Real Estate

Thursday briefing: How Michael Gove’s ‘new deal’ for renters went sour

Good morning, and if you are a landlord, congratulations on another successful day! Last night, housing secretary Michael Gove’s renters’ reform bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons – and despite its name, it isn’t great news for tenants.

After years of promises of a bill that would sharply improve things for those living in expensive rental properties with inadequate guarantees on housing quality and the constant threat of eviction hanging over them, the final bill was so diluted that it lost the support of the charities that once had high hopes for it. The National Residential Landlords Association, on the other hand, said that it was “a fair deal”.

Even the flagship measure, of eliminating no-fault evictions, has been kicked into the long grass. The bill now goes to the House of Lords, and is likely to become law – but for the one in five households in England and Wales living in privately rented accommodation, very little will change.

So why did a package that once inspired support from groups normally sceptical of the Conservatives amount to so little – and are there any grounds for optimism? For today’s newsletter, I spoke to Robert Booth, the Guardian’s social affairs correspondent, about how a great hope turned into a crushing disappointment. Here are the headlines.

Five big stories

  1. Railways | Labour has said it will fully nationalise the train network within five years of coming to power, with a pledge to guarantee the cheapest fares as part of “the biggest reform of our railways for a generation”. The party says it will bring passenger services into public ownership as contracts with operators expire. Read Gwyn Topham’s analysis.

  2. UK news | A teenage girl has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after three people were stabbed at a school in south-west Wales. Two teachers and a pupil were taken to hospital with injuries described as not life-threatening.

  3. Ukraine | The era of peace in Europe is over, Ukraine’s foreign minister has warned western allies, as he said that a new $61bn US aid package must now be followed by increased arms production. In an interview with the Guardian, Dmytro Kuleba said that while the new round of US assistance was welcome, “no single package can stop the Russians.”

  4. London | Four people have been taken to hospital after several military horses broke loose during a morning exercise and bolted through central London, colliding with vehicles. Astonished witnesses described “total mayhem” as the runaway horses, including one white horse covered in blood, ran through the streets at rush-hour.

  5. Art | Claudette Johnson has been nominated for this year’s Turner prize for work including a portrait of the African-American slavery abolitionist Sarah Parker Remond, commissioned as part of the Guardian’s award-winning Cotton Capital series. Colonialism, migration, nationalism and identity politics are key themes in the 40th edition of the award, which returns to Tate Britain for the first time in six years.

In depth: The renters’ reform bill has gone from ‘tackling injustices’ to ‘not supportable’

Rents are rising fastest in the most deprived areas. Composite: Guardian Design/Getty Images

It has been five years since Theresa May promised to abolish section 21 notices, which allow landlords to turf tenants out for no reason. In that time, almost a million renters have been forced from their homes because of the notices – about 500 a day.

Average asking prices for rentals across the UK rose 56% between 2019 and 2023. The most recent figures show that renters are being asked to pay an extra £80 a month for a new let – with average rents of £1,223 a month, and £2,121 in London. For many people, renting is as unaffordable as it is insecure.

As the name suggests, the renters’reform bill was meant to help ameliorate that crisis. “Go back to the white paper Michael Gove put out in 2022,” Rob Booth said. “He talks about ‘tackling injustices’, and says that the changes will mean they can ‘confidently settle down and make their house a home’. But it seems to have slipped through the government’s fingers.”

What did the government promise?

“The fundamental point of the bill was that there was a need for regulatory intervention, because the market is broken,” Rob said. “So there is a need to step in to protect the side which is getting the raw end of the deal.”

The flagship proposal when the bill was first tabled last year, of ending the use of section 21 notices, was promised in the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto. That was seen as a means of increasing security and stability for those at the mercy of landlords who can break their contracts without explanation.

There was a promise of basic decent homes standards, new rights to live with pets and measures to stop landlords refusing tenancy to those receiving benefits or with children. To protect landlords, the government also proposed to strengthen powers to evict antisocial tenants.

While housing charities warned that there was a need to close loopholes that could allow the use of the powers against antisocial tenants to unreasonably evict people, there was a general view that Michael Gove had a real commitment to change. But throughout the lengthy process of turning the bill into law, it has also provided useful political cover, Rob said. “It enables the government to say, whenever there are news stories about problems, that they are fixing them.”

