More than 35,000 households will have been thrown out of their homes by bailiffs using “no-fault” evictions by the time the practice is banned in England, after years of government delays.
Since Theresa May was prime minister, successive governments have pledged to end the right of landlords to reclaim possession of their property without rent arrears or bad behaviour by tenants.
But reform has been repeatedly delayed, and might not become law until close to the general election, which could be as late as January 2025.
This week the Guardian launched a series on the private rental sector, including a focus on how many tenants in the 5m private rented households in England and Wales are suffering from a failure to strengthen their rights.
More than 23,000 households have already been thrown out by county court bailiffs since May said in 2019 that she would scrap section 21 evictions – also know as no-fault evictions – to give tenants “peace of mind”, according to Ministry of Justice figures.
Last week the number was revealed to have jumped 38% on the previous year, prompting tenant groups to warn that the use of no-fault evictions was “soaring out of control”.
If the current rate continues until the end of 2024, 35,000 households will have been evicted by bailiffs and more than 118,000 will have been taken to court using section 21, Guardian analysis has shown.
In many cases the threat of eviction is enough to force tenants out. If rates continue to rise, as they have been in recent months, the total number affected will be even higher.
On Tuesday, Shelter, the housing charity, said that one in 10 private renters is at risk of losing their home this winter based on the number of threatened or actual eviction notices and the number of households in rent arrears.
It ran a survey by YouGov, funded by the Nationwide building society, which found that 43% of tenants in England (up to 3.5m) are worried about becoming homeless due to housing costs.
“A terrible winter of evictions lies ahead as millions of renters grapple with runaway rents and the enduring cost of living crisis,” said Polly Neate, Shelter’s chief executive.
“Every day our frontline teams take more calls from families living the nightmare of rent rises they cannot afford. And every day we speak to more families facing the horror of losing their home.”
The eviction ban is a key part of the renters reform bill, which was included in the king’s speech last week.
But amid opposition from backbench Conservatives, Michael Gove, the housing secretary, said the ban will not be enacted until action has been taken to improve the courts, which will have to handle alternative eviction proceedings for antisocial behaviour and rent arrears.
Gove is now facing pressure from councils to publish the evidence that a delay is needed.
The areas where renters have been most likely to face homelessness because of section 21 evictions included several of the country’s most deprived wards: Wigan, Blackpool, Burnley, Bolsover and Hastings, where the council has spent nearly half its core budget on temporary accommodation.
By contrast, in the more affluent Windsor and Maidenhead private renters were 30 times less likely to be evicted without fault, data provided by councils to the government shows.
When May first announced the ban in April 2019, she said she wanted to end “unfair evictions”, adding it was “wrong” that “responsible tenants could still be uprooted by their landlord with little notice, and often little justification”.
Boris Johnson included the ban in the 2019 Conservative election manifesto and Gove told the commons in March this year that section 21 created “a precarious lack of security” for households renting privately.
Nearly one in five households in England facing homelessness are doing so because of a section 21 notice. Councils have recorded more than 24,000 households as owed a homelessness prevention duty because of the eviction method.
A moratorium on no-fault evictions introduced during the Covid pandemic saw the number of households threatened with homelessness fall by two-thirds in the quarter after the first lockdown in 2020.
A government spokesperson said: “Our landmark renters reform bill offers better protections for tenants and gives them greater security than ever before to challenge poor conditions in their homes. We are abolishing section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions and redressing the balance between landlords and tenants.”