Who hijacked the JRF project “Poverty, evictions and forced moves”?Make Text Bigger
Four people from the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research (CCHPR) wrote the report, and a summary, for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). That is to say, four of its members are credited with writing it. But it looks as though Generation Rent has had a hand in it as well. Statistics about one method of eviction, Section 21 (S 21), have been given a prominence they do not merit, and have been given precedence over the conclusions. And S 21 has been given a misleading prefix throughout.
The conclusion near the end of the full report does not mention S21. It is followed by 18 recommendations, but again S 21 is not mentioned. Yet the Executive Summary at the beginning of the report concentrates on Section 21 – as if it was taken from a different report.
A separate document was issued which summarised the full report. Its conclusion states that:
“Increasing eviction rates are linked to the overall growth of the PRS and to cuts to LHA. Whilst the greatest impact is being felt in London, similar issues were found in other high-pressure markets. The continuing programme of cuts and restraints on state assistance with housing costs will intensify this pressure.” It does not mention S 21. But the two biggest paragraphs in the Key points on page 1 relate to S 21:
- “In the past 12 years, the rented sector as a whole has grown by nearly a half, and the number of tenants being evicted from their homes has grown by a third: 10,000 more tenants lost their homes in 2015 than in 2003
- The number of tenants evicted by private landlords exceeded the number evicted by social landlords for the first time in 2014
- The increase in repossessions in recent years has been almost entirely due to the increasing use of ‘no fault’ evictions, using Section 21 (S21) of the Housing Act 1988, which enables landlords to end an assured shorthold tenancy after the end of its fixed term, with two months’ notice, without giving any reason. Tenants do not have a defence against a valid S21 notice.
- The use of S21 is highly concentrated geographically. Four out of every five repossessions using S21 are in London, the East and the South East, and nearly two-thirds are in London alone, although London only has one-fifth of the private rented housing stock. Even within London, repossessions using S21 are highly concentrated, with a third occurring in only five boroughs.”
The last two key points are:
- “Changes in welfare benefits have combined to make rents unaffordable to benefit claimants in many areas.
- As a result, tenants on low incomes are being evicted because their benefits do not pay market rents, and they are unable to afford alternative homes in the private rented sector, or access social housing.”
This put the cart before the horse. The last two sentences explain why evictions have risen. Section 21 is just the means.used.
Does nobody at the CCHPR or the JRF understand why S 21 is used instead of S 8?
Section 21 is chosen in preference to Section 8 because it costs much less in time and money, and does not require a court case unless the tenant ignores it and fails to move out at the end of the two month notice period. Even then, it does not always require an appearance in court.
It is not surprising that the use of S 21 increased when benefits stopped covering the rent.
Why do they keep calling them “no fault” evictions?
Both the report and the summary use the term “no fault” to describe S21 evictions. This description has come about because there is no requirement to prove to a judge that there has been a breach of the tenancy agreement in the form of rent arrears or anti-social behaviour. But its use in these reports is misleading.
The use of the term “no fault” implies that there was no justification for S 21 evictions, that the tenants had done nothing wrong and were therefore being victimised. But the report itself acknowledges that S 21 is being used to evict tenants for rent arrears and for anti-social behaviour, on pages 27 and 49..
Page 27 is headed “No fault evictions”. Below this it says “Figure 16 shows the main causes of no fault evictions (Section 21). ”Immediately below this is the heading “Figure 16: Factors tenants believe to be the cause of no fault evictions. (This suggests that the interviewers were naive. The tenants may have claimed them as the cause when interviewed in Shelter’s offices. Whether they really believed them is another matter.) But even in this pie chart of so-called “no fault” evictions, some admitted to rent arrears and some said the reason was anti-social behaviour.
Page 49 is headed “Notes”
Note 7 is “It should be noted that interviewees were frequently unsure about the type of eviction their landlord was pursuing. Cases were only recorded as a ‘no fault eviction’ when interviewees were sure that this was the route being taken. For this reason, some of the cases recorded as ‘rent arrears eviction’ or ‘breach of tenancy eviction’ may be those where the landlord is pursuing Section 21 but the tenant was not aware of this, or it was early in the process and the formal grounds were not yet clear.”
