The government’s important first steps towards better renting: now let’s make it happen

The poor state of private renting in England has been bubbling up as an issue for a while now. While Shelter have long campaigned for better private renting, it’s only in recent months that the issue has broken through into the mainstream.

The government’s response to the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Select Committee, released yesterday, marks a significant moment and a good first step. But more is needed to provide stability for England’s 9 million renters – and Shelter’s got some concrete and practical ideas on how to achieve that.

For the first time, a government has recognised that private renting in this country is simply not fit for purpose – particularly for the 1.3 million families now renting – who are bearing the brunt of a market that is unstable and unaffordable (a state of affairs which is now also the leading single cause of homelessness). And they have acknowledged the need for more family-friendly tenancies, in line with our Stable Rental Contract proposal.

As part of a wider suite of sensible measures, they have announced plans for a tenants’ charter (previously announced at Conservative party conference), a model tenancy agreement and a summit with mortgage lenders to discuss the restrictions that many place on landlords.

The intention of all this is to beef up renters’ rights and “know-how” to “demand longer-term tenancies that cut costs and meet their needs”, as Eric Pickles put it. This, they say, will “provide extra security and stability for families”.

This represents a welcome first step and one that our supporters – who campaigned hard on this – should feel rightly proud of. It also follows hard-work behind the scenes by a growing number of MPs who get how desperately renting needs reform, most notably former shadow housing minister, Jack Dromey MP and Jake Berry MP, a rising star on the Conservative benches.

All that said, the good intentions must now translate into solid outcomes for renters. As my former colleague Robbie de Santos made clear when these measures were first trailed, it isn’t obvious how in over-heated markets, renters will be able to use their ‘right’ to request a family-friendly tenancy. They already have that right – they just have very little bargaining power with which to exercise it.

Neither is it clear that landlords will necessary grant that request. Despite longer-tenancies with predictable rents being as good for landlords as renters, short-termism is often ingrained in our rental market. 

Renters must have real power to genuinely choose one type of tenancy over another. For that reason, we would like to see all political parties go further in committing to measures that promote family-friendly tenancies. These include:

  • Making more use of the tax system to incentivise landlords to offer family-friendly tenancies, or disincentivise them from offering short-term lets. This might be reflected in rules around national insurance contributions (NICS) or capital gains tax (CGT), for instance. These can be cost-neutral, as laid out on pages 39-41 (and Appendix A) of our Stable Rental Contract report.
  • Consider the use of legal mechanisms to make family-friendly tenancies the default tenancy in the rental market.  
  • Work with both lenders, industry and housing associations (where they have private rented sector) to promote family friendly tenancies, including with those landlords already offering such tenancies – such as QDD, the Qatari company who own housing in the former Olympic village.

It’s also important to remember in all this that family friendly tenancies are as much about predictable rents – with rent rises rising at no more than inflation – as it is the length of the contract. That is a vital part of the deal that should be on offer for renters.

Nevertheless, CLG’s proposals are a crucial first step – and we look forward to working with them to iron out the details.  

Security and stability are a crucial part of the living standards debate that looks like it will dominate the end of this Parliament and the election. The private rented sector, with its high costs and instability, couldn’t be more relevant to that debate. For this reason, this issue isn’t going away – and Shelter will be there every step of the way, until we get a private rented sector that works for England’s 9 million renters.

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15 Comments
  1. How about actually tackling the major issue impacting the lives of millions of rentors? The actual cost of the rent. Seems you all are interested in ineffectual compromises — everything but actually controlling or bringing the cost down to an affordable percentage of salary.

    1. I agree – I have many issues with renting, but a primary one is the massive cost. I pay over £1000 a month for a one bed fat in London and I wouldn’t want to sign up to a long term tenancy because it’s a really high proportion of my salary. If anything happened and I needed to reduce my monthly outgoings I’d be stuck. If I moved further out where the rent was cheaper my travel costs would go up so I just have to suck it up and pay. Also – agency fees are such a massive issue and should be outlawed. This government response just isn’t good enough and in reality won’t help most renters.

  2. It seems like good news, but I don’t see a word about letting fees or the very high deposits now required for short-term leases.

    I imagine my husband and I would not be benefited in any way by ‘family-friendly tenancy’, since we’re in our mid-thirties already, and have never been able to afford to buy a house or have a child. Currently we are stuck in an uninsulated, run-down flat in London, which we could not afford to heat last winter. Our landlord increased the rent by 30% this month, blaming ‘new government regulations’, and he informed us it’s rising again in January. We can’t afford both food and the full rent, so food wins, and I assume we’ll be evicted soon enough. My husband’s wages have been frozen for five years and our rent, for this same flat, has doubled in that time.

    We cannot move because estate agents require £450+ fees, and six-week deposits even for six-month tenancies. We paid £900 per month in rent until this month, and can’t just come up with the ~£3000 needed to move. If we could do that kind of magic, we would have been able to save enough to buy a house by now.

