A big step towards long-term security for Wales’ half a million private tenants

 

By Jennie Bibbings

Last week the Welsh Government announced a proposal that will give private tenants a minimum of one year’s protection from a no-fault eviction.

Speaking at the Shelter Cymru People and Homes conference, the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James AM, said that the Government will consult on whether tenants should be given six months’ notice when they are going to be evicted using the no-fault ground, compared to the current two months’ notice.

By also banning the use of such evictions in the first six months of a tenancy, this will effectively give tenants at least a year knowing that they can’t be evicted without a good reason.

Most tenants support a ban because of the inherent unfairness of a law which allows landlords to evict without needing to show that the tenant has done anything wrong.

A survey found that nearly three-quarters of private tenants in Wales want to see the introduction of laws similar to Scotland’s, where tenancies are open-ended and no-fault evictions are banned.

The Welsh Government’s announcement follows the pledge in April by the First Minister to end no-fault evictions during this Assembly term. While this new proposal will not end no-fault evictions completely, it will be a strong deterrent for landlords. Instead many would probably use fault-based grounds, meaning they would need to provide evidence to the court to show why the eviction is necessary.

This is the art of the possible,’ said the Housing Minister at the conference. ‘Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good things that we know will make a big difference.’

At Shelter Cymru we’ve been campaigning on this issue for several years, with nearly 2,000 people signing a petition.

We’ve shared our disappointment with the Welsh Government that there won’t yet be a complete ban. However, increasing the notice period is still a big step in the right direction.

We do understand that there are practical difficulties in amending the Welsh tenancy legislation during this term. We don’t want to hold up implementation of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 any longer than necessary.

We will still be campaigning for an eventual ban. However, in the meantime this proposal will have many positive effects.

For example, it is going to effectively end the practice of revenge evictions. Even though the Renting Homes Act does offer some protection already, this additional step will ensure that no landlord will resort to no-fault grounds as a quick fix to dodge their legal responsibilities – something that happens all the time in our casework.

It’s also going to mean that very few housing associations will use no-fault grounds to evict tenants on starter tenancies – a practice that is really unfair, since nobody should ever be evicted from social housing unless there are reasons good enough to convince a judge.

As with everything though, there could also be negative consequences for some. Local authority homelessness services are going to need firm guidance on how to work with households threatened with homelessness because of a no-fault eviction.

What we do not want to see is people told to come back in six months. It would be totally unacceptable to put people through that prolonged stress and uncertainty.

Homelessness prevention work must begin as soon as a notice is served. Having a longer window for interventions could give much more scope for innovative prevention work: landlord mediation, repayment plans, support referrals, and if necessary extra time to find alternative suitable accommodation.

Soon Shelter Cymru will be putting resources online to help as many people as possible to take part in the Welsh Government’s consultation. Landlords will be making their voices heard loud and clear – we must ensure that tenants are equally heard.