In other words the numbers of people admitting to rent arrears or breach of tenancy in the above pie chart may be understated, and they should have been treated as “no fault”!
This note demonstrates muddled thinking.
The term “no fault” is misleading, and its repetition brainwashes readers who do not know any better into thinking that if S 21 was used the tenant cannot have been at fault. It should never have been used in an academic report, but it was used constantly. The authors should have just used the correct term, Section 21.
What did the report say about forced moves?
There is another area of the report which is misleading. On page 1 the full report states:
“National data from the English Housing Survey suggests that just under a quarter of current tenants reported that their last move from private rented properties in England was forced in some way, and was not because they wanted to move.”
This implies that landlords had forced almost a quarter of them out “in some way”.
This is a gross distortion which the EHS table belies, on page 17 of the JRF report. It shows that 8% had been asked to leave, and 2% had left because of a rent increase, making a total of 10%.
The other reasons making up the “forced endings” were Mutual agreement (8%), The tenancy was for a fixed period (6%) and Accommodation tied to job and job ended (2%) which total 16%.
The latter group were were natural endings, not forced “in some way”.
There was more trouble with percentages, at the foot of page 12: “Since 2003, the number of social rented homes has flatlined, while the number of private rented homes has nearly doubled, growing by 186% from 2.5 million homes to 4.75 million by 2015.”
The increase is exactly 90%, but this has been more than doubled by the writer.
How did the JRF describe the results to the public?
The JRF put a video about the report on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iovB0RWNisM
Brian Robson, Policy and Research Manager, says that “40,000 renters of all types were evicted from their homes of all types in 2015. That’s a record high, and the growth is coming from the private rented sector, particularly in the use of no fault evictions.” (No mention of S 21)
Then a graph is shown, entitled “The growth is coming from the private rented sector, particularly in the use of “no fault evictions”. (Again, no mention of S 21)
But he then goes on to explain that tenants on benefits cannot afford the rent so they are being evicted for not paying it. The muddled thinking that perceives evictions for rent arrears as no fault evictions has obviously spread to the JRF.
Why does the download page point you in the wrong direction?
The full report and the summary can be downloaded from a page on the JRF website. https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/poverty-evictions-and-forced-moves
This has an introduction which includes the first four Key points from the summary report, but, bizarrely, not the last two. Apparently the report’s conclusions, that tenants are being evicted because changes to welfare benefits mean that they no longer cover the rent, did not merit inclusion. So people who come to download the report are given the impression that it is mainly about “no fault” evictions, using Section 21.
Why does the press release claim that the increase in evictions are being “driven” by S 21?
A press release was issued about the report:
This says that “The increasing eviction rates are linked to the overall growth of the private rented sector and cuts to Housing Benefit, the report by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research found.
The rise is being driven by high numbers of ‘no-fault’ evictions by private landlords. [Emphasis added] More than four in five of the increase in evictions are carried out under Section 21 – a law which allows landlords to evict a tenant after the initial rental period without giving a reason, and without any wrongdoing on behalf of the tenant.” [Emphasis added] This last phrase was not in the reports, and was added for good measure by the authors of the press release. It implies that there were no grounds for these evictions, yet the report shows otherwise.
The authors of the press release have gone even further than the source document. They do not claim that “the increase is due to the increasing use of ‘no fault’ evictions, using Section 21”.as the report did. They say it is “driven by” high numbers of “no fault” evictions. Sheer propaganda.
Why does the press release not put a number on the increase?
The press release does not say how many more S21 evictions occurred – and neither does the report. The latter said “In the past 12 years, the rented sector as a whole, both private and social, has grown by nearly a half, and the number of tenants across both sectors evicted from their homes has grown by a third: 10,000 more tenants lost their homes in 2015 than in 2003.
