A general view of housing near Herne Hill in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Labour will get Britain building to tackle high rents

The lack of supply is the principal cause of unaffordable rents and house prices. 

Today Ed Miliband announced that a Labour government would legislate to make three year long-term tenancies with predictable rents the norm and ban letting fees being charged to tenants, as part of our plan to deal with the cost of living crisis.

Nine million people now rent privately in England. And it’s not just young people: 1.3 million families also live in privately rented housing, and for far too many of them that means a great deal of insecurity. They have to live with the uncertainty that their rents could jump up from one year to the next and that they won't be able to stay in their home. 

Labour will make three year tenancies the norm. If a tenant wants a shorter tenancy, they will of course be able to get one, but the default will be that they can have three years as of right.  As long as they pay their rent, don’t commit anti-social behaviour or crime, or damage the property, they should have the stability to make their flat or house a home in the local community. Of course if a landlord needs to move back in or sell the property, they’ll have the ability to do so. But the default will be clear. This is also good for landlords because what they want are good tenants paying the rent every month of the year, rather than tenants moving in and out which means there are times they are getting no rent at all.

On rents, we’re suggesting that they be set initially, just as happens now, between the landlord and the tenant in line with the market and after negotiation. But once that rent is set, landlords should not be able to put it up unfairly or disproportionately during the term of the three year tenancy. At present, tenants can face unpredictable and costly rent hikes if they want to renew each year. So we will legislate to set a ceiling on any increase; what this ceiling will be will be decided on the basis of consultation with tenants, policy experts and, of course, landlords.

On lettings agents, we will ban charges being levied on tenants, rather like what happens with estate agents, where it is the vendor who pays all the agent’s fees and charges and not the buyer. Some lettings agent charges can be disproportionately high and can involve both the landlord and the tenant being charged for the same thing; for example charging both landlord and tenant £100 just for a credit reference check. We will put an end to this.

But we don’t just want to deal with the private rented sector’s problems to offer more security and stability. We all know that the lack of homes being built is the principal cause of high rents and high house prices. And that’s why Ed Miliband has pledged to get Britain building. We want to be building 200,000 homes a year by the end of the next Parliament. The Tories have presided over the lowest level of housebuilding in peacetime since the 1920s and ours is an ambitious target. So we’ve pledged to work with communities and local authorities to unlock land and consent to build a new generation of homes, including new towns and garden cities.

I believe that in the same way that so many young renters, their parents and families locked out of owning their own home have reacted positively to Ed’s announcement today, communities around the country do see that we need to build more homes. Otherwise we will condemn Generation Rent to insecurity and the possibility of never having a home of their own.

In this way, we can help people who either want to rent, or are having to rent, to enjoy the peace of mind that they can be part of their community, put down roots, send their children to school, keep their local job and not have to pick up their belongings and lives and move. Peace of mind that they can plan their finances and not have to worry that they might be out of their home if the rent suddenly jumps up. And peace of mind that a Labour government will work hard to ensure they get the chance to buy a place of their own.

Hilary Benn is shadow communities and local government secretary, and MP for Leeds Central 

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.