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Toby Lloyd
 
I'm Head of Policy at Shelter, and have worked on housing issues in the public, private and third sectors for nine years. I'm a Londoner, a cyclist, father of two young daughters and member of the Hackney Co-housing Project.

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By Toby Lloyd

If Shelter wrote party leaders’ conference speeches…

As we enter the party conference season, here’s what Shelter hopes will be the political parties’ leaders’ speeches. If the leaders make the right commitments now it will help shape their parties’ final election offer to those at the sharp end of our housing crisis – families stuck renting, waiting for years in temporary accommodation, struggling to buy a home or finding it difficult to keep up with their rent or mortgage. Housing has consistently ranked as a top 5 voter issue for months – and politicians are beginning to take note.

So what should the party leaders be proposing?

First, and most importantly: we want to hear every party commit to credible plans to build many more homes in every tenure – especially homes for social rent and for part-buy, part-rent. Successive governments have failed to build the homes we need – and that failure has had far-reaching consequences. Overcrowding, poor conditions, endemic instability, and homelessness: every day our advisers see the real life consequences of the lack of decent, affordable homes. In recent years, party conference speeches have often featured positive aspirations about building more: now we need firm plans for making it happen.

Earlier this year in partnership with KPMG we published a report, ‘Building the homes we need’ which provides a blueprint for the next government to sustainably increase the rate of home building. Sadly there’s no silver bullet: we need a programme of investment and reforms to tackle the high cost of land, create a diverse and sustainable house building industry, drive more long term investment and devolve power and budgets to those cities that want to grow.

But what more can we do to fix our housing crisis?

The only way we’ll solve the housing crisis for good is by building more affordable homes. But for many families the problem is holding onto their home right now. As we highlighted last month millions of working families are having to cut back on essentials like food to help pay for their home. Lots of families wouldn’t be able to cope with a financial shock – like a fall in their income, or an unexpected bill. High housing costs coupled with cuts to the housing safety net (by which Shelter means housing benefit, access to social housing, homelessness legislation and advice services) have created a dangerous situation in which an unexpected financial shock like losing your job or falling ill can leave people at risk of losing their home. Every year Shelter helps thousands of families in just this situation – and we know that only a strong public safety net can stop them becoming homeless. And if the worst happens and families do lose their home, government help is crucial to help them get back on their feet and find a new home.

So what do we want to hear from politicians to make our safety net stronger?

Firstly, there needs to be adequate support to prevent families being at risk of homelessness in the first place. That means that help to meet housing costs (housing benefit / local housing allowance) must better reflect actual rents.  The only sustainable way to reduce the total housing benefit bill is to provide more, lower cost social rented homes: reducing housing benefit rates without tackling the shortage of homes will only push more people into arrears and potential homelessness – which will end up costing the public purse more. Shelter is also opposed to further restrictions on who can get housing benefit. In particular, we are concerned about rumours that the support available for under-25s might be reduced – not everyone has parents who can house them if they become ill or lose their job. And we don’t want to see further proposals to cut help for those who rent and are out of workbecause losing your job shouldn’t mean losing your home, and getting back into work is so much harder if you’re homeless. And of course we would like to see an end to the bedroom tax, which penalises social tenants for having a spare bedroom even if there is no smaller accommodation for them to move into.

If the worst does happen, homeless families need somewhere affordable to stay until they get back on their feet. That’s why temporary accommodation should be exempt from the benefit cap, enabling local councils to adequately house homeless families.  The housing crisis, coupled with an inadequate safety net mean this support is now under threat.

We’re also keen that the Support for Mortgage Interest scheme carries on – it’s far from perfect but with interest rates widely expected to rise and this support due to  be reduced in March 2016, it needs to be extended to stop more families from losing their home.

Of course all parties will be keen to deal with what the public see as the failings of the current housing safety net. Our own research, published in June, shows that the majority of the public see the housing safety net as an essential part of a civilised society, but also that many worry that some people are unjustifiably receiving support, or that the system is failing to incentivise work. That’s why Shelter is working to put forward a vision of a future safety net – one which addresses those underlying concerns and is able to win wide public support, but which also gives people enough help to pay their rent or mortgage if something goes wrong.

Last but not least, what should politicians offer England’s nine million private renters?