How has the bill changed?

Activists from Shelter stage a protest in Parliament Square, London, last July. Photograph: Lucy North/PA

“We’ve gone from that June 2022 position of promising to make life safer and fairer for renters to Gove having to bolster protections for landlords as a result of pushback on his own side,” Rob said. “All of the confidence on delivery drained away last year.”

In the original consultation, the government proposed banning landlords ending tenancies by saying they wanted to move back in or sell the property – a leading cause of homelessness for renters – for two years. That has since been reduced to six months, and offers no more protection than the existing system.

After further pressure from backbenchers, and even though the bill did not need their backing given Labour’s support, the government has made more changes that largely benefit landlords – adding a minimum six-month commitment for tenants and saying that the ban on no-fault evictions would be delayed pending an assessment of the readiness of the court system.

Two months after he vowed that the ban on section 21 notices would be in place by the end of the year, Gove has now softened that promise to an “aim”. That prompted Polly Neate, the CEO of Shelter – the leading housing charity which had previously backed the bill – to write that she was “sad and angry” to conclude that the bill “is just not supportable”. Neate later said the government “has led private renters down the garden path”. “Shelter was a critical friend of the bill,” Rob said. “So that’s a big deal.”

The need for court reforms, allowing evictions of problem tenants more easily, is cited as the reason for the U-turn. But even before Gove pledged to push the changes through this year, the ban on no-fault evictions had been indefinitely delayed to allow the court reforms to be carried out. “My impression is that when he said it, it was already untrue,” Rob said.

How was the vote received?

The Renters’ Reform Coalition, an influential grouping of organisations that support renters, published an open letter yesterday warning that the bill would “be a failure”. They noted that ministers met with lobbyists for landlords and estate agents twice as often as they met groups representing renters. Landlords, on the other hand, welcomed the bill’s passage.

One cause for the hostility to the government: the fact that so many Conservative MPs are landlords. Eighty-three of the 100 MPs who earned more than £10,000 a year during this parliament from renting properties are on the government benches, Sky News reported yesterday. (Paul Howell, the Tory MP for Sedgefield, tops the list. He has 17 houses and flats listed on the register of interests, in Durham, Darlington and Spain.)

Some might view that critique as unduly cynical. But it’s also true that MPs are far less likely than the average member of the public to be renting – which might explain the lack of urgency.

“I think that’s really important,” Rob said. “The reality of having to move two or three times every couple of years is quite remote to a lot of MPs. But polls show that in 2019, 14% of voters said housing was their top issue – and now it’s 23%. This is a big issue now for a lot of people who will be voting in the next election, and they won’t feel that very much has changed – other than that they’re paying more.”

Are there any plausible solutions coming?

Labour has said it would scrap section 21 evictions on its first day in office – which is certainly a big deal. More generally, “its policy is not fleshed out in huge detail”, Rob said. “They’re proposing to get private developers to contribute more to build affordable housing – but that’s been tried repeatedly, and it generally ends with two sets of lawyers negotiating on what’s required, and the developers’ lawyers winning.”

In the long term, more housing is the real issue. That is a mighty task, with an estimated 380,000 homes needed each year for the next 15 years to deal with the problem – not much solace to those trying to find a place today. More immediate solutions, detailed in this piece by Rob from November, include the creation of “rent pressure zones” and the radical suggestion of giving tenants in the private sector the same right to buy as those in council houses – but that is a long way from the political centre at the moment.

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Instead, renters must make do with the trivial changes advanced by last night’s vote. “There’s a tragedy to this, really,” Rob said. “On building safety after Grenfell, on the death of Awaab Ishak because of mould and the introduction of Awaab’s law to fix it in a certain timeframe, Gove seems to get it. Even on this he has spoken in an enthusiastic way. But he just seems to have run into the ground – and he is unable to be the reformer he considers himself to be.”

What else we’ve been reading

Diane Abbott. Composite: Guardian Design/PA/In Pictures/Getty Images
  • Nearly 40 years after she became Britain’s first black female MP, Diane Abbott is still going – and yet, writes Andy Beckett, “her local and national status remains in some ways unresolved”. His superb profile for the long read charts her remarkable career, the racist abuse she has always faced, and the “often misunderstood” radical tradition she represents.

