Lib Dem Manifesto: Does it deliver for renters?

Over the coming days, we'll be picking through the parties' manifestos, and assessing whether the proposed housing policies will help make renting safe, secure and fair. First up: the Liberal Democrats.

Security of tenure

The party is promising to

Promote longer tenancies of three years or more with an inflation-linked annual rent increase built in, to give tenants security and limit rent hikes.

With one-year fixed term tenancies currently the norm, this would let renters stay in their homes for longer, but won’t protect renters from no-fault evictions beyond the three years, currently possible under Section 21 of the Housing Act. Section 21 allows landlords to evict tenants who have done nothing wrong with just two months’ notice, and given that the party passed a motion at this year’s conference to abolish it, its omission from the manifesto is surprising. The party’s ambition to eradicate homelessness is welcome, but must involve ending Section 21. No-fault evictions were responsible for around 10% of all homelessness cases last year.

The policies are restated in different terms elsewhere in the manifesto, under the rough sleeping section, which says the party will “Legislate for longer term tenancies and limits on annual rent increases.” Legislating for is better than promoting, and limiting rent increases is better than linking them to inflation – but consistency would also help.

Safe and decent homes

The manifesto proposes to

Improve protections against rogue landlords through mandatory licensing.

Licensing has been shown to help councils keep track of rented properties locally, target resources effectively and streamline enforcement against landlords who fail basic standards. The manifesto doesn’t go into any further detail on what standards landlords would have to meet, or whether this would be decided at a local or national level. An effective licensing scheme needs comprehensive data on landlords, properties and rents to give local authorities intelligence they need to enforce standards, and must be contingent on landlords maintaining good safety standards in their properties.

The Lib Dems want a “ten-year programme to reduce energy consumption”, in which they would “increase minimum energy efficiency standards for privately rented properties and remove the cost cap on improvements” and offer “free energy retrofits for low-income homes”. This is essential in addressing the climate emergency and ending fuel poverty. As many of the least efficient homes are existing private rented stock, a new licensing scheme would help to ensure existing homes meet the highest energy efficiency standards.

Fairness & affordability

The Lib Dems have pledged to “help young people into the rental market” by establishing a “Help to Rent” scheme, consisting of a government-backed tenancy deposit loan for first time renters under the age of 30. This is likely aimed at young people struggling to move out of their family home, which is undeniably a growing issue; the ONS discovered last week a 46% rise since 1999 in 20- to 34-year-olds returning home. However, as this loan is only offered to first time renters, its impact will be limited. Many people moving into the private rented sector after experiencing homelessness could be helped by this initiative if it were widened. More renters would benefit from a deposit passport scheme which allowed them to move deposits between landlords when moving home, avoiding upfront costs, as well as measures to prevent unscrupulous landlords from making unfair reductions.

The party’s commitment to building 100,000 homes for social rent each year will go some way towards addressing decades of undersupply of council and social housing stock. However, estimates by Shelter suggest as many as 150,000 a year are needed to meet demand, and ultimately bring prices down. The pledge to increase Local Housing Allowance in line with average rents in an area is welcome, as freezes to LHA since 2011 have left rents unaffordable for tenants in receipt of benefit. Abolishing the Capital Gains Tax-free allowance will go some way towards discouraging property owners from seeing houses as a vehicle for profit, rather than as homes.

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