Democracy on the doorstep: Housing questions to ask candidates who come a-knocking

With the general election less than a month away, parliamentary candidates up and down the country are currently engaged in a mad scramble to secure every vote possible. Leaflets are being delivered, ideas are being debated and, of course, doors are being knocked on.

Door-knocking is an integral part of any election campaign. Conversations on the doorstep give candidates the opportunity to hear first-hand the priorities and concerns of the people they are hoping to represent; it lets them know which issues they should be working on if they are elected.

As voters, these conversations give us the chance to press candidates for answers on the issues we care most about. For many of us in this election, that issue will be housing. The campaigning window may be brief this time round, but it still presents an important opportunity for us to tell future MPs what we want to see from them.

It can be tricky coming up with concise questions on the spot, especially on a topic as wide-ranging as housing. So, for those of you who would like to use them, we have put together a couple of questions to put to candidates should they come knocking on your door.

QUESTION 1: “Will you make building more homes a priority, especially homes that people on low incomes can afford to rent?”

The need for Britain to build more homes is something that is now widely acknowledged and agreed upon by politicians of all stripes. While we’re hoping to see some strong commitments to housebuilding in all manifestos, it’s vitally important that they commit to building the right type of homes.

Yesterday we released research showing that a shocking 800,000 people who are renting can’t even afford to save just £10 a month. These days, the prospect of saving for a deposit on a house isn’t just a far-off dream; for many it is nigh on impossible. It is clear that private renting is letting down hundreds and thousands of low-earning families, who are trapped paying sky high rents but have no other option.

Shelter is therefore calling on the next government to build half a million new living rent homes over the next Parliament. The idea behind a living rent home is that it will allow someone to live a decent life, rather than just scraping by at the end of each month. The rents in these homes will be linked to local incomes, making them genuinely affordable – we’d envision the rent being set at about 1/3 of typical take home pay.

The next government has a huge opportunity to turn things around, but they will need widespread support to deliver these homes. You can use Question 1 to let your candidates know that you support housebuilding – particularly the building of living rent homes – and to ask if they do too.

QUESTION 2:Will you commit to giving private renters more stability, by supporting the introduction of longer minimum rental contracts?”

Over the last decade, private renting in England has changed beyond recognition. At one time seen as a stopgap for students and short-term work opportunities, today the private rented sector is home to millions of working people on low to middle incomes, older people and families raising children.

England’s private renting laws currently give tenants very little security from eviction or certainty to plan for the long-term. After the first six months of a tenancy and outside a fixed term contract, a private renting family can be evicted for any reason or none.

The vast majority of people renting – 7 in 10 – have told us that they want more security from eviction through longer rental contracts. A troubling 3 in 10 people privately renting worry about losing their home. The families with children and older people who rent today value long term stability and want a place they can put down roots.

In the future many of these families would ideally have access to stable, low-rent homes to live in – like the living rent homes mentioned above. But in the meantime millions of people across the country are having to contend with the challenges of unstable renting. The uncertainty can have a serious negative impact on mental health and can either exacerbate or cause problems like anxiety and depression.

With private renting set to remain a significant part of the housing market in England for years to come, it is time for politicians to help make it fit for purpose in 2017. Longer rental contracts are fundamental to achieving this – at Shelter we are calling for 5 years as a minimum – so use Question 2 to ask your future MP if they’re willing to play their part by supporting this policy.

Let us know how it goes!

We’d love to hear how you get on. Let us know if you manage to ask any questions and the answers you receive, by emailing us at