Ten years of campaigning for renters

On 26th March 2014, Generation Rent launched. We had a team of 5, some big ideas and polling which showed that a third of us faced the dilemma of heating our homes, putting food on the table or paying our rent.

A decade on, to the day, we’re reflecting on what we’ve achieved, what has changed and what still needs to happen to improve life for renters.

As the national voice of private renters, we set out to get all landlords registered, all letting agents licensed, and bring about longer tenancies and more affordable homes.

At the time, we were a fairly lonely voice, with the policy world paying little attention to renting. The scale of the housing crisis was only just becoming apparent, with the 2011 Census finding England’s private renter population had grown to 9 million people. Rent inflation, particularly in London, was gathering pace, and thousands of people were facing Section 21 evictions.

But the only problem as far as the government was concerned was collapsing first time buyer numbers, and sluggish house price inflation. That started to change, painfully and gradually.

In our early years we had several big successes campaigning alongside Shelter and local renter groups in England. In 2015 the Deregulation Act protected tenants from retaliatory evictions, albeit only when your council takes appropriate action.

After a 2014 law requiring letting agents to publish their fees, we were able to make the case to ban fees to tenants entirely. This was announced in 2016 and passed into law in 2019 as the Tenant Fees Act, saving the average renter household £400 every time you move home.

We also supported Karen Buck MP’s campaign in Parliament to give tenants a right to a home fit for human habitation. After her Bill was rejected by the Commons once, the Grenfell Tower Disaster in 2017 led to the government signing it into law the following year. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act has now led to tenants being awarded as much as £80,000 in compensation for living in an unfit home.

Over this time, as we gave a voice to private renters in the national debate, more politicians and think tanks began to recognise that affordable housing meant more than just helping a few more people into home ownership. Wider public attention to housing has given Generation Rent the space to focus on, and raise awareness of, many other problems renters experience.

After initially trying to organise renters at a local level, we switched to supporting the development of renters unions around the country, including the London Renters Union which launched in 2016. We joined forces with these unions and the New Economics Foundation as the End Unfair Evictions Coalition, to campaign for the abolition of arbitrary Section 21 evictions.

Halfway through our first decade we thought we had achieved much of what we had originally set ourselves to do. In 2017, the May government committed to regulate letting agents; in 2018 it consulted on a redress scheme for private landlords, and in 2019 it announced a commitment to scrap Section 21.

But the wheels of progress turn slowly and nearly five years on, Section 21 is still in place and the Bill to abolish it and introduce a register and redress scheme for landlords is held up in Parliament. There is mainstream appetite to make renting fairer and more secure, but a minority of out-of-touch MPs are holding it up. Regulation of letting agents is even further away.

Regardless of whether the Renters Reform Bill passes into law before the next General Election, there will be a lot more to do. Renters need more protection when our landlord wants to sell or move in, deposits need reform to make it easier to move when we want, and rents have never been less affordable. Many of us are still facing agonising choices over heating, eating and paying rent.

There are now 12 million private renters in England and another 1.5 million in the devolved nations. Generation Rent has now grown to nine members of staff, including the Renters Reform Coalition secretariat. We are the only organisation that speaks for all of us.

Our focus has given us unique insights into private renting, allowing us to identify and campaign on issues that wouldn’t occur to anyone else, including the rise of holiday lets and their impact on rents in rural Britain, the energy price shock of 2022 on poorly insulated rented homes, and the particular exposure of minority ethnic, migrant and other marginalised people to problems in the private rented sector.

When the pandemic hit we were in a good position to understand the different approaches to protecting tenants in the devolved nations. We now doing more to make sure lessons learned in one part of the UK are applied when another part is looking at the same issue. We are now working closely with Holyrood and Cardiff as lawmakers there develop rent policy, as well as with Westminster, and look forward to the opportunities that come with Stormont’s return.

The renter population has not only grown in the past ten years, it has aged. More of us are living with the same issues we were up against in the mid-2010s. We know that a lot has to change. In the past ten years we’ve done a lot, but just think what we can do in the next decade.

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Individual Advice

Generation Rent can’t offer advice about individual problems. Here are a few organisations that can:

You might also find quick but informal help on ACORN’s Facebook forum, and there are more suggestions on The Renters Guide.