Tenancy Management

Call of the week: Domestic abuse and Section 21

Call of the week
Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

Every year an estimated two million adults are the victims of the domestic abuse in the UK.

Today’s call of the week features a member who was called by a distraught tenant to inform them that their partner had been regularly assaulting them. 

This had been going on for months and the tenant had finally found the courage to call the police regarding the abuse

Unfortunately, once the abuser had been released, they returned straight back home, declaring they wouldn’t be moving out.  

At this point the domestic abuse victim contacted the landlord for help removing the tenant from the house. The landlord wanted to help but was not sure what options were available.


Unfortunately, the landlord’s ability to help here is limited.  There is a ground that social housing providers can rely on (14a of Section 8) in cases of domestic abuse but this is unavailable to private landlords. 

In the government’s current consultation into the future of Section 21, one proposal is to extend this to the private rented sector and remove only the abuser from the tenancy through the Section 8 process.

The landlord could have served a Section 8 under ground 14 for anti-social behaviour.

However this would require a witness statement from the victim who would be stuck living with the abuser for (on average) 22 weeks afterwards, due to the length of time it would take the case to get to court.

Universal Credit

The situation is compounded by the way in which benefits are paid.

As with most joint Universal Credit claims, the joint claim was being paid to the male partner who was the abuser in this situation.  

Due to the lengthy waits for Universal Credit claims to be processed, even if ground 14a could have been used, the remaining tenant – the victim – would be left unable to pay the rent.

After liaising with the Senior Advisor, the advisors suggested two potential options. 

  • The landlord could ask the victim to serve a valid notice, bringing the tenancy to an end for both tenants.  This would be the quickest route but it would make it clear to the abuser that the other tenant had ended the tenancy.  As the abuser was in control of the joint Universal Credit claim there was no way the victim could afford to move out of the property temporarily as well.
  • The other option was for the landlord to serve a Section 21 notice. While the notice period is longer, not having to give a reason for the repossession means the abuser would be unaware that the landlord was helping the other tenant escape. In addition, as long as the tenants continued to pay rent the domestic abuse victim this would be eligible to secure social housing for as they would not be ‘making themselves homeless’, which they could be were they to fall into rent arrears.

After weighing up these options, the landlord decided that section 21 was the best route forward in this situation.

John Stewart, Policy Manager, said: “Cases like this highlight just one of the unforeseen consequences that removing section 21 will have on tenants.  

“While we welcome bringing ground 14a to the private rented sector, safeguards have to be put in place by DWP and MHCLG to ensure that these tenants don’t face extended waits for a court date or payments of their Universal Credit claim.  

“That’s why we recommend that if Section 21 must be removed then it should only be done after substantial reform.  

“Firstly, these tenants need a new efficient housing court so that domestic abuse victims do not have to wait 22 weeks for the abuser to be removed.  

“Secondly tenants need to have the security they won’t immediately fall into arrears.

“That’s why we recommend that where ground 14a is used and the tenant is receiving Universal Credit, the tenant must have the rent guaranteed for the whole property until the end of the tenancy.”

About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Magazine and Digital Editor for the NRLA. With 20 years’ experience writing for regional and national newspapers and magazines she is responsible for editing our members' magazine 'Property', producing our articles for our news site, the weekly and monthly bulletins and editorial content for our media partners.


  • I asked my Job Centre contact how this lady could be helped via the benefit system. It seems there would be more support for her and any children than she realises. Here’s the gist of what I was told: Work with Housing (Local Authority) and she could likely get B&B straight away whilst suitable accommodation is found/situation rectified. As my contact says: ‘She has a crime number. She has a tenancy with the DV perp. That is not appropriate so by definition she is homeless already, she cannot be found to be making herself homeless. She is a DV victim so local authority will house her temporarily until the tenancy is resolved.
    Why are they still in a relationship?! If they’re not it shouldn’t be a joint claim.’
    I hope this is really useful for the lass concerned. PLEASE pass the info on to her via her landlord.

  • I had to serve a notice 21 on a tenant who became verbally abusive when drunk and went into the wrong bedroom and terrified a female tenant. The notice 21 meant I didn’t have to tell the abusive tenant the reason which eoukd have made things worse. I’ve only used notice 21 twice in 25 years if being a landlord. Both times it was for the safety of the other tenants.

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