Over this period, social housing landlords evicted more tenants than private sector landlords in every year until 2014. However, the rate of repossession per thousand properties in the social housing sector has been in decline since 2003, while the rate per thousand in the private rented sector has been increasing, so the rate of repossessions in the two sectors is now similar, at 4.7 tenants per thousand per year. Over four-fifths (83%) of the increase in repossessions in recent years has been due to the increasing use of ‘no fault’ evictions, using Section 21”.
This last sentence is misleading. It gives the impression, firstly, that 83% of the increase in repossessions were groundless (no fault), and secondly that if S21 had not existed, the repossessions would not have occurred. The correct statement would have been “Over four-fifths (83%) of the increase in repossessions in recent years has been through the process of Section 21.”
The question is, who thought this worth writing? The number of court evictions in 2015 that are attributed to S 21 in the press release is 8,300 (83% of 10,000). This represents 0.17% of the PRS dwellings in 2015. Perhaps that is why the figure was not stated – because it is relatively so tiny. It is so much more dramatic to talk about apparently big figures, like 83% of the increase being “due to” S 21, as if this was a bad thing, or significant in some way.
Whoever gave prominence to this irrelevant statistic in every document obviously must have had a very large axe to grind. It has turned an academic study into feeble propaganda against S 21, which Generation Rent wants to see abolished.
If S 21 did not exist, S 8 would have been used instead. The authors of the press release probably don’t understand that landlords prefer the simple procedure of S 21 to the more cumbersome procedure of Section 8.
Figure 5 on page 13 shows that court claims started by private landlords under S8 and S21 combined were about 12 per 1,000 dwellings in both 2003 and 2015. In other words, the rate at which landlords started court proceedings was the same in both years.
Why has the conversion rate of claims to court evictions risen?
The fact that more proceedings have ended up in court repossessions may be due to Shelter and to councils. A Section 21 notice gives tenants two months to find somewhere else to live. If they do, the matter does not go to court. However, Shelter has a website advising tenants how they can ignore the notice, stay on after the two months expire for a further four to six months depending on how busy the court is, then ask for a 42 day extension and then ignore the court order and wait several weeks or months before a bailiffs is available to get them out. ”The court will send you a letter to let you know that the bailiffs are coming. This gives you time to pack your things.” it soothingly reassures them.
Councils have given the same advice – wait for the bailiffs – because they cannot cope with the numbers of homeless.
If the tenant stops paying rent during this protracted procedure it cannot be recovered using S21, whereas rent arrears can be applied for where S 8 is used. Landlords do not issue S 21 notices lightly. Unless they are moving into the property or selling it they will need to find a new tenant, which will incur costs. S 21 is the most efficient way for them to remove an unsatisfactory tenant when this becomes necessary.
What else does the press release say?
The press release does at least go on to explain that changes in benefits have made rents unaffordable to benefit claimants in many areas, and as a result tenants on low incomes are being evicted, which is the crux of the matter. This is what is in the conclusions, and what the recommendations are about.
Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of JRF,and Anne Baxendale, director of campaigns and policy at Shelter are then quoted as demanding that the government lift/abandon the freeze on Housing Benefit. They do not mention S 21.
Finally, Anna Clarke, Senior Research Associate at the CCHPR), and the senior of the authors is quoted: “Alongside the difficulties caused by evictions, our research highlights the complete lack of options people on low incomes face when they lose their home. Greater protection from eviction is needed, but affordable, secure alternatives are too so people do not face even more stress and costs when they are forced to move.” [Emphasis added].
That gives us a clue as to who may have written the Executive Summary and the Key points that are so different from the conclusions and recommendations – by concentrating on “no fault” S21 instead of the HB freeze.
The Guardian then produced two articles based on the press release, to give S 21 a good kicking.
What did the Policy Editor of the Guardian make of all this?
