing homelessness.
However, before implementation of any of the proposed changes, there urgently needs to be reform of the current court system, with the introduction of the new ‘housing’ court. It is strongly felt that the proposals being made will not work effectively without a concomitant change to the existing court process, as the current process is too slow and unwieldly for both tenants and landlords.

Alternative options considered:

Option 1 - Not responding to the consultation was an option but was not considered, as it was felt that the proposals outlined in the consultation were important measures to consider and would likely have a positive impact on homelessness.
Option 2 -
Option 3 -

Publication date: 25/11/2019

Date of decision: 08/10/2019