We have long been campaigning for private renters to get more security from eviction, so they can make their house or flat a proper home.
So, on the face of it, the government’s promise that the changes in today’s Housing White Paper “will help renters have the security they need to be able to plan for the future” is great news. It follows on from the announcement of the letting fees ban, focussing on the concerns and needs of private tenants as consumers.
Unfortunately, in contrast to the letting fees ban, the meat of the proposals don’t really live up to the ambition. They will likely mean that only a few thousand of England’s eleven million renters are able to get a more secure tenancy, when millions need it.
There is a major risk that the contrast between the hype and promise of more security and renters’ lived experience will leave renting families feeling angry and frustrated.
But there is still time for a change in approach and the government has said that they’re going to carry on looking at this. Today’s announcement is the beginning not end of the process. Over the coming months we will be working to try to get the government walking the walk as well as talking the talk.
Today’s insecure private renting
Under the current legal setup, private renting families face the prospect of being forced to move every year or six months at the end of their existing contract.
That just isn’t fit for the growing number of people are being forced into private renting with no option to buy or rent an affordable home.
For example, 1 in 4 families with kids now privately rent, up from 1 in 10 just over a decade ago. And a growing number of older people now live in private rented homes. They need secure homes where they can put down roots, not to live nearly nomadic lives hopping from one place to the next.
At its worst, the insecurity of renting is contributing to the rapid growth of homelessness, with loss of a private tenancy now the leading cause of homelessness.
Walking the walk as well as talking the talk
The government’s talk on security is genuinely welcome. The focus on renting and the need for security is good news and shouldn’t be underestimated. It marks a major shift in tone and acknowledgement of the needs and concerns of private tenants, in line with the announcement of the letting fees ban announcement last year.
The problem comes when you look at whether the plan to deliver more security matches the promise.
The government has said that they are going to try to increase the availability of more secure private tenancies by getting institutional ‘build to rent’ investors to offer them. And the problem with this is simple to understand – it’s one of scale.
The overwhelming majority of private renters, don’t live in ‘build to rent’ homes – and won’t for the foreseeable future. To see what I mean, just look at the chart below. The big black block on the left represents the 4.5 million households (families and individuals) who now rent privately. And the tiny sliver of red represents all of the existing and future pipeline of ‘build to rent’ homes in England; 12,000 existing and 66,000 planned.
Even if there was a tenfold increase in the number of build to rent projects tomorrow, the overwhelming majority of private renting families would still be left without more security.
So ‘build to rent’ is just a drop in the ocean. And hyping up the prospect of getting more security without following through with meaningful changes, will just leave private renters feeling sore. They can’t afford to wait 10, 20 or 50 years for this change.
There is a marked contrast between this and the leadership that the government showed by announcing that it will ban letting fees last year. Through that announcement, the government showed they understood that voluntary measures and tweaks just can’t protect renters as consumers – the market is just too broken.
What renters need now is recognition that the same applies to security. As I said at the top, they say in today’s announcement that this is something that they’re going to continue looking at. So we will be working hard to persuade them of that, so they start walk the walk as well as talking the talk.