The first one, was by Michael Savage, Policy Editor with the headline
“100 tenants a day lose homes as rising rents and benefit freeze hit”
He didn’t just put the cart before the horse, he made it look as if they had nothing to do with each other. He used the press release’s statistic about more than four-fifths of the increase in evictions being through “no-fault” S 21 before mentioning that Housing Benefit no longer covered the rent. But he did not connect the two things.
He wrote “High numbers of “no-fault” evictions by private landlords is driving the increase. More than 80% of the extra evictions had occurred under a Section 21 notice, which gives a tenant two months to leave. The landlord does not have to give a reason and there does not need to be any wrongdoing on the part of the tenant.” [Emphasis added]
He made the press release’s propaganda stronger by changing it from the passive voice to the active . His message is that 80% of the increase in evictions were of people who had not done anything wrong.
But even after writing “The study found that changes in welfare benefits have combined to make rents unaffordable to claimants in many areas.” he did not mention that that was the reason for the evictions. It was as if he was writing about two different groups of people – no-fault tenants who were being evicted for no reason, and people on benefits who were “struggling to meet their bills”.
What did Generation Rent make of it all?
The article by Dan Wilson Craw, director of Generation Rent, was much more misleading.
“Landlords are turfing people out of their homes without reason – and it’s completely legal”
The headline is complete nonsense. Nobody “turfs” people out of their homes. And nobody evicts tenants without a reason.
His article starts with “For every school in England there are five children without a home. The Local Government Association reports that 120,000 children are living in temporary accommodation. The primary cause of this homelessness is the end of a private sector tenancy, ie eviction.
Unfortunately, there is no official explanation for this, because private landlords don’t need to give a reason when they ask tenants to leave. In a study released on Sunday, Joseph Rowntree Foundation attributes 80% of the recent rise in evictions to this “no fault” process.”
The first paragraph is nonsense. Eviction is not the cause of homelessness, it is merely the process through which it occurs. If someone is sacked for theft we don’t say that dismissal caused unemployment, we attribute it to the crime. The cause of homelessness is whatever triggered the eviction. It can be the actions of the tenant. It can be the needs of the landlord. It can also be the actions of the government, driving landlords to sell up or increase rents due to tax increases (which ironically were supported by Campbell Robb when he ran Shelter).
The second paragraph is shameless. The reason is in the full report, the summary report, and the press release: Changes in welfare benefits have combined to make rents unaffordable to benefit claimants in many areas.
He continued “While building more homes for long-term rent is important, we need a quicker solution. Ending section 21 could just be it.” No it couldn’t. Ending S 21 could just be the last straw that drives small landlords out of the market. About 1.7 million landlords have only one property, but they account for 38% of rental stock.
He went on: “Landlord groups claim their members only evict delinquent tenants and only use section 21 to do that because it’s quicker than section 8. The English Housing Survey begs to differ, finding that 63% of evictions happen when a landlord plans to sell or otherwise use the property.”
This is a patently untrue. No landlord group has ever denied that evictions occur due to the owner moving in or selling. On the contrary, for two years now they have been telling all and sundry, including Generation Rent, that Osborne’s tax attacks are forcing landlords to sell with vacant possession.
“The majority of landlords, who are interested in keeping reliable tenants have no need for section 21.” They certainly need it when their tenants become unreliable and stop paying the rent or become anti-social. He clearly does not understand why S 21 is used.
And “Landlords should be legally accountable for ending a contract early. Enforcing a penalty for this type of behaviour, which could be paid to tenants, at a high enough rate that it could pay for setting up a new tenancy, would discourage blameless evictions.” The very first comments beneath his article point out his ignorance: S 21 cannot take effect before the end of the fixed period of a tenancy.
“Reforming this damaging law is Generation Rent’s top priority.” He is so ignorant of the PRS that he does not realise that this would drive landlords out of the market and deter others from entering it, so that the stock of rental accommodation, already in short supply in some areas, will fall further while the population continues to increase. This would make rents rise even more, to the detriment of the tenants he claims to represent. It would also cause an increase in evictions as landlords leave. Is this the “greater protection from eviction” that Anna Clarke has in mind?
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