  • What happens when an overzealous, extremely online troll gets access to some of the world’s biggest stars (and the president)? Well, Harry Daniels uses his few seconds of face time by singing to them and then posts the bizarre, and cringe-worthy, interactions to TikTok. Alaina Demopoulos found him and asked: why is he doing this? Nimo

  • It was always deluded to portray London and its grotesque inequality as the UK’s golden goose, writes Aditya Chakrabortty – but the vilification of the capital now standard on the right is every bit as fantastical. Instead of recognising how the city is being remade on its fringes, he writes, “they have exaggerated and abstracted and twisted London into the opposite of the rest of Britain”. Archie

  • From Taylor Swift to Ariana Grande, the obsession with bread-crumbing, gossip and subtext in some of the biggest pop albums have started to feel tedious, Laura Snapes writes. Nimo

  • The culture wars are becoming tiresome for British voters, Owen Jones writes, but they are not going anywhere any time soon. In this piece, he explains why. Nimo


Jarrad Branthwaite and Dominic Calvert-Lewin celebrate during Everton’s match against Liverpool. Photograph: Adam Vaughan/EPA

Premier League | Liverpool’s hopes of winning the title were severely damaged by a 2-0 defeat to Everton (above), which gave a huge boost to their Merseyside rivals’ chances of avoiding relegation. Antoine Semenyo scored the only goal at Molineux as Wolves had two strikes disallowed against Bournemouth, including a stoppage-time equaliser. Manchester United recovered twice from being behind to beat Sheffield United 4-2 at Old Trafford. Crystal Palace claimed their third consecutive league win, comfortably beating Newcastle 2-0 with both goals from Jean-Philippe Mateta.

Tennis | Emma Raducanu cited fatigue after a hectic few weeks as she suffered a comprehensive defeat in the first round of the Madrid Open, losing 6-2, 6-2 to María Lourdes Carlé, an Argentinian qualifier. Harriet Dart also lost in straight sets but Jack Draper progressed to the second round.

Olympics | Pressure continues to grow on the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) after UK Anti-Doping (Ukad) became the latest body to call for an independent investigation into events that led to 23 Chinese swimmers competing at the Tokyo Olympics despite recording positive drug tests. Chinese authorities said that traces of the banned substance Trimetazidine were the result of contamination but never explained how it happened.

The front pages

The Guardian splashes on “Labour pledges to nationalise rail network within five years”. Several others go with the same story. “End of line for failing train firms” says the Metro, the Daily Mirror has “Labour: We’ll nationalise rail in five years”, and the i runs with “Revealed: Labour’s plan to nationalise UK railways”. The Telegraph is the spoilsport: “Starmer refuses to match PM’s defence budget”. The Times leads with “England worst in world for underage drinking”. The Daily Express has “Horror in the playground as teachers ‘stabbed’”. Top story in the Financial Times is “Brussels spearheads ‘dawn raid’ on Chinese security equipment supplier”.

Today in Focus

Residents examining a crater after Russian bombs struck a residential neighbourhood in Kharkiv. Photograph: Yakiv Liashenko/AP

What Ukraine needs to change the course of the war

Ukraine has been granted a multibillion-dollar lifeline in military aid. But it will need more than that to prevail in the conflict with Russia. Dan Sabbagh in Kyiv and Shaun Walker report

Cartoon of the day | Sarah Akinterinwa

Illustration: Sarah Akinterinwa/The Guardian

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

Roundabout, from Route Book, 2015. Photograph: Gareth Gardner

Gareth Gardner was driving through an ordinary roundabout in Cheshire when he was confronted with a carefully trimmed hedge in the shape of a motte-and-bailey castle encircled by another hedge. Most of us may have ignored the hedge or maybe even expressed disdain at the symbol of suburban hell. But for Gardner, a photographer, it sparked his deep fascination with hedges that has manifested in the form an exhibition, Close to the Hedges, at his gallery in south London.

Gardner was astonished by the enthusiasm and volume of submissions when he launched a callout – 500 people sent submissions from all over the world. “I feel like I’ve accidentally created a support group,” Gardner said.

Sign up here for a weekly roundup of The Upside, sent to you every Sunday

Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s puzzles are here to keep you entertained throughout the day. Until tomorrow.


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