Tenants targeted by sexual predators in cost-of-living crisis

With the cost of living crisis impacting the most vulnerable members of society, it is more important than ever that change is made to protect those renters who are targeted by sexual predators – that’s why we have submitted evidence to the government’s consultation on predatory arrangements known as ‘Sex for Rent’.

We are calling for:

  • A dedicated ‘Sex for Rent’ law targeting predatory landlords and letting agents.
  • Increased legal aid so that all can access representation, support, and justice.
  • Increased support to protect financially vulnerable renters from being forced or coerced into ‘Sex for Rent’ arrangements by raising Local Housing Allowance, scrapping the benefits cap, and increasing Discretionary Housing Payments funding to local authorities.

Amid a cost-of-living crisis, it is more vital than ever that vulnerable renters are given the support they need in order to protect them from predators.

Private renters have been hit particularly hard by the crisis, with rents on new tenancies having risen by 22% since March 2021, according to Zoopla data. Meanwhile, Shelter reported in September 2022 that almost 2.5 million renters were either behind or constantly struggling to pay their rent – an increase of 45% since April 2022. As renters increasingly struggle to pay the rent, there is a real risk that more will be propositioned by their landlord and forced into ‘Sex for Rent’ arrangements.

Concerns of vulnerable renters being forced into ‘Sex for Rent’ arrangements are grounded in evidence of clear targeting by predators of women on lower-incomes and insecure incomes.

Research conducted by us and Mumsnet in December 2022 revealed the prevalence of ‘Sex for Rent’ arrangements in the UK, with estimates showing that over 200,000 female private renters could have been offered free or discounted rent in exchange for sexual favours.

4% of private renters who responded to the survey reported that they had been offered discounted or free rent by a landlord or letting agent. The survey received a total of 1045 responses.

Shockingly, this figure rose to 1 in 10 respondents with incomes of less than £20,000.

Testimonies from the survey reveal that vulnerable women (especially financially vulnerable women) are most at risk of being targeted by predators for ‘Sex for Rent’.

One respondent said: “I was a young girl of 17 with a baby renting to get away from an abusive family at the time when I was approached by one of the two landlords who owned the property I was staying at. He intimidated me continuously, making me feel extremely ugly, horrible, that I was a cheap girl that needed him and his help. When I turned him down, he got so nasty.” 

As well as explicit ‘Sex for Rent’ propositions, respondents also reported that more general predatory behaviour was often displayed by landlords and letting agents during periods of economic instability.

Another respondent said: “Both times the landlord has used my poverty (being a student then being a young person fleeing abuse) to ask for sex/make lewd comments, knowing I depend on a reference from him to move elsewhere.”

The government’s call-for-evidence is a vital opportunity to make sure that private renters are given the protections they need from predators. With the cost-of-living crisis raging on, not enough is being done to ensure that private renters are kept safe in their homes. More must be done to protect women with lower and insecure incomes, minority ethnic women, members of the LGBTQ+ community and people who have no recourse to public funds.

A new law would enable victims of ‘Sex for Rent’ to seek justice, however without adequate court funding and support for struggling renters, this exploitative and predatory practice will remain a disturbing feature of the Private Rented Sector.

Tilly Smith, our Campaigns and Partnerships Officer, was recently interviewed for a new documentary about ‘Sex for Rent’ which you can view here.


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