Politicians should think about how renting needs to change, now that it’s providing a home to millions of people for the long-term. There are now 1.3m families with children living in private rented homes – and it’s clear that renting is no longer a stepping stone to something better, as people find themselves priced out of ownership and unable to get a council or housing association home.

Shelter has long campaigned to fix private renting, and it’s great to see politicians of all parties are now starting to come up with policies to help renters. As the election gets closer, renters will want to know that what concrete improvements and increased rights the different parties will offer them.

We’ve worked tirelessly to get more local councils to root out rogue landlords over years. This government has offered councils support and funding – which we’d like to see continue.

But the key reform we need is to bring in longer tenancies with predictable rents – where rents can’t rise faster than a pre-agreed rate, such as inflation. Two years ago Shelter first proposed a new model of renting, our Stable Rental Contract.  It showed how we can end short term contracts and unpredictable rent increases which force families to leave their homes at just two months’ notice. The Stable Rental Contract offers renters five year tenancies, with limits to prevent unexpected rent hikes during that period.

Since 2013, we’ve called for a ban on letting agency fees like the one in Scotland, and we’re keen to see further regulation to deal with poor practice from letting agents across the board. We also called for the regulation covering estate agents to be extended to letting agents. This would require letting agents to have client money protection and professional indemnity insurance, providing far greater protection for both landlords and renters.  

In recent months we’ve called for an end to revenge evictions to ensure that renters do not lose their home when they complain about poor conditions. Currently, the fear of complaining means that too many renters continue to live in unacceptable conditions or are forced to leave their home without repairs ever being made.

Right now, speechwriters are putting the final touches to their bosses’ speeches for the party conferences. Housing is steadily rising in political importance, but with 1 in 4 voters still unsure about which party is the strongest on housing, there is still room for all politicians to seize this ground. Let’s hope those speechwriters are helping their party leaders set out a great offer for all those hit hard by Britain’s housing crisis.

 

Tom McCarthy
 
I’m a Campaigns Officer at Shelter, having joined in early 2012. I’m most interested in digital campaigning and the ways this can be used to change both public and political perceptions. Outside of work I’m a keen musician, playing several instruments. I also like walking, cycling and old pubs– preferably in that order.

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By Tom McCarthy

Banking on Mum and Dad?

The housing shortage is a thing that leaves no-one untouched. It impacts on us all, often in very different ways.

For a family renting the crisis is lived out through expensive housing costs. It is the pervading worry you could be evicted from your home, forcing you to uproot your lives and children.

For many of us it can be even more precarious. An unexpected job loss, or a serious illness could be the thing that tips one of us into a negative spiral that ends with losing our home – and everything we know.

When it comes to many parents though, the housing shortage is lived out through their children. They see the burdens the next generation have to deal with: the high rents, the frustrations that brings. And for some, they face a decade of their twenty something kid, now an adult, living at home again.

For these families, if they are just about managing themselves, the housing shortage for them breeds guilt and frustration. Guilt that they can’t help their child secure a home of their own, through providing them with enough financial support for a deposit.

The bank of mum and dad is helping in any way it can. We know that 40% of parents have helped out their kids with their housing costs. And that those helping their children onto the property ladder are handing over £23,000 on average.

Yet many are doing so with huge personal costs for themselves. In a sign of the increasing strain being placed on the Bank of Mum and Dad, new research by Shelter shows 1 in 4 parents had to cut back on their own spending to help their kids; and 64% raided their own savings to help with their children’s housing costs.

And with times tough, and high house prices meaning huge deposits, many parents can’t help at all. Over half of parents we surveyed said they were unable to save any money for their children’s future.

The problem isn’t improved through making the required first time deposits smaller either. Just reducing the deposit needed on a high house price means the buyer needs to pay a bigger mortgage. If those parents who are acting as the Bank of Mum and Dad already find it hard to raise the money to help with their child’s deposit, I’m not sure it will be any easier to help them pay more expensive and ongoing mortgage costs.

And previous Shelter research proves this. 88% of homes for sale in England are unaffordable for families with a 95% loan, as higher monthly mortgage costs push even more properties out of reach.

