Radical rental reforms – what did the Levelling Up White Paper reveal?

February 11, 2022

After months of speculation, the government’s Levelling Up White Paper – which includes a radical reshaping of the private rented sector – was finally released by Housing Secretary Michael Gove.

Seen as an appetiser to the more full-scale White Paper on rental reform, which is expected at some point in the spring, the White Paper nonetheless outlined plans for Section 21 eviction powers to be abolished, with Gove – whose brief also includes carrying out the government’s much-talked-about levelling up agenda – saying this will “end the unfair situation where renters can be kicked out of their homes for no reason.”

The White Paper also states that all homes in the private rented sector will have to meet a minimum standard, to be known as the Decent Homes Standard, while it also promised to consult on introducing a landlords register and set out plans for a crackdown on rogue operators. This will include making sure fines and bans ‘stop repeat offenders leaving renters in terrible conditions’.

As well as the private rental market, there is also a focus on boosting home ownership, with the government saying this will be boosted by a new £1.5 billion Levelling Up Building Fund. This will provide 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.

What’s more, 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 tragedy in 2017.

The wide-ranging document also revealed that the ‘80/20 rule’, which leads to 80% of government funding for housing supply being directed at ‘maximum affordability areas’ (in practice, London and the South East), will be scrapped. Instead, much of the £1.8 billion brownfield funding will be diverted to transforming brownfield sites in the North and Midlands, with metro mayors handed £120 million of this funding. 

The Levelling Up White Paper includes 12 so-called missions, covering a whole range of areas, from health and wellbeing to housing, jobs and transport. These missions have been given legal status in a flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which Gove said will ‘shift government focus and resources to Britain’s forgotten communities throughout the 2020s’.

The 12 missions are as follows:

1. By 2030, pay, employment and productivity will have risen in every area of the UK, with each containing a globally competitive city, with the gap between the top performing and other areas closing;

2. By 2030, domestic public investment in R&D outside the Greater South East will increase by at least 40% and at least one third over the Spending Review period, with that additional government funding seeking to leverage at least twice as much private sector investment over the long term to stimulate innovation and productivity growth;

3. By 2030, local public transport connectivity across the country will be significantly closer to the standards of London, with improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing;

4. By 2030, the UK will have nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for the majority of the population;

5. By 2030, the number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths will have significantly increased. In England, this will mean 90% of children will achieve the expected standard, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by over a third;

6. By 2030, the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK. In England, this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas;

7. By 2030, the gap in Healthy Life Expectancy between local areas where it is highest and lowest will have narrowed, and by 2035 HLE will rise by five years;

8. By 2030, well-being will have improved in every area of the UK, with the gap between top performing and other areas closing;

9. By 2030, pride in place, such as people's satisfaction with their town centre and engagement in local culture and community, will have risen in every area of the UK, with the gap between the top performing and other areas closing;

10. 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 per cent with the biggest improvements in the lowest performing areas;

11. By 2030, homicide, serious violence, and neighbourhood crime will have fallen, focused on the worst-affected areas;

12 By 2030, every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified, long-term funding settlement.

Gove said of the radical plans: “The United Kingdom is an unparalleled success story. We have one of the world’s biggest and most dynamic economies. Ours is the world’s most spoken language. We have produced more Nobel Prize winners than any country other than America.”

“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.” 

He said: “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.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, currently facing a battle to save his leadership in light of partygate allegations, and who used levelling up as a key part of his 2019 election-winning campaign, added: “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 went on: “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 said the Levelling Up White Paper is the most comprehensive, ambitious plan of its kind ‘that this country has ever seen’ and ‘will ensure that the government continues to rise to the challenge and deliver for the people of the UK’.

What does all this mean for landlords?

Although the White Paper on Rental Reform is expected to firm up some of the pledges made by the government in its more wide-ranging Levelling Up White Paper, it is now clear the direction of travel with regards to Section 21.

There had been some speculation that the scrapping of Section 21 could be watered down or rowed back on, but the government has now reiterated its commitment to changing the way evictions happen. On the plus side for landlords, Section 21 has been something of a blunt instrument for two years now – because of the effective eviction bans in place during the pandemic, and the court backlogs that have followed – so there has been the chance to get used to a world where such eviction powers don’t exist.

However, there will be understandable concern among landlords about losing their rights as the balance of power seems to shift towards tenants.

There will also be increasing pressure on landlords to make sure their homes meet the highest standards, although in the vast majority of cases this is something that landlords already adhere to.

Any plans to bring in a mandatory landlord register, as is the case in Scotland, are likely to be met with fierce opposition, but the plans to crackdown on rogue landlords will no doubt be welcome to improve the reputation of the sector as a whole.

The Levelling Up White Paper has brought radical rental reform much closer, but we must wait on the rental reform version to see just what the plans are.

Here at Farrell Heyworth, we will be by your side no matter what the rental reforms bring, helping you to get the most out of your tenancies in the North West. We operate everywhere from Bolton to Lancaster. You can get in touch with us today by clicking here.

We encourage all our customers to register with our My FH portal, which will give you access to the most up-to-date information; remotely and at your convenience.

You can also find out how much you could be charging on the local rental market by requesting a free and instant online valuation today.

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