Ruth Ehrlich: Scotland is proof England must abolish Section 21
Housing and homelessness charity Shelter urges England to follow Scotland’s lead in introducing pioneering longer, more secure tenancies.
New research by Shelter shows that Scottish renters have been reaping the benefits of open-ended tenancies since the introduction of the Private Residential Tenancy (PRT) in December 2017.
These new tenancies are helping renters worry less about becoming homeless, worry less about getting locked into inflexible fixed term tenancies, and giving them more faith in politicians.
With the prospect of open-ended tenancies on the horizon for English renters, the early signs from Scotland show that they too stand to benefit from greater security of tenure.
In December 2017, the Scottish government abolished the equivalent of England’s Section 21 and introduced new, indefinite tenancies for private tenants.
In April, Theresa May’s government announced its intention to follow in Scotland’s footsteps, ending no-fault evictions and effectively introducing open-ended tenancies with the abolition of Section 21.
It’s too early to tell what the impact of the announcement – and certainly the effects of it – will be. Fortunately for those running for Prime Minister, our research shows the positive impact this move has had on private renters in Scotland. Our findings show that they are now less worried about becoming homeless, feel less locked in to their tenancies, and have more faith in their elected officials.
We hope that May’s successor will look to these positive results and be reassured of the positive impact, for both renters and successors, that the introduction of open-ended tenancies could have in England.
Renters worry less about becoming homeless
Our research shows that Scottish renters on the PRT are only half as likely to worry about becoming homeless than those on the old tenancy agreement. The loss of a private rented tenancy makes a significant contribution to homelessness in Scotland and it seems that the new tenancy, which gives renters stronger rights, makes people less afraid that they’re going to lose their home.
We know how important this is for renters in England, 75% of whom worry about not being able to find another decent and affordable home when they are asked to leave. The Prime Minister who finally passes legislation to abolish Section 21 will bring peace of mind to the four million people living in the private rented sector.
Renters feel less locked in to their tenancy
Renters on the new open-ended Scottish tenancy feel half as trapped as those the old tenancy. We weren’t surprised by this finding: without open-ended tenancies, the only form of security private renters could negotiate in Scotland was a fixed-term contract.
While this is great for some people, if someone’s circumstances change, such as losing a job or a relationship breaking down, they are trapped in an unaffordable or unsuitable tenancy under this system. Now, Scottish renters are feeling the benefit of only having to give 28 days notice if their circumstances change.
In England, our services often advise people who would hugely benefit from the flexibility of an open-ended tenancy – including those who have experienced domestic violence or whose medical condition has made their property unsuitable. The abolition of Section 21 will hopefully have similar effects to the end of no-fault evictions in Scotland and grant private renters the security they so desperately lack.
Greater tenancy rights mean stronger faith in politicians
Abolishing Section 21 isn’t just good for renters – it promises more trust in the elected officials who give them stronger rights. Our research found that renters on the old tenancy in Scotland were twice as likely to strongly believe that politicians do not care about renters than those on the new tenancy. Clearly, the introduction of stronger rights for private renters has boosted faith that politicians genuinely care about them.
The results of the 2017 election suggest that private renters are an increasingly politically salient group. The turnout among private renters also jumped by 8% – more than any other tenure. As private renters face poor conditions, unaffordable rents and weak security of tenure, it’s unsurprising to hear that they let out their frustration at the ballot box.
Ultimately, our research in Scotland shows that renters are feeling the benefits of increased security in the private rented sector thanks to the move to PRT.
Whoever replaces May as PM should take note: you have the opportunity to genuinely improve renters’ lives and win the support of a group of voters who could, sooner or later, have a critical influence in the outcome of a general election.
- Ruth Ehrlich is a policy officer at Shelter UK
This article was originally published on the Shelter website.