Opinion

Blog: Welsh Government to press on with reforming possession process

Written by Calum Davies

The process for reforming the possession process in Wales, which was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, is to resume the Welsh Government announced today.

In April, the Welsh Government paused the legislative process for the Renting Homes (Amendment) Bill, after suspending nearly all ongoing legislation to focus on the pandemic.

Attempts to significantly change the possession regime in Wales will now go ahead.

The announcement was made today by Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford MS, in his legislative statement during the Senedd’s (Welsh Parliament) last plenary session before the summer recess.

It follows the publication of a revised timetable for the Bill by the Senedd’s Business Committee yesterday that stated Stage 2 of the legislative process for the Bill should be completed by 4 December 2020. It was originally 16 July before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

The new schedule also specifies the Equality, Local Government, and Communities (ELGC) Committee should report back to the Senedd on its scrutiny of the Bill by 2 October 2020. The deadline has been extended from 22 May 2020. The Committee suspended its work on the Bill in March, only days after the NRLA gave evidence during its last physical meeting.

I wrote in April when the Bill’s legislative progress was paused that there would be wider ramifications if the Welsh Government did not restart the process soon. This is because with the Welsh Parliament elections scheduled for next May, there would only be few months for the Bill to pass. Otherwise, the Bill would fail and the process would be a matter for the Welsh Government  after the election.

This, in turn, would affect the long-awaited implementation of the Renting Homes Act 2016. The Bill going through the Senedd currently seeks to amend the Act before it is commenced to change Wales’ possession regime. It is unlikely a Welsh Government would introduce such wide-ranging regime change only to change that again so soon after.

However, the Bill’s resurrection in the Senedd now significantly increases the likelihood of the 2016 Act’s speedy implementation. If all goes to plan for the Welsh Government, by the time of the next election, the 2016 Act will have been amended and implemented, with a new regime in place for the private rented sector in Wales.

Indeed, an assessment of the Bill’s impact on the justice system (published today) states the Welsh Government expects the Bill – and so the 2016 Act – to come into force on 1 April 2021.

The Bill will amend the as-yet-to-be-enforced Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 to:

  • Extend the minimum notice period required under a S173 notice – the replacement for S21 – from two months to six months.
  • Restrict the issue of a S173 notice until six months after the date of issue of a contract (as opposed to four months as currently set out in the Act).
  • Restrict the issuing of a S173 notice for six months after the expiry of a previous notice.
  • Remove a landlord’s ability issue a notice, during a fixed term standard contract, to end the contract at the expiry of the fixed term (under S186).
  • Restrict the use and ability to include break clauses in contracts of a certain duration.

Our response to the Bill, the problems it has identified with it, and the Association’s suggested amendments to resolve those issues can be read in its written evidence to the ELGC Committee.

UPDATE: The Minister for Housing & Local Government told the Senedd’s Equality, Local Government, and Communities Committee on Monday 20 July that the Welsh Government will maintain its commitment to giving the rental sector a six month notice on implementing the Renting Homes Act 2016, with a view that this will be around October 2021. Therefore, the indication given in the Renting Homes (Amendment) Bill’s justice system impact assessment that, if passed, the Bill will come into force on 1 April 2021 marks the beginning of that six month notice rather than its end. The Welsh Government also announced they will be consulting at the end of the year or the start of next year on the model contracts that are demanded by the 2016 Act.

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Calum Davies

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