Facing hundreds of renters at a meeting in parliament earlier this week, the new government housing minister Rachel Maclean promised a ban on Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions would become law by Autumn. ‘My civil servants will probably kill me for this—but yes,’ she said, in answer to housing journalist Vicky Spratt.
Maclean, who in February became the sixth housing minister in just 12 months, promised members of the Renters Reform Coalition that massive changes were on the way. While she insisted a balance must be struck between renters’ rights and landlords, the minister dismissed the concerns of her predecessor and the National Residential Landlord Association that regulation would decrease ‘confidence in the sector’ and ‘landlords would leave the market in droves.’
Maclean insisted ‘good landlords have nothing to fear,’ and more importantly, that ‘Housing shouldn’t be a pension plan or a financial asset; it should be a place to live.’ The minister’s remarks will elicit a sigh of relief from campaigners who have spent years making this exact argument.
According to homelessness charity Shelter, evictions under Section 21 of the housing act are the leading cause of homelessness in the UK. Section 21 powers allow landlords to evict tenants with only two months’ notice without providing a reason. At ACORN, we see the results of this cruel and dangerous practice every day.
While housing campaigners met with MPs to discuss legislation, ACORN members were physically resisting a ‘no fault’ eviction in Bristol, linking arms to prevent bailiffs entering a property to quite literally throw people out on the street. Alongside other coalition members, we are pushing to abolish this eviction method entirely.
ACORN is the largest community union in the UK, representing over seven thousand people. We sit on the Renters Reform Coalition alongside other leading housing organisations, ranging from think tanks like the New Economics Foundation to local activist groups like the London Renters Union. Together we’ve worked tirelessly to produce the Renters Reform Bill, which was first published last year, to ensure private renters are properly protected.
On Tuesday, the coalition brought hundreds to Westminster to pressure MPs and the housing minister to commit to real change. The event was the first of its kind for the renters’ movement, with people travelling on coaches from places as far-flung as Bradford and Falmouth to attend.
Among our demands is a ban on ‘no-fault’ evictions, the introduction of open-ended tenancies, the creation of a national landlord register, and closing existing loopholes, addressing affordability and ending housing discrimination.
The mixture of panel events and meetings with MPs gave renters unprecedented access to scrutinise and pressure their representatives. Shadow housing minister Mathew Pennycook committed to reforms—although he, like most other Labour MPs present, emphasised the need to get into power first.
The panel event ACORN organised featured stories from our members, like a retired soldier from Bradford who had fought his landlord for urgent repairs and won £20,000, and a young London renter who, fighting alongside fellow ACORN members, beat a Section 21 eviction.
Research from Shelter found a shocking 45 percent of private renters have been victims of illegal acts by their landlords. However, as renters across the country made it clear, many of the practices they are fighting against are perfectly legal.
Private renting now affects a huge cross-section of society. Today, the share of houses occupied by private renters is roughly 20 percent—and while the incomes, ages and ethnicities of renters are massively diverse, it is clear that those who are organised stand the best chance of getting a fairer deal.
One young private renter who recently faced an eviction said, ‘I’ve looked at the house prices where I live, and what I take home in wages in a month—and the numbers just don’t add up.’
‘I am looking at the very real possibility that I’ll never be able to buy a home in the city I grew up in, despite working full time. If I am supposed to rent for the rest of my life, massive changes need to happen.’
Another speaker compared the current market to losing a game of monopoly, where very few people had bought up all the housing and were now ‘building hotels,’ thanks to a few lucky rolls of the dice.
With the UK housing market increasingly used as investment vehicle by the global rich, house prices are skyrocketing across the country by up to 10 percent a year. As the number of renters grows, so must our movement. We know that the politicians promises to create a ‘home-owning democracy’ are a fantasy. Instead, we must fight for our rights: safe, secure, and affordable housing.
Under intense questioning as the event drew to a close, the housing minister drew gasps and laughter when she blamed the housing crisis on Covid-19 lockdowns and war in Ukraine, with attendees heckling ‘You’ve been in government since 2010!’ and ‘We need council housing!’
While the Maclean admitted she was new to the role and was unable to answer many of the questions put to her, the commitment to timeline for long-awaited reforms was welcome. The Minister promised the proposed Bill would be tabled by Autumn this year, earning a round of applause from those of us who have fought for this change for years
It was a clear sign that pressure from organised renters was being brought to bear on the Conservatives—and that’s a pressure we will fight hard to keep up every day.
Whether Maclean now honours this new commitment and continues to attempt to build trust with renters, or whether she backtracks, our movement will be ready.