The Cowan Report: Generation Rent View on Labour-commissioned report’s recommendations.

From the launch of the Cowan Report. The video Generation Rent made is being played in front of an audience.

Last week, a Labour-commissioned ‘Independent Review of the UK’s Private Rented Sector’, authored by Councillor Steve Cowan, leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, was launched in London. Generation Rent took part in the event, with Chief Executive Ben Twomey sitting on the panel, and we also brought the voices of renters directly to the heart of power by collating and showing a video of three of our supporters outlining their miserable experiences of renting in the UK. The consensus from the renters, Ben and the room was clear: renting is broken and needs fixing. ‘The Cowan Report’, as we’re calling it, contains positive recommendations and can be a roadmap to progress if its findings are taken on board by the next government.

The element of the report which made the most headlines was Cowan’s call for rent stabilisation mechanisms which would limit rent increases to the lowest of wage growth and inflation – something that Generation Rent emphasised to him when we were consulted on the document. Rent increases that outstrip both inflation and wage growth are exploitative, create poverty and are used as back door evictions by many landlords. There is no justification for unaffordable rent increases and this would be an important first step in combatting the runaway train that is rents in England. It is imperative that the next government takes on this suggestion – and we are encouraged by Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves’ suggestion that devolution of rent control powers is in Labour’s thinking. All political parties must include this as a part of their offer to renters at the next general election, starting with devolving powers over rents to metro mayors and local authorities.

The Cowan Report also recommends a ‘National Landlords Register’, going further than the private rented sector database proposed by the Renters (Reform) Bill. It would be “more comprehensive, annually updated” and include data on rents as well as “independently verified evidence of compliance with property and management standards and the Decent Homes Standard.” This is designed to root out bad landlords and drive up standards through regular self-declarations of high standards, modelled off HMRC’s model for self submission of VAT returns. Supplying false information or failing to register would be a criminal offence under the proposals, which would be a positive step in forcing out those landlords who don’t care about their tenants’ welfare. Ultimately, it is in the benefit of everyone – tenants, good landlords and society as a whole – that the sector is professionalised with no room left for those who wish to profiteer off substandard homes and tenants’ misery. This is another common-sense proposal which should be taken forward by the next government.

Tenancy reform also forms a part of the report’s recommendations. Going beyond Renters (Reform) Bill proposals, Cowan recommends that sale of a property or moving into a home (unless it was once the landlord’s primary residence) should not be grounds for an eviction. While we would prefer tenants to receive financial support with moving when this ground is used, restricting evictions is a welcome recommendation and this would help tenants to feel secure in their homes and redress the power imbalance between landlords and tenants. This recommendation understands the failings of the Renters (Reform) Bill as currently written and the loopholes that exist within it. Closing them by whichever means necessary must be a priority of the next government. The report also calls for the lowering of the threshold for an anti-social behaviour eviction back to “likely to cause” nuisance, citing Generation Rent’s work.

The report calls for the Decent Homes Standard to be annually updated by the Housing Minister, which would leave scope to introduce more to the minimum standard of housing provision. This could and should include things such as wifi and internet access and higher energy efficiency standards.

A Renters’ Charter and Landlords’ Code of Conduct would be designed to set out the rights of tenants and responsibilities of landlords in a clear and enforceable way, replacing the How to Rent Guide. Included in this is tenants’ access to pet ownership, although the report does qualify when tenants may be allowed to keep a pet. Generation Rent will continue to advocate for tenants to have their pets in their homes unincumbered by unreasonable extra costs and without being left to the whim of their landlord.

Ultimately, this report is very welcome and provides a roadmap to a better future for renters. In particular, its endorsement of a wage-linked rent stabilisation mechanism attempts to slam the brakes the runaway train that is rental costs and improve the lives of tenants. Its focus on standards by re-setting the decent homes standard each year is also a progressive step, while a focus on keeping tenants in their homes is key.

While some elements, including relocation payments for unfairly evicted tenants, are missing from the recommendations, this report should be seen as a positive blueprint for change and should be at the centre of the next government’s offer to renters. Implementing the recommendations of this report would improve renting, and the lives of England’s renters, for the better. Generation Rent will continue to advocate for a fairer deal for renters and will keep pushing this government and the next to deliver safe, secure and affordable rented homes for all.


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