As the election campaign really kicks off, you will no doubt hear a knock on your door soon from one of your many Parliamentary candidates hoping to win your vote.
They will give you the usual party spiel, but what questions should you challenge the candidates on? We've listed some suggested questions below and why they are important for renters:
For Conservative Candidates:
They’ll talk about Help to Buy, but the scheme has only helped 70,000 first time buyer households – and there are more than 4 million private rented households that are stuck renting. The Help to Buy ISA again, is a short term gimmick that only encourages prices to inflate, rather than addressing the root cause. The question is, how will they help the millions who are stuck on short contracts, paying expensive rents?
For Labour Candidates:
They’ll talk about what they’re doing on private renting and the target of 200,000 new homes per year. What would really help boost supply – particularly for low income private renters – is a new programme of social house building. With £9bn spent by the taxpayer on the private rent of low-income households through house benefit, would they prefer to see these people in council homes?
For all candidates:
How are you going to stop rents going up?
This is important because rents have risen 9.2% since last year (HomeLet Rental Index: February 2014 to February 2015) and wages have remained stagnant. There are now more private renters than housing association and council housing tenants - the sector has doubled in the past decade. The number of working households claiming housing benefit in the PRS from 7% to 14% between 2009-2014, money that goes into the pockets of private landlords.
How are going to make private renting more secure?
Some political parties are offering longer tenancies as mandatory and others simply ‘encouraging’ landlords to offer longer tenancies. However, if the tenancy still has a break clause at 6 months, tenants can be evicted at this point. Section 21, no-fault evictions make renting insecure because a landlord can evict a tenant without a reason.
How will you make it possible for first-time buyers to afford mortgages again?
This is important because house prices are rising much faster than wages, with houses costing more than 10 times the average salary. The average first time buyer is now earning £48,000 (ONS 2014 Q4). The average deposit has reached over £100k in London. Schemes such as Help to Buy, have an inflammatory effect on the market as they stimulate demand, rather than solved the fundamental problem that more homes need to be built.
What resources will you provide local authorities to enforce against rogue landlords and poor conditions?
30% of PRS homes do not meet the Decent Homes Standard, compared to 15% of social homes and 19% of owner-occupiers. Landlords, for the most part, have no requirements placed on them to keep the homes they rent out at a decent standard.
At the end of this parliament, it was made harder for councils to introduce widespread licensing schemes which help them to drive up standards and easily tackle rogue landlords. Often local authorities have to implement additional legislation without additional resources so it is important that whatever measures are brought it, that they are equipped to enforce the measures.
How will you make sure letting agents don’t rip me off?
The latest report from Citizens Advice Bureau shows that the average letting fees total £337, this is an enormous additional cost to renters every time they move. Letting agents charge fees to landlords as well as tenants – effectively double charging, a practice that is illegal in every other sector. The report also found that a fifth of letting agents still don’t belong to a redress scheme despite this being mandatory since October 2014.
How much social housebuilding will you support? What is your definition of ‘affordable’?
Most political parties have made some sort of commitment to build a certain number of homes a year. But it doesn’t help ordinary renter if these are luxury flats way out of most worker’s price range. What is needed is mass social and council house building programmes, providing a range of housing for workers. ‘Affordable’ has been defined under this Government as 80% of market rate – at least that has been the target rent set for housing association show build with Government grants. However, in many areas, 80% of market rent is unaffordable for most workers. There is a desperate need for social housing at much more affordable rates – such as 40% of market rent.
How are you going to help end fuel poverty?
Homes in the PRS are the least energy efficient and 8% of properties have a damp problem, as opposed to 5% of social housing and 3% of owner-occupied homes. In addition to this nearly 20% of private renters live in fuel poverty; cold homes kill 25,000 people a year and cost the NHS £1.3bn - clearly action is needed to change this.
Do you support house prices rising at current trends?
House price inflation was up 8.4% over this time last year and the Office for National Statistics have noted that despite blips in property prices, on average house prices have increased by 6.9% per year since 1980. In no other industry would the public tolerate such massive inflation. If house prices continue to rise at these levels - massively outstripping wages - home ownership will remain a dream for all but the most wealthy in our society.
You can download this here. Best of luck challenging your candidates on the doorstep!