    I hope you keep fighting to do something about the letting fees in London. There is not enough time left for my husband and me to be saved from homelessness, unless the government suddenly took unexpected, unlikely, swift action–but there have to be lots of other people in similar circumstances.

    1. There absolutely are many people in this situation and it’s really a sad state. Renters who have paid premium prices for years, absolute guaranteed payers but with no hope of ever getting a deposit together due to the high rent prices. stupid logic that makes no sense whatsoever.

      This is good news, I just wish we could be as motivated as Scotland to get things moving. The entire industry and take-off of BTL is just a scam industry with rich people forcing the poor to pay for their properties through their rent. Property ownership is a fantasy that died a long time ago and is gone forever across the UK for 75%+ of people.

  3. Good start but until Letting Agents fees are regulated properly or better yet banned altogether then the private rented sector will still be a nightmare. These parasites are making it ridiculously hard for renters.

  4. I agree with Tamara! The cost that is killing us is the cost of renting. For the area (not in London but the home counties) the cost to the agents (600 plus for the admin of renting, so moving is not an option) and the lack of financial interest to us on OUR money held in a deposit account for the agent. Plus the possible annual rent 5% increase (for what?). And like Tara it is just my husband and me so no family incentive either. We have had houses in the past but the crisis got us and we lost everything so doing well not to bankrupt but would like to get back on the ladder and not line the pockets of a completely dis interested landlord who just wants his mum to die so he can sell. So its not enough yet: its the agents who really need to be given a good looking into, or are they benefiting the politicians pockets to be overlooked???

    1. The prices were killing me and my family
      for a long time! We couldn’t find an apartment for a very long time. Just moved
      from one place to another without any stability. That’s really exhausting
      and stressful. We bought newspapers to find the flat, but then my friend
      recommended me this website http://london.localmartuk.com/flats-and-houses-for-rent/
      we chose the price limit we were able to pay and now finally we are living in
      the apartment we like and don’t have to move.

  5. Why can’t we just cap rents to an affordable level, and then when salaries have caught up with the massive housing bubble, rents can be increased in line with National earnings. This will give everyone stability in a market place that should NOT be availed of market forces but of affordability. This will make housing benefits manageable for any government and reduce greed. Shelter should be a UK citizens right, not a struggle.

  6. We can but hope. I’ve been renting in London for the last seven years and have had to move around as many times in as many years. Our current flat, which I share with my wife, dog and cat, is now being sold from under us. We’ve only been in it for ten months and the price of rents have increased so much in that time, that it looks like we can no longer afford to live in the area.

  7. “Family friendly” tenancies? So you’re saying single people don’t need stability then I take it?

  8. Well done Shelter and thank you for the update.

    Also, i predict the new law that criminalises sub-letters will add to the problem of rising rent and homelessness (to the benefit of private landlords)

    The elephant in the room has many names like Free-Market, Investment-Property, Somebody-Else-Pay-My-Mortgage, but its real name is Greed. Its out of control, somebody please shoot that elephant.

    1. Yes, I see greed as the cause as well. The system is just rotten, but I am afraid that is won’t change, unfortunately, Too many politicians are large sized landlords as well. The outlook does not look bright.
      I also hope that someone will shoot somebody soon…

  9. Shelter, your own figures show that families are only a small fraction of the letting market…what happened to your concerns about young renters on low wages, and particularly the extortionate practices around admin fees?

  10. Government leaders, banks, mortgage lenders, building companies and private equity backed estate agents (e.g. Savills, Foxtons) are connected by their common interest to keep housing primarily as a commodity and a convenience.

    I see several individuals have posted about their individual cases. While I empathise, I also think for us to become empowered and effective against the above lot (commonly referred to as “market forces”), we need to distance ourselves from individualistic, self-centered and opportunistic limitations. We must become connected as one force, pro-active under a common ideology that housing is a right and a need, not a privilege.

    For this right, we have to be willing to work, not simply claim and wait. Shelter, i am sure, cannot help every individual case but can help the collective make their case.

  11. Hi all – thank you for all of the comments and the stories you’ve
    shared, which are particularly reflective of the cases we see here at Shelter every day.

    We really agree that action is needed to tackle rising rents and sky-high letting fees.

    Hopefully you’ve seen our proposal for a ‘stable rental contract’, which would provide renters with predictable rents, with
    landlords restricted from raising rents over the 5 year tenancy to above inflation. We’ve made good progress pushing for this with political parties in recent months (though still a long way to go), with the Government finally accepting the need to tackle the churn and exploitative practices in the rental market.

    Also, we’ve broken ranks with the rest of the sector and called for an ban on renters paying letting fees, you can join over 12,000 people who’ve signed our petition to date: http://shltr.org.uk/43q

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