Blame game breaks out over delays to Gove reforms of English rental market

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Michael Gove’s flagship renters’ reform bill, which would end “no-fault” evictions in England, has again been put on ice, sparking a furious blame game in government over why it keeps being delayed.

Some supporters of the bill claim that its crucial second reading in the House of Commons is being held up by vested interests in the government whips office, where five of 16 whips own rental property.

“There are a number of landlords in the whips office who are amplifying the level of concern among Tory MPs and holding things up,” said one Whitehall official, speaking on terms of anonymity.

A Conservative source said: “There are serious concerns that Labour will make this a huge issue at their party conference if we don’t crack on with second reading.”

The whips, who advise ministers on how Tory MPs will react to new legislation, strongly denied that they were letting their personal financial interests affect their judgment.

“This is an absurd suggestion,” said one source in the whip’s office. “If the whip’s office has flagged concerns, it is reflecting the concerns of the wider parliamentary party.”

Senior government insiders argued the delay was owing to Gove, the levelling up secretary, not doing enough to reassure Tory MPs’ concerns about the bill, leaving open the prospect of a significant rebellion.

Minister for levelling up, housing and communities, Michael Gove.
Levelling up secretary Michael Gove’s team denied that he had failed to properly engage with MPs © Liam McBurney/PA

“There have been concerns about the bill since Day One,” said one government source. “Until Michael and his team engage backbenchers on what the proposals really mean, it won’t be on the order paper.”

Gove’s team denied the minister had failed to properly engage with MPs, citing numerous meetings in recent months.

The Conservatives first announced plans to reform the rental market, including giving greater protection to tenants, in their 2019 manifesto and it was introduced into the House of Commons in May.

Under the proposed bill, landlords would gain stronger rights to repossess properties where tenants exhibit antisocial behaviour or repeatedly build up rent arrears.

Nonetheless, its key feature is the abolition of short hold tenancies and with them “no-fault” evictions, which Gove believes will help show the Conservatives have policies that will help younger voters.

MPs have never been given a chance to debate the legislation, however, and on Thursday Penny Mordaunt, leader of the House of Commons, did not include the second reading in her announcement of parliamentary business for the remainder of the current parliamentary session.

The next session begins on November 7. Gove is still hopeful the bill will have its crucial second reading before that date, and that it could be “carried over”.

Deputy Labour Party leader Angela Rayner
Shadow levelling up secretary Angela Rayner: ‘Renters are currently facing a desperate situation’ © Peter Byrne/PA

But the current session is limping to its conclusion with a series of inconsequential “general debates”, with ministers apparently unwilling to schedule legislation that might spark a Tory revolt.

Angela Rayner, the Labour frontbencher who shadows Gove, is expected to make housing a key theme at her party’s conference next month and in July she claimed that Tory vested interests were blocking the renters’ reform bill.

“Renters are currently facing a desperate situation, and urgently need greater security and better rights, yet this zombie government has failed to lift a finger to progress that legislation,” she told the Financial Times.

One in five Conservative MPs are landlords, according to research conducted by campaign group 38 Degrees this year. A total of 87 MPs of all parties declared income from 167 homes providing more than £10,000 in rental earnings in the last year, it found.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, the campaigning group on housing issues, said the government’s failure to “urgently progress the Renters Reform Bill has abandoned millions of renters to broken private renting where their home can be ripped out from under them for no reason”.

“We hear from countless renters who are sick with worry because they know that an unjust no-fault eviction notice could land on their doormat any moment, leaving them with just two months to find a new home,” she said.

A government spokesperson said: “The government remains absolutely committed to delivering a fairer private rented sector for tenants and landlords through the Renters Reform Bill. The bill which delivers our manifesto commitment is progressing through parliament and second reading will follow shortly.”

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