New research: give English renters control over their lives by learning from our neighbours
31 Oct 2016
The prime minister has spoken passionately about her desire to give ordinary working class families ‘control over their lives’. More and more working class families now live in private rented homes. So finding a way to give private tenants a greater sense of control is going to be key to fulfilling the prime minister’s ambition.
We’re publishing research today that not only shows that introducing more secure tenancies will give renters a greater sense of control, but new evidence from our neighbouring countries that shows it’s low risk and achievable.
Giving renters more control
Through our services, we know that one of the most disempowering things for renters is renting’s short term nature. We hear every day from renters like Rachel, who are trying to bring up kids in a rented home but worry about losing their home and struggle to plan for the long term because they are only able to get a rolling, six or twelve month contract.
“We are on a rolling contract so are permanently two months away from moving. It is a horrible way to live. It never feels like home, and the anxiety it causes is immense.” – Rachel, a renting mother
To understand about the difference security makes, we commissioned the polling firm YouGov to test whether renters would feel like they had more control over their lives if they were able to rent on a more secure tenancy. The results were clear: seven in ten renters believe they would feel more in control of their lives if they had more security to stay in their home by having a longer tenancy, like the Stable Rental Contract.
These are longer term contracts (eg. five years) but where the tenant gets a rolling break clause, so they still have the flexibility to give notice and move if they need to. It gives tenants more security and certainty that they will be able to stay in their home for the long term, unless they do something wrong like fail to pay their rent for example, but still give them flexibility to move if their circumstances change.
Learning from our neighbours
We have long known that more secure tenancies are common in many of our neighbouring countries, where it has been normal for families to rent for some time. And we also knew that in some countries it was normal for renters to get greater security as a legal minimum. For example, Shelter Scotland was instrumental in arguing for a legal change that will introduce more secure tenancies north of the border from the end of 2017.
But until now we have had no comprehensive view of the length of security that renters get as a legal minimum across Europe and this has been a key piece of missing evidence in determining whether we could change the law here. So earlier in the year we commissioned a global law firm to conduct some pro bono legal research to get this comprehensive view.
Again, the findings couldn’t be clearer.
Across Europe, in the largest and most mature renting markets, it is the absolute norm to give tenants much greater security of tenure than in England. This not only applies to tenants living in Germany, the Netherlands or Sweden, but also in less affluent economies like Poland, Slovakia and Greece.
In fact, the UK is so unusual in its lack of security that there are more renters living in the UK with poor security from no fault eviction than in all the other countries reviewed put together.
Figure 1: cartogram comparison of the number of European private renters with different levels of protection from no-fault eviction (each hexagon indicates 200,000 tenants)
Figure 2: comparison of the number of European private renters with different levels of protection from no-fault eviction
Whenever there are proposals to improve private renting for tenants, some catastrophic predictions are made about the effect it will have. It would be irresponsible to take any warning lightly, so we have previously commissioned researchers to model what the impact of longer tenancies on the English rented market would be. They found the risks were low.
By finding that renters get greater security in the overwhelming majority of our neighbouring mature renting markets, this new research adds to the body of evidence showing that this legal change is achievable in England. In fact, it shows it’s not only achievable, it demonstrates that by having less security of tenure, England is the outlier.
In a way, this isn’t surprising. Our private rented sector has gone through massive growth in the last decade and it is only relatively recently that it has become normal for families to bring up children in a rented home. It’s understandable that our laws have not kept up with the pace of change.
But the status quo isn’t sustainable any longer. Too many families find it impossible to plan in our insecure and unstable private rented sector. Giving them more security will give them back control over their lives. And our neighbours’ experience shows that it’s possible.