A row has broken out over Section 21 between Michael Gove’s Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and an all-party group of MPs scrutinising the government’s rental policies.
Parliament’s all-party Levelling Up and Housing Committee - which is chaired by Labour MP Clive Betts - has written an angry letter to Gove, accusing him and his ministers of “mischaracterisation” and attempting to shift responsibility for any delay in the Renters Reform Bill commitment to scrap Section 21.
The row follows a report from the all-party committee which Michael Gove quoted in a debate in the House of Commons.
Gove told MPs: “There were a series of recommendations in the report, upon which we have acted ... it is the case that we will ensure that the justice system, which is controlled by the Ministry of Justice and His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, is fit for purpose before we move ahead with some of the reforms in the Bill.”
And later in the same debate Rachel Maclean - the then-housing minister who was sacked earlier this week - said: “We have always committed to aligning and synchronising the reform of the private rented sector with the court system; we note that that was a recommendation of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee.”
Betts takes all this to mean that the government is passing the buck and saying that its controversial decision to delay the scrapping of Section 21 until the courts process has been reformed was actually a recommendation of the all-party committee, rather than a U-turn by the government itself.
Therefore Betts has written to Gove saying: “My Committee feels strongly that this is a mischaracterisation of the Committee’s recommendation and an attempt by the Minister for Housing and Planning to deflect blame for these delays away from the Government and toward the Committee. We feel doubly strongly about this given the significant delay the Government itself had in responding to the Committee’s Report.
“Our Report did warn the Government that ‘an unreformed courts system could undermine its tenancy reforms’ and advised that ‘it is absolutely essential that the government significantly increase the courts’ ability to process possession claims quickly and efficiently and in a way that is fair to both landlords and tenants’. However, at no point did we recommend an indefinite delay to the abolition of section 21 as the way to solve this challenge.”
Betts goes on to say: “We are extremely concerned about this refusal to provide any target or timeline for when the reforms to the court system will allow the legislation to be enacted.
“The Government has not clarified which of the many proposals for court reform … it believes must be implemented before section 21 can be abolished, nor has it said how long it expects these reforms to take. The lack of any timeline for implementation raises the concern that section 21 abolition may be indefinitely delayed.”
“ … The Government has had four years to ensure the legal system is fit to handle the consequences of the abolition of section 21. It is therefore difficult for us to understand the Government’s lack of urgency and transparency around court reforms. I re-iterate the request I made during the debate for the Government to provide a timetable for the abolition of section 21.”