After months of speculation and delays, the government’s long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper was finally released by Housing Secretary Michael Gove in February.
And it included plenty about housing, and in particular plans to radically transform the private rented sector. Many of these plans had already been talked about and mooted, but the White Paper gave further confirmation of the government’s intentions.
While the White Paper on rental reform, expected this spring, will flesh out the proposals following input from various stakeholders, the White Paper on Levelling Up nevertheless laid out the basics. Section 21 powers will be scrapped for landlords, with Gove, whose brief includes both housing and the government’s much-talked-about levelling up agency, arguing that this move will end the ‘unfair situation’ where renters ‘can be kicked out of their homes for no reason’.
The Levelling Up White Paper also set out proposals for all homes in the private rented sector to meet a minimum standard, which will be known as the Decent Homes Standard, as is already the case in the social housing sector. Additionally, it pledged to consult on introducing a landlords register and set out proposals for how to tackle rogue operators, by making sure fines and bans ‘stop repeat offenders leaving renters in terrible conditions’.
Although the private rented sector changes dominated from a housing perspective, there was also a pledge to boost home ownership, via the government’s new £1.5 billion Levelling Up Building, providing loans to small and medium sized developers as well as supporting the government's wider regeneration agenda in areas considered a priority for levelling up.
As well as this, the White Paper revealed that the government has committed to build what it calls ‘more genuinely affordable social housing’, while a new Social Housing Regulation Bill will be introduced following the Grenfell fire tragedy in June 2017.
The document, which was hugely comprehensive and ran to more than 200 pages, also announced that the ‘80/20 rule’ will be abolished, with much of the £1.8 billion brownfield funding instead being diverted to transforming brownfield sites in the North and Midlands. Metro mayors, the paper said, will be handed £120 million of this funding.
In total, the Levelling Up White Paper included 12 ‘missions’, covering everything from health and wellbeing to housing, jobs and transport. These missions form part of the flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which Gove said will ‘shift government focus and resources to Britain’s forgotten communities throughout the 2020s’.
The most important one from a housing perspective was that, by 2030, renters will have a secure path to ownership with the number of first-time buyers increasing in all areas; and the government’s ambition is for the number of non-decent rented homes to have fallen by 50% with the biggest improvements in the lowest-performing areas.
“The United Kingdom is an unparalleled success story. But not everyone shares equally in the UK’s success. For decades, too many communities have been overlooked and undervalued. As some areas have flourished, others have been left in a cycle of decline. The UK has been like a jet firing on only one engine,” Gove said of the plans.
“Levelling Up and this White Paper is about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery. This will not be an easy task, and it won’t happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go.”
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who used levelling up as a vital component of his 2019 election-winning campaign, said: “From day one, the defining mission of this government has been to level up this country, to break the link between geography and destiny so that no matter where you live you have access to the same opportunities.”
He added: “The challenges we face have been embedded over generations and cannot be dug out overnight, but this White Paper is the next crucial step.”
He insisted that the Levelling Up White Paper is the most comprehensive, ambitious plan of its kind.
What will the impact be on landlords?
The White Paper on Rental Reform will give us more of an idea of the exact details of the changes announced in the Levelling Up White Paper, but the position regarding Section 21 evictions now seems very clear.
There had been suggestions that the scrapping of Section 21 could be watered down or rowed back on, to keep landlords on side. However, the government has now reiterated its firm commitment to changing the way evictions happen.
Working in landlords’ favour, though, is the fact that Section 21 has been something of a blunt instrument for two years now - due to the effective eviction bans in place during the pandemic, and the huge court backlogs that have followed. As a result, there has been the opportunity for landlords and letting agents to get used to a world where such eviction powers aren’t available.
Despite this, there will still be understandable trepidation among landlords about potentially losing their rights when it comes to reclaiming their homes or getting rid of particularly problematic tenants.
There will, too, be increasing pressure on landlords to make sure their homes meet the highest standards, albeit in the vast majority of cases this is something that landlords already do.
Plans to bring in a mandatory landlord register, as is currently the case in Scotland, are likely to face plenty of criticism. But the plans to stop rogue landlords in their tracks is welcome to continue to improve the reputation of the sector overall.
It’s certainly the case that the Levelling Up White Paper has brought radical rental reform much closer again – following rumours that it might be further delayed – but we will need to see the White Paper on Rental Reform to have a much clearer idea of what reform will mean in reality.
Here at Howland Jones, we know how unnerving the idea of radical rental reforms might be, but we are here to support you all the way, to help you get the most from your tenancies.
Our offices are based in the village of Measham in the East Midlands, and we cover areas such as North West Leicestershire, South Derbyshire, Hinckley & Bosworth, North Warwickshire, Tamworth, Swadlincote and Ibstock.
You can find out all about us by getting in contact here.