A welcome first step towards better renting

The private rented sector is not fit for purpose. This much has long been obvious to those working on the front line in Shelter’s advice services, and to our supporters.

Thankfully, it seems this is a reality increasingly dawning on our politicians too, with a growing number from all parties sharing our view that the sector simply doesn’t meet the needs of the 9 million people who now live there.

And on Tuesday, after much campaigning by Shelter and others, the Government finally joined that chorus. In an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, the Government introduced measures which will make it compulsory for letting agents to be members of a redress scheme.  This was effectively a compromise to an amendment tabled by Labour’s Baroness Hayter – who has pursued this issue doggedly down the years – which the Government opposed but were defeated on by 5 votes in the Lords in March.

So what does this all mean? At present, around 40% of letting agents are totally unregulated, operating outside of existing voluntary schemes. They have no obligation to provide renters with the basic consumer protections already required of estate agents, such as the right to redress should things go wrong.

The day to day reality of this is that the worst agents are effectively free to leave homes in disrepair, or to run off with people’s money, without facing meaningful repercussions. Even industry bodies describe much of the lettings market as akin to the ‘wild west’.

The Government’s amendment looks to address this by requiring all agents to be members of an ombudsman scheme, such as the TPO (The Property Ombudsman). This will provide the 66% of renters who use letting agents with guaranteed access to accountability in the event of poor service, giving them someone independent to take their complaint to.

It is unambiguously a good thing – and made possible by the nearly 800 Shelter supporters who wrote to Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, to voice their support.

Of course, the letting market is just a part of what is wrong with the rented sector. And this amendment will not solve all its ills, of which the lack of guaranteed independent redress is just one of many. For one thing, we would like the Government to have gone further and accepted Baroness Hayter’s amendment in full (which would have provided additional protections such as measures to prevent agents absconding with deposits or money that should be passed on to the landlord).

Nevertheless, it is a welcome start on which the Government deserves credit for seeing sense. And a vital acknowledgement that things have to change in the sector.

More importantly it is something to build on for the many remaining challenges ahead.

Renters may soon have guaranteed means through which to air their complaints – but we urgently need further action to tackle the root cause of those grievances.

The biggest of which, from the point of view of the renters we hear from, is undoubtedly the high, unexpected and unfair fees which letting agents often charge.

As far as Shelter is concerned, Tuesday’s welcome announcement was not the end of the matter. We will be working hard to ensure it is just the first step down a long road to making the private rented sector a better, more secure place to live.

  1. Fantastic work. It’s high time letting agents and landlords were made to focus on providing a quality service instead of ROI and the bottom line.

  2. I’m not entirely sure how Shelter are claiming responsibility for this? They campaigned for a ban on all tenant fees, not for regulation of agents. ‘Lets ban all tenant fees causing rents to increase’ – A well though out plan, Shelter.

    Typical Shelter jumping on the bandwagon for a bit of publicity.

  3. I must agree with shelter, estate agents are “a” problem. Private landlords and government private landlord housing policy reminds me of a sailing ship. It maybe slow, but its true hindrance is lack of sails for the ship to get anywhere. MPs won’t sail her. Their interest are with monied landlords. The good ship housing policy flounders from political rape. Tenants are the continuous victims. Private landlords abuse low income tenants in receipt of housing benefits, while government propaganda blames the private tenant and private landlord receives the housing benefit. Repairs seldom happen, a good coat of paint will do the trick. No fear, many judges own rental property. The Left cries out build more council home that serves to get the left off the hook to deal with real problem. Some landlords seem to be generally from the vast regions of hell. It’s always the tenants’ fault. “Complain and I’ll evict. Under an Assured Shorthold Tenancy your rights are, well, better get out!”

    1. I just signed this, Piers – but you have so few signatures. Have you considered posting it on Facebook and Twitter – you can reach millions that way!

    2. I just signed this and posted it to facebook, I will also tweet. Keep spreading the word, let’s get it viral !!!!

  4. While this is welcome news, now perhaps SHELTER should focus on the ever increasing problems in the social rented sector where families have been hit with the bedroom tax. As we all know private tenants are subject to the size criteria at the beginning of their claim and know how much they need to budget before they rent…however for those in the social rented sector this has just been forced upon them by this government without any great thought of the consequences. We now have disabled people and families with children being faced with possible eviction and a benefit cap which may not provide enough funds to pay for temporary accommodation. While shelter should be applauded as landlords should not be able to get away with charging people for slums, we really need a strategy to contest this government over these extremely harsh measures in both sectors.

  5. HI, I’m in the unenviable position of having to find a new flat whilst on employment support allowance. My self esteem plummets when agents say No DSS. I feel low. Not only am I not where I wanted to be in life, it seems the old adage comes into play: when you are down you get kicked as well. . I have been messed around by two landlords and felt so disempowered. Housing issues have greatly affected my mental health and has slowed my recovery. So basically the worries that people face, cause more ill-health. The government doesn’t do anything to stop this discrimination at all. But, I am constantly saddened also by the whole stigma of being on benefits which is often made much worse by the media. What can we do about it? I want to see Newspapers talk about how the estate agents and landlords and private rented sector is making people ill ! Thanks for the rant x

  6. Hi Vicky,

    My name is Paulina and I just saw your post – I think I could help you.

    Currently the landlady I am living with is looking for a person to take up one of the rooms. u never know :)

    If you are interested, pls give me a shout on 07568388561.

    Much love!

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