The Housing Bill: towards better conditions for renters

There’s nothing more annoying than buying a dress, paying through the roof, only for the stitching to unravel the next day. Ok, there are probably many more annoying things, but if I wasn’t able to exercise my consumer rights and get my money back, I’d be peeved.

Try being a renter. Our latest research reveals the stomach-churning conditions renters have to live in – made worse by the fact that they’re often paying sky-high rents and have little chance of getting a refund if things go wrong with the property.

Tackling bad conditions is at least a three player game: landlords need to know what they are supposed to be providing, renters need to be able to speak up, and local authorities need to be in a position to do something meaningful when things go wrong.

But the game can’t function when the system is at breaking point; the housing crisis is driving up the number of private renters, which has now rocketed to 11 million. Renters are now having to compete to find somewhere to rent, and once they do find somewhere often feel unable to speak up about poor conditions. In an overheated market landlords have little incentive to provide what they should. Cue thousands of renters living in miserable conditions with their complaints often unvoiced and unheard, and underesourced local authorities struggling to crack down on those who exploit and profiteer in this dysfunctional market.

That’s why we welcome the government’s plans to begin to rebalance the power between landlords, renters and local authorities:

  • The government plan on sharing tenancy deposit data with local authorities so they know the landlords operating in their local area and can focus their scarce resources on cracking down on the very worst landlords. Right now local authorities are pretty much working blind and rely on renters to shop their landlords, but unsurprisingly renters are often reluctant to come forward.
  • The Bill will also allow renters living in poor conditions to try and get some of the rent they have paid back, and local authorities to claw rent back on behalf of housing benefit tenants and keep it. This might give local authorities a much needed cash injection to carry out enforcement.
  • And, the very worst landlords and lettings agents will be banned from renting out their property altogether, which is a no brainer. Those who persistently break the law shouldn’t be responsible for housing families.

There is still far more that needs to be done, but nonetheless, this is a good start. That’s why we’ll be watching the Bill closely as it moves through parliament and voicing the experiences of those who we hear from everyday, who have to live in these conditions.