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How can Labour create a fair deal for renters?

The UK's housing sector is broken, with millions of people now spending at least half their monthly income on rent.

By Spotlight

Housing in Britain is in a sorry state. One in 50 people in London are homeless and living in emergency homes due to exorbitant housing costs. Across the country, the average private renter pays more than a third of their wages in rent to a landlord, and many of those same individuals are forced to live in damp, dark and mouldy conditions. The current system is clearly unsustainable, and unliveable.

Labour – which, according to polling, is on course to form the next government – will have its work cut out if the party is to rectify this issue. New Statesman Spotlight assembled a panel of experts from across the housing sector to answer the question: What should Labour do to create a fair deal for renters and to make renting more affordable?

“We need to ban no-fault evictions and build more council homes”

Anny Cullum, policy officer and researcher at Acorn tenants’ union

“A new Labour government should start by ending no-fault evictions, as was first promised by the Conservatives in 2019, giving renters the ability to make their house a home without fear of losing the roof over their head for no reason. This would immediately help lift the burden of insecurity and poor standards for 12 million private renters in England. 

“We need to see this properly enforced, with tough action taken against rule-breaking landlords and those who make a quick profit from renting out unsafe and insecure homes.

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“Rent control and stabilisation measures should be implemented to get a grip on runaway rents that are placing huge financial burdens on those living in rented accommodation. Continuously high rents can result in debt, displacement and the upheaval of communities.

“Ultimately though, we need to build many, many more social and council homes, something noticeably absent in Labour’s housing announcements so far. This will help to fix our broken housing system, bring prices down across the board and make sure everyone has a safe, secure and affordable home which can prove so vital for a healthy and happy life.”

“Landlords should not profit from the misery of renters”

Ben Twomey, chief executive of Generation Rent UK

“Renting is broken. Too many of us live in poor quality and unaffordable homes, under the constant threat of eviction. Fixing these problems must be at the heart of any election offer.

“We need to see a full ban on no-fault evictions and proper protections when we face losing our homes as tenants. A new government must act quickly to slam the brakes on soaring rents, by limiting rises to the lowest of inflation or local wage growth, while building homes in places people want to live. A Decent Homes Standard must be introduced along with a proper enforcement process so landlords cannot profit from the misery of renters.

“Any effort to end homelessness, reduce poverty, improve health or tackle inequality must have renters at its heart. Enormous waiting lists mean that social housing isn’t available for those of us who need it, while runaway rent costs mean home ownership isn’t available for those of us who want it. We are trapped in private renting, but it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a world in which renters, with strengthened rights and flexibility, could be the envy of home owners. That feels a long way off, but without that ambition then renters will always be getting a raw deal.”

“We need at least 90,000 new social homes a year”

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter

“Tackling the housing emergency head on by making renting safer, more secure, and affordable should be a top priority for any political party. Decades of failure to build enough social housing have broken our housing system, with millions forced to pay eye-watering sums for shoddy private rental homes where the threat of eviction looms large.

“Labour has said it will scrap no-fault evictions; it must do this with no caveats or loopholes. Tenants can no longer tolerate a system where they can lose their home for no reason, with barely any notice.

“Rent increases also need limiting so no one is slapped with an unexpected and unwarranted rent hike during their tenancy. With rents already at record highs, sudden increases are often the straw that breaks the camel’s back, leaving people unable to pay, and at risk of homelessness. 

“Last but not least, building a new generation of social homes, with rents tied to local incomes is fundamental. Labour’s pledge to build 1.5 million homes is welcome, but social homes must be at the heart of this; we need at least 90,000 a year, so people who need them can afford them.”

“Policy reform must also ensure security for responsible landlords”

Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association

“We believe Labour must prioritise effectively using existing enforcement powers to crack down on rogue and criminal landlords.

“Our research shows that too often renters face a postcode lottery when it comes to their council’s ability to enforce the standards they should rightly expect. The key causes of this are council cuts, a lack of staff and the level of importance some local authorities attach to enforcement.

“But what about affordability issues? The only way to address problems in this area is to tackle the root cause of rising rents. The Bank of England and the Institute for Fiscal Studies both state these result from a combination of growing costs for the sector, and ultimately high demand for a limited number of private rented homes. 

“Finally, we recognise and accept Labour’s commitment to ending Section 21 repossessions. However, just as tenants need security, it is essential that the replacement system also works for responsible landlords.

“To that end, we agree with the shadow housing minister Matthew Pennycook, who has argued that: ‘Landlords need robust grounds for possessions in legitimate circumstances, and they need the system to operate quickly when they do.’”

“People in social homes need equal access to building safety funding”

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation

“Years of underinvestment has caused a severe shortage of social housing and now even people on the lowest incomes cannot access a social rent home. Instead, they are living in expensive and insecure private rented homes.

“This is affecting people across the whole country and of all ages; the number of older private renters has increased by 70 per cent in the past decade. Only social homes are truly affordable and secure for those on low incomes, as their rents are regulated, and the tenancies are typically for life. Therefore, the only way to create a fair deal for low-income renters is to dramatically increase the number of social rented homes across the country.

“Ahead of the election, we are calling on all parties to commit a long-term plan for housing that invests in existing homes, including giving social tenants equal access to the Building Safety Fund, and provides the policies and funding needed to build a generation of new social homes.”

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