As Parliament dissolves today and purdah begins, we’ve taken a look at everything the Government has, and hasn’t, done for renters.
Let’s look at the positives:
Last week, the Government finally outlawed retaliatory evictions by introducing legislation that protects tenants from being evicted by their landlord in cases where the local authority has issued an improvement notice. Landlords will not be allowed to evict tenants where they have not complied with certain legal obligations indulging supplying gas Safety Certificates and Energy performance Certificates. It is also no longer possible to serve a section 21 eviction notice at the start of a tenancy – the landlord will have to wait a minimum of four months before they can serve an eviction notice. They have also laid provisions for secondary legislation that could prevent landlords from serving a valid section 21 notice before they have given their tenants key information about their rights and responsibilities.
Letting Agents are now required to publicise a full breakdown of their fees, state whether or not they are a member of a client money protection scheme and which of the three Government-approved redress schemes they have joined, prominently in their offices and on their website. All of this comes into effect on 27th May 2015 – however the requirement to belong to a redress scheme has been in force since October 2014. Yet, in a report by Citizens Advice Bureau, published last week, they note that 18% of letting agents they surveyed are still not a member of a redress scheme. It is up to the already overstretched local authorities to enforce this, but without additional resources or money from the Government, they lack the capacity to do so.
The Government published a How to Rent guide and issued a Model Tenancy Agreement which they claim is to address the rights and responsibilities of both parties. Whilst advice for renters is welcome, these have not been widely publicised, nor is the model tenancy agreement legally enforceable – landlords and agents can use whatever tenancy agreement they like and the tenant has no choice in the matter. It is this overwhelming balance of power in favour of landlords and agents that ultimately needs to be addressed. Voluntary, self-regulation has been shown to influence the behaviour of only a tiny percentage of players in the market, and will continue to fail to change the PRS in the ways that are needed.
The Government has also introduced fire safety regulations which will come into force on 1st October 2015 making smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms mandatory in all privately rented accommodation – excellent news for renters (and the Fire Brigade).
In addition, Government introduced additional criteria for landlord licensing, including poor property conditions, an influx of migration, high levels of deprivation and high levels of crime but, as pointed out below, these positives came at a price.
Finally, there have also been increased protection for long standing tenants as landlords will now be required to protect deposits of tenants whose tenancy began before April 2007 (when deposit protection law came into force) and are unable to use a section 21 notice until they have done so.
And the negatives:
Selective licensing has been made harder for local authorities to implement on a large scale – with permission needed from the Secretary of State for licensing over 20% of the geographical area or 20% of privately rented homes. The Government has refused to consider a National Register of Landlords, something we are campaigning for to help local authorities protect renters from rogue landlords.
The retaliatory eviction legislation did not go as far as we would have liked to protect renters from rogue landlords. If the local authority has issued hazard awareness notices instead of improvement notices, renters are not protected. There has also been no legislation on electrical safety, despite faulty electrics killing one person every week. There are simple measures that could be introduce, see our campaign here.
The Government has refused to ban letting fees for tenants and end the practice of double charging landlord and tenants for the same services rendered, even though this is illegal in every other industry
The Government has done little for security of tenure. The minimum tenancy length is still 6 months and whilst they claim that their Model Tenancy Agreement can be used for longer tenancies, there has been no action to extend the minimum tenancy length. Without security of tenure beyond 6 months, tenants are left vulnerable to eviction and families risk having their lives repeatedly disrupted.
The Government has done nothing to tackle the ever-soaring rents. Tenants are struggling to pay their rent right now and the promise of building homes that will eventually bring costs down, is of no help to those who are having to choose between paying their rent and eating. The prolific rise of food banks over the last few years shows is indicative of this situation – after all it is not the cost of food that drives people to food banks, but the sheer unaffordability of housing costs.
We have suggested a range of measures to help with the affordability of housing including:
- A secondary housing market where new homes are sold at cost price on the condition that they become part of a regulated market of controlled rents and limited house price increases.
- A levy on landlords to recoup the billions of pounds of housing benefit they receive. This money could then fund new social homes.
- Local flexible rent caps where landlords can opt out as long as they pay some of their rent charged above the cap into a local social housing fund.
In addition to specific measures for renters, the Government has failed to increase the supply of homes that this country so badly needs. There have been various pledges from political parties about how many homes they will build but very little action. Whoever wins the upcoming election, the new government will need to commit to ongoing and radical action to end the housing crisis. Generation Rent will be pushing politicians in the next parliament to show the necessary political will to do this, but we will also be reminding them – the 11 million renters across the country are getting organised, and MPs’ futures are in their hands.