Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP: Why the government must prioritise rental reform

'Research by the housing charity Shelter show that every 7 minutes in England, a Section 21 notice is served to a household.'


Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP is Co-Chair of the APPG on Renters and Rental Reform and Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven

One of my reasons for holