2023 End of Year Blog

2023 will soon be over so before the year ends we thought it would be a good idea to look back on all the highlights (and lowlights) from the past year.

Bill publication, second reading, committee and beyond

The most important thing to happen this year was the publication of the Renters (Reform) Bill in May and its journey through Parliament since. This was a huge moment for our campaigns for the abolition of Section 21 evictions and the introduction of a national landlord register. Read our initial reaction.

We had a long wait until the Bill was actually debated in the House of Commons, and the Second Reading debate was only held in October after the government told backbenchers that Section 21 abolition faced further delays.

We covered the Second Reading and the remarks MPs made extensively on Twitter and you can read the full thread here. The Bill has since progressed through Committee Stage where MPs heard from witnesses including our Chief Executive Ben Twomey, the government made a mixed bag of amendments, while changes we have called for to strengthen the Bill were discussed but rejected at this stage.

There are some elements of the Bill that could be improved, such as the expansion of Awaab’s Law into the private rented sector, to give renters across all tenures the right protection that they need from disrepair. The Bill could also be tweaked to make Rent Repayment Orders more readily available for renters if the property they are renting is not registered with the government’s Property Portal.

We will continue to campaign for these changes to be made to the Bill as it continues its progress through Parliament next year.

Appointment of new Chief Executive

In June, Ben Twomey, formerly Director of Policy and Communications at the National Youth Advocacy Service, and co-chair of the Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers, joined as Generation Rent as our new Chief Executive, taking over from Alicia Kennedy who had held the role for three years.

Energy Efficiency in the Private Rented Sector

The cold and damp conditions that are present in many private rented homes can damage both our health and personal finances which is why Generation Rent has worked extensively this year to both campaign for improved energy efficiency and against the negative impact of damp and mould in homes.

In March, during our #MouldMarch social media takeover we revealed that 1,100 private rented homes with serious mould problems would not be covered by Awaab’s Law, an amendment to the Social Housing Regulations Act, passed in the wake of the death of Awaab Ishak as a result of mould in the home he was living in. Mould has been shown to be a bigger problem in private rented homes than social homes.

In August we published a report on how public funding for insulation is failing to get through to private renters and how better protections from rent rises and evictions could fix this.

Unfortunately in September, the government took a huge step backwards when Rishi Sunak announced that landlords would not face higher minimum energy efficiency standards. Our supporters survey found that fears of rent rises, evictions, or landlord refusal were putting off 48% of private renters from applying for grants which would improve their home’s energy efficiency and cut their bills. These government backed grants should be an important means of ensuring that homes are not only warmer but more environmentally friendly, helping to offset the carbon footprint of the average home – particularly important for the private rented sector where the housing stock is on average older than in other tenures.

Migrant private renters are particularly vulnerable to damp and mould with our recent work with Birmingham council in the Lozells ward demonstrated, with 55% of those surveyed saying they had experienced damp or mould in their homes.

Affordability in the private rented sector

In the nearly ten years we’ve been campaigning, affordability of private rents has never been such a big problem.

Our supporter survey found that rents had increased for a clear majority of our supporters – 60% said they had faced a rent increase in the past year. We also found that one major reason for rising rents was 300,000 young adults moving out of their parents’ homes since mid-2021, creating a surge in demand.

Affordability has been a particular issue for those in receipt of housing benefit or Universal Credit. Dogged campaigning forced the Chancellor to announce last month that he would increase the amount of local housing allowance that renters would get, this figure will again be frozen after next April, meaning that any improvement in the poorest renters’ ability to find an affordable home will be short-lived.

In the wider economy the big story of the year has been the sharp rise in mortgage rates. Some commentators have blamed rising rents on this, but in July we demonstrated why it is only a small part of the problem. It remains an area of concern where landlords are forced to sell up and evict their tenants in the process. In August, our Chief Executive Ben Twomey wrote to the main mortgage lenders asking them to commit to ensuring that renters would not be evicted from their homes if their landlords fall behind on mortgage payments.

Higher interest rates could yet see house prices fall, which may benefit some renters. We looked at how long it takes for renters to save up for a deposit to buy a home, finding the wait has vastly increased in the past decade. It takes nearly 18 years on average to save for a mortgage deposit in London, with the average saving time in England standing at 10 years, demonstrating the scale of the housing crisis that we are in.

