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.