This concern is now front and centre for parents across the country. And it is playing out in their voting intentions. Housing has consistently ranked as a top 5 voter issue for months now. Increasingly voters want to know which party will be the one to tackle the housing shortage.

And there’s plenty of space for any party to seize this ground. 1 in 4 voters don’t know which party is strongest on housing – suggesting huge opportunities for whichever party makes a big pitch for this area.

The housing shortage is our national crisis, fuelled by decade after decade of politicians failing to build the homes we need. It’s put the Bank of Mum and Dad in crisis. And it’s left parents crying out for action. The only solution now is to build more affordable homes.

Follow the @Bank_MumandDad on twitter

Hannah Gousy
 
Hannah is a policy officer at Shelter

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By Hannah Gousy

Model behaviour for private renting

Yesterday the Government announced its intention to support Sarah Teather’s Bill to end retaliatory eviction. This is a huge step forward for private renters. It comes after a long period of campaigning from across the housing sector and Shelter’s supporters.  

But there was even more good news. The Housing Minister also launched a new model tenancy agreement and Industry Code of Practice for letting and managing privately rented homes. Both are voluntary measures, but mark an important step forward in recognising that the sector does not currently provide enough decent and stable homes.

Stable renting

Since 2012 Shelter has been calling for the introduction of a new, longer-term renting contract to give renters greater stability. The government hopes that their new ‘family friendly’ model tenancy will encourage landlords to offer exactly that. This is a huge step in the right direction, and we hope landlords will follow the government’s lead.

For too long, it has been assumed that private renters are predominately young and highly mobile single people. In reality, families with children now make up nearly a third of private renting households. More and more people are renting privately for longer, and at more settled stages of their lives. For these people the standard 6 or 12 month tenancy agreement does not provide any security or stability. Renters fear that they will be evicted from their homes with only two months to find somewhere new to live. For families, this is particularly disruptive. Children are uprooted from schools, and vital networks providing support and childcare are lost. One in ten renting parents told us that they’ve had to change their children’s school due to moving, and more than 4 in 10 parents feel their children would have a better childhood if they had more stability in their home.

We also know that the demand for longer tenancies is huge. When we asked renters if they’d like one, only 4% disagreed. But voluntary adoption of longer tenancies by landlords will not transform the lives of renting families overnight, and almost certainly not for those living at the bottom end of the market. Nonetheless the publication of the new model tenancy sends a strong message from the government that renting families need a much better deal and Shelter is delighted that the government has taken this step.  

Improving professional standards

The government also introduced a new Industry Code of Practice, making clear the legal requirements and best practice for letting agents and landlords. Whilst this is only a voluntary code, the government has always made it clear that eventually it will be made statutory.

There is clearly a huge need for better guidance on the letting and management of homes in the PRS.  Our advisors work with a disproportionate number of private renters living in unacceptable conditions. Too often the behaviour of landlords and letting agents is unsatisfactory. This is hardly surprising though. There are obviously a small number of rogue landlords who deliberately exploit renters. But there are far more amateur landlords who simply aren’t aware of their rights and responsibilities. Our research shows that only 5% of landlords regard renting as their main or full-time job, and more than three-quarters have never been a member of any trade body or held any license or accreditation.

Regulation governing the behaviour of letting agents is scant to say the least. This is particularly problematic given the huge number of amateur landlords who rely on agents to manage their properties. The government has taken further action to help address this problem and from the 1st October all letting agents will have to be a member of an independent government approved redress scheme. If renters receive a poor quality service from their letting agent, and it cannot be resolved between the two parties, then they can approach the redress schemes for independent dispute resolution. It is highly likely that the schemes will use the new Code to help decide when letting agents have not acted appropriately. Given that a third a renters say they can’t trust their letting agent, Shelter hopes that this will give them a greater level of consumer protection.

Combined with yesterday’s move to ban revenge evictions, these moves represent a major step towards giving renters the protection they deserve. It’s now up to the industry to respond positively.

Martha Mackenzie
 
I’m the Stakeholder Relations Assistant at Shelter, I joined the Public Affairs team in July 2012. I have been working on a wide range of projects, most notably engaging with local authorities through our rogue landlords campaign. In my spare time I’m studying for a MA in legal and political theory. When not chained to a desk I can usually be found running or cycling around London.