Discrimination Against Ethnic Minority Renters

Work led by Tilly Smith, our Campaigns and Partnerships Officer, has demonstrated the scale of discrimination faced by renters from ethnic minorities in the private rented sector. In May, we released new evidence from a survey that showed that minority ethnic respondents were more than twice as likely to have experienced faulty electrics than white British or Irish respondents. Similarly, 38% of minority ethnic respondents had been threatened with an eviction compared to 28% of white British or Irish respondents and 19% of minority ethnic respondents had been threatened with court action by their landlord or letting agent compared to 8% of white British or Irish respondents.

These shocking findings were only compounded by research published in November which showed that on a rental listings site white people were 36% more likely to receive a positive response when applying to rent a room than Black people. Working with Sky News on this story we told the story of Paris, a private renter who had experienced racism throughout the private rented sector and as such was not shocked to see the level of discrimination ethnic minority renters faced.

Finally, this month we demonstrated the struggles that South Asian renters faced in Southall, thanks to help from the local MP Virinder Sharma, and that black renters were 68% more likely to have negative consequences of the Vagrancy Act which turns 200 next year.

Predatory adverts clamped down on under the Online Safety Bill

Content warning: Sexual offences.

After a successful campaign by Generation Rent, the Online Safety Act will target predators seeking exploitative arrangements often referred to as ‘Sex for Rent’. ‘Sex for Rent’ is a practice whereby a landlord or letting agent offers free or discounted rent in exchange for sexual conduct. The Act will ensure that illegal content, including ‘Sex for Rent’ adverts, will have to be removed. If social media platforms do not comply with these rules, Ofcom could fine them up to £18 million or 10% of their global annual revenue, whichever is biggest.

Refugees and migrants at risk in the private rented sector

Refugees have sadly continued to face discrimination in the private rented sector this year. Ukrainian refugees were particularly badly hit, as our research in partnership with Opora, released in March, found that 67% of those surveyed had found it difficult to find somewhere to rent because they were a refugee and over half of respondents found it difficult to find somewhere affordable to live.

Equally, the evidence we presented to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration as part of their call for evidence on the link between immigration, asylum and refugee policy on poverty, nearly three quarters of migrant private renters had struggled to find somewhere affordable to rent, with 40% finding it difficult to find the money for a deposit.

Voter registration report

Last month in the House of Lords, we launched our report, “Gaining Our Voice: The growing private rented sector and voter registration”, which analysed Census data and found that 194 constituencies in England have populations containing 20% or more private renters, up from 114 in 2011. A big trend in the past decade is the suburbanisation of the private renter population, with many renters forced to move further and further out of the cities in order to find somewhere more affordable to rent, particularly those of us with families.

This report is part of a wider project that aims to get more private renters registered to vote and engaged with politics over the next year as the UK prepares for local, regional, mayoral elections and a General Election.

Holiday Lets Legislation

This year has also seen some progress on the regulation of Holiday Lets. Tax breaks and looser regulations mean Holiday Lets, take homes away from private renters, with some parts of England running just to stay still in terms of building more homes, as we revealed in June. In April, the government set out new proposals on holiday lets which would mean in some areas homes would need to get planning permission to become a holiday let and also be registered with their local authority as a holiday let. It’s good that the government set out these proposals, but, as we argued in our responses, they should have gone much further.

However, one problem with the planning changes is that they do nothing about the number of homes that have already left the sector and become holiday lets – they would automatically be granted planning permission, meaning those homes would likely not return to the private rented sector or the open market anytime soon. This will of course have a negative impact on the availability of homes for renters and those seeking to buy a home.

Renters Rights Awareness Week

This October we held our third annual Renters Rights Awareness Week, offering a variety of webinars to supporters of Generation Rent. Webinars were held on pets, repairs, evictions, affording your rent, the responsibilities of landlords and letting agents and a Vent Your Rent session.

The week was accompanied by a podcast in which Tom Darling, Campaigns Manager of the Renters Reform Coalition and Conor O’Shea, Generation Rent’s Policy and Public Affairs Manager discussed the Bill and its implications for private renters.

That was our 2023 year in review.

We are looking forward to 2024 when we should see the Renters (Reform) Bill passed by Parliament and become law.

Whether it protects tenants properly depends on our campaigning which is only possible because of the generous support of our supporters. If you would like to join the fight to protect renters and make sure everyone has an affordable, secure, quality home, please join Generation Rent as a member, which costs as little as £1 a month.

If you can’t afford to join as a member then why not consider signing up to our Renters Panel, to make your voice heard and take part in our research?

However you celebrate, we hope you have a restful festive season and we’ll see you in the New Year.


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