Tenant fee bill

Party conferences call for shake up of PRS

Whilst the political world seems heavily focused on Brexit, there is still a significant amount of interest at the state of the housing market, and the PRS is a large element that can’t be ignored.

As we settle into party conference season, it has become clear that landlords are a hot topic for every political party.

Liberal Democrat Party

The first major party to raise the issue was the Liberal Democrats, at their party conference in Brighton on the 15th- 18th September. The Liberal Democrat party called for a number of changes to be made across the PRS, including the introduction of mandatory licensing for all privately rented homes and lengthy extension of notice periods.

The party also noted the importance of:

  • An amendment to the Housing Act 1988, requiring landlords to increase notice periods from two months to six months
  • A database of rogue landlords to be made publicly available
  • An expansion in the Right to own scheme, allowing tenants to pay rent to housing associations, in return for an ownership stake in the property over time.
  • The promotion of longer private tenancies, with rent increases linked to inflation or wage increases
  • A right to buy, or first refusal option, for sitting tenants if a landlord chooses to sell a property
  • A cap on tenant deposits
  • A ban on letting agents fees
  • Higher quality safety and environmental standards in the existing housing stock, which will require the additional features being fitted to four million homes to bring the up to new standards
  • An increase to 500% council tax levied is homes are bought as investment properties, and then left empty for long periods
  • A stamp duty surcharge on overseas residents purchasing investment properties that are then left empty
  • An amendment to the Housing Act 1988, requiring landlords to increase notice periods from two months to six months

Over the last decade Government subsidies for rent through housing benefit have tripled to around £25 billion (of which £10 billion goes to private landlords) when subsidies to increase the supply of social housing have declined to around £1 billion a year. Too many people have been forced into the private rented sector which now provides one fifth of all homes in the UK, a third of which fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard.

Statement from Liberal Democrat Party

Labour Party

The next party to have their say was the Labour Party, at their conference in Liverpool on 23rd September.

Labour were similarly vocal on the current state of the PRS, with John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary calling for a wide range of reforms to the sector. Healey suggested:

  • Putting more power in the hands of the tenants through the creation and support (via a £20m fund) of Renters Unions. The Unions would be designed to provide information, the availability of representatives to accompany tenants to meetings with landlords, support in disputes, and give tenants a stronger national voice to help demand better conditions and a fairer system.
  • Following calls from Scottish Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, a reform giving cities the ability to implement rent controls was suggested
  • Call for the scrapping of Section 21
  • Introduction of three-year tenancies
  • A ban on letting agent fees
  • The introduction of new minimum legal standards to ensure homes are “fit for human habitation”.
  • Labour’s living rent homes, will have rents set at a third of average local incomes

Our country needs change. Change that gives people the help they need, the hope they crave, the chance they deserve... of a safe, secure and affordable place they can call home. From Government, we will lead a new national housing mission which demands more of all - from commercial housebuilders to housing associations, from lenders to landlords, from tenants to local councils.

Shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey MP

Conservative Party

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire MP’s focus was primarily on the requirement for home buyers, but that didn’t mean the PRS escaped the spotlight completely.

He mentioned how renters needed a fair deal too, reiterating the Government’s current commitments to reforming the private rented sector.

We’ve created a rogue landlord’s database to identify the worst offenders. We are banning unfair letting agent fees being passed onto tenants and capped deposit costs too.

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire MP

The most significant change to the sector didn’t come from Brokenshire though, but instead the Prime Minister, during her closing speech.

All eyes were on the Theresa May, as she took to the podium on Tuesday to make her closing speech. Following last year’s speech, which saw her plagued by falling letters, a persistent cough a d prankster handing her a P45, this year could certainly go no worse…

Her closing remarks in the (much smoother!) speech was aimed at the reform of local authority borrowing, as a jolt to get councils building again. She pledged £9bn to councils within the Affordable Housing Scheme, lifting the government cap on how much can be borrowed again their Housing Revenue Account assets to fund new developments.

The move has been widely welcomed, with experts celebrating the change as a large and positive step, however there is still warnings that the changes do not go far enough:

The Government needs to form a clear strategy. If it's serious about tackling the biggest domestic policy challenge of this generation, then it needs more thought as to what the answers should be before they come up with a to-do list. There seems to be no real appreciation of how housing in this country has changed; just an assumption that more housebuilding will create more homeowners. If the main aim is to enable more people to own their own home, that requires radical and wider action - not just on housebuilding but on a range of other issues, not least finance and affordability. But I still question if those who will be renting long term, possibly for their entire lives, have been taken into consideration. The Conservative party needs to face up to the challenge of meeting their needs as well.

Richard Lambert, CEO of the National Landlords Association

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