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By Martha Mackenzie

A small step for parliament, a big leap for renters

This afternoon, the government gave their backing to Sarah Teather’s bill to end retaliatory eviction in the private rented sector. This is a huge step forward for private renters.

We know that over 200,000 renters across England were evicted or served with an eviction notice in the last year, simply because they complained about a problem in their home.

No one should face eviction for complaining about bad conditions. The government’s – and ultimately Parliament’s – support for Sarah’s Bill could end this practice once and for all.

Giant leap

We must applaud the actions of Sarah and the cross party group of MPs that supported her bill. As well as the Housing Minister, Brandon Lewis. Shelter and housing professionals have been calling for this reform for years. Not only has the government finally acknowledged the impact of retaliatory eviction- for the first time, they are taking concrete action to stamp it out.

We must also give credit to the many organisations that have campaigned alongside Shelter to end retaliatory eviction. Our combined front-line experience has helped to make a strong, well-evidenced case for change.

Not to mention the 17,000 Shelter supporters who have signed their name in support of this cause. And the countless others who shared their own, personal stories- helping us get this far.

Small step

This Bill is small; it might only be a couple of pages long.

It will not propose sweeping reforms to the private rented sector. Rather, it is likely to suggest a few, simple tweaks to existing legislation. But - and it is a big but - these tweaks have the potential to transform the lives of renters. They will improve stability and conditions, without placing any additional burden on law abiding landlords.

Sarah’s Bill will be formally debated on the 28th November- and it stands a serious chance of becoming law.

The government’s support for this bill could take England’s 9 million renters one giant leap closer to the stability and conditions they deserve.

Martha Mackenzie
 
I’m the Stakeholder Relations Assistant at Shelter, I joined the Public Affairs team in July 2012. I have been working on a wide range of projects, most notably engaging with local authorities through our rogue landlords campaign. In my spare time I’m studying for a MA in legal and political theory. When not chained to a desk I can usually be found running or cycling around London.

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By Martha Mackenzie

Tenancies (Reform) Bill

Today, Department for Communities and Local Government Minister Stephen Williams announced that – in principle – the government will support Sarah Teather’s Tenancies (Reform) Bill. The Bill seeks to give renters security of tenure by ending retaliatory eviction. It also hopes to improve conditions in the private rented sector and make the eviction process better for renters, landlords and the courts.

Although the Bill is still being drafted, we thought this would be a good opportunity to outline what it is likely to say.

What will the Bill do?

We know that over 200,000 renters across England were evicted or served with an eviction notice in the last year because they complained about a problem in their home. And that 1 in 12 renters have avoided asking their landlord to repair a problem or improve conditions because they were scared of eviction.

Landlords have a legal responsibility to carry out certain repairs. The Tenancies (Reform) Bill will restrict the use of no-fault eviction notices when landlords are not meeting this responsibility.

Landlords who have not protected their tenants’ deposit or have not licensed their property when they are required to do so are already prevented from serving no fault eviction notices. This Bill is simply applying the same principle to poor conditions.

This will put a stop to retaliatory eviction. Landlords will no longer be able to evict renters in response to a legitimate complaint about poor conditions. It will also improve conditions. By giving renters the confidence to report problems, law-abiding landlords will be better able to maintain the standard of their tenant’s home.

What does this mean in practice?

Although the actual text of the Bill is still being drafted, we believe the following measures are likely to be included.

  1. Landlords will be prevented from evicting their tenant(s) in response to a local authority intervention about the condition of their property. They will be unable to serve a no-fault ‘Section 21’ eviction notice for 6 months following the issue of a local authority improvement or hazard awareness notice.
  2. Landlords will be prevented from evicting their tenant(s) in response to a legitimate, written complaint about the condition of the property. Local authorities will have to confirm that this complaint is legitimate.   

Crucially, this Bill will not allow tenants to use spurious or malicious complaints as a defence. It will place no additional burden on good, law-abiding landlords. And it will not add a discretionary element to Section 21 hearings.

What next?

Today’s announcement takes us one step closer to ending retaliatory eviction. However, we still have a long way to go. Over the next couple of months we’ll hopefully see a strong Bill published and the successful passage of this Bill during its second reading on 28th November. Watch this space…

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