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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…

Zorana Halpin
 
Zorana Halpin is a Policy Officer at Shelter

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By Zorana Halpin

The housing safety net is in tatters – it’s time for a rethink

Thanks to a combination of low pay, high house prices and the growth in insecure private renting, just about anyone can now find themselves in struggling to keep their home. We all need to know that a safety net is there to keep a roof over our heads if life takes an unexpected turn. 
 
Today, Shelter has published new analysis of the state of the UK’s housing safety net. The analysis identifies the number of households who are receiving some form of housing support (defined by the research as housing benefit, support for mortgage interest, or a tenancy in a social rented home). It also calculates the number not getting the help they need. 

The results are compelling, and very worrying: 

  • One quarter of all UK households (6.4 million) now receive some form of support from the housing safety net.
  • Of those already receiving support, almost 1 in 10 are in chronic need of further assistance. This means that, despite receiving some support, their housing costs are unaffordable, are on a low income and are struggling financially to the extent that they are missing payments on essential bills – such as gas or electricity.
  • A further group of 125,000 households are in the same situation, yet receive no support at all.
  • In total, over half a million (625,000) households are in chronic need of a housing safety net, yet fall through the one we have. 
  • A further 2.8 million households live in a precarious position, on a low income in housing that is unaffordable. Around a half receive some support from the safety net but remain in this state.
  • Altogether, 3.4 million households don’t get the support they need to begin to get back on their feet.

So how have we arrived at this juncture? 
 
It’s undeniable that policy changes over the last four years has resulted in the housing safety net now providing less support to fewer people. Changes to the maximum amount of housing benefit paid to private renters or the introduction of a benefit cap have hurt thousands of families. 
 
But while these cuts have been had a deep and visible impact, they are a small part of a much longer trend that has seen the housing safety whittled down by successive governments. For example, the number of affordable rented homes has been dropping since the 1980s, and has fallen by 400,000 in the last 10 years alone. 
 
All the evidence points to these trends continuing into the future. The Chancellor has pledged to find a further 12 billion pounds in welfare savings over the next two years. Other political parties are drawing up their own plans to reduce the welfare bill.  
  
Cuts are opening up holes in the net that more people are falling through, but the system is also failing people for more fundamental reasons. Simply put, the housing safety net was not designed to deal with the problems of the world today. The housing market, population and labour market have undergone major changes since the welfare state was constructed. For example, an increasing number of people receiving housing support are now working, but are reliant on state support to bridge the gap between housing costs that are rocketing ahead of wages. Our research shows that even some households with two full time incomes, can’t afford their housing costs and don’t receive the support they need.

Some households have been left high and dry by recent cuts. But others are poorly served by a safety net designed for a different era. In order to support these people better we might need something different – not just more of what we had. 
 
Shelter will continue to campaign against any further cuts to the housing safety net, which would only expose more people to the risk of losing their home. But we also need to tackle the structural weaknesses that mean it is no longer meeting its purpose. A strong housing safety net requires new ideas to ensure it can support everyone through difficult times. That is the challenge for anyone who cares about ending homelessness.

By Jenny Pennington

 

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.

View all posts by Toby Lloyd

By Toby Lloyd

Stoke Harbour: a new garden city

Shelter is very pleased to have been named the runner up in the Wolfson Economics Prize 2014: the world’s second biggest economics prize after the Nobel. Along with hundreds of others we proposed an answer to the question: how would you deliver a new garden city which is visionary, economically viable and popular?

Our design [pdf], developed with architects PRP, was for a new garden city called Stoke Harbour on the Hoo Peninsula in Kent, which could provide thousands of genuinely affordable homes, new infrastructure, services and jobs.

With advice from KPMG we combined our design with an innovative self-financing model that was described by the CEO of Legal & General – a major institutional investor – as “capable of attracting real investment” and going “well beyond the answer to an exam question.”  So we are confident that this is a model that is ready to go.

But, you may be wondering, what is Shelter doing entering an economics prize in the first place?  After all, Shelter is not an economics consultancy, or even a housing developer.

Shelter’s mission is twofold: to help those most affected by the housing crisis with our frontline advice and support services, and to campaign for action which will tackle the root causes of bad housing and homelessness.

Thanks to the prize, Shelter now has an additional £50,000 to carry out this vital work. But our primary motivation for entering the Wolfson Economics Prize was to promote our policy programme for reviving our dysfunctional housing supply system, which we set out with KPMG in May.

Right now, one of those root causes of homelessness is the fact that we don’t build enough homes. Under successive governments we’ve failed to build as many homes as we need to in order to match an ageing and growing population. Our whole housing system has failed to meet the demand for new places to buy or rent and we’re now dealing with the consequences. The shortage of genuinely affordable homes is particularly acute, and lies behind many of the housing problems faced by the millions of people our advice services try to help.

Shelter entered the Wolfson Economics Prize to show that there are real solutions to this national failure. It is possible to build attractive, green, affordable places – even in the South East of England – which can win local popular support. Our new research showed that people in Medway would support a new garden city in their back yard by 54% to 33%, which rises to more than 60% support when people are assured that, as we proposed, local services will improve as a result.

Of course there will be voices of opposition, there always are. However, the majority are concerned about homes, jobs and services for them and their children, and will support new development if the proposals are right for the area and communicated effectively.

Preparing our entry for the Wolfson Economics Prize gave us a great opportunity to speak to a large number of people about a particular proposal for development. More than any investor, architect, builder or housing charity it is local people who need the homes and who would ultimately live there. There is no need for a council of despair about NIMBYism: our evidence suggests that a local referendum on a new garden city proposal could be won.

In recent years, England’s worsening housing shortage has become a concern for the majority of people. Whether you’re a renter paying sky-high rents, one of the one in three working parents cutting back on food to pay your housing costs, or a homeowner worried about your children or grandchildren’s prospects of ever getting a home of their own, the housing shortage matters to you. That’s why housing is now consistently identified as a top five issue for voters – above crime, education and pensions.

For Shelter, the whole Wolfson Economics Prize has been a massive boost to our campaign to build the homes we need. We’ve shown that it can be done, with decent amounts of attractive and genuinely affordable homes. But we’re still a long, long way from building enough homes in England – and even an ambitious programme of garden cities will take many years to make a difference. The shortage is so severe, and the problems so entrenched, nothing less than a major programme of investment and reform will do. We need action across the spectrum – from infill development, self-build and traditional affordable housing investment, to bold land market reform, new garden cities and urban extensions. All the political parties must commit to an ambitious strategy to deliver the 250,000 homes per year we need.

Solving the housing shortage is possible. Now it’s up to all of us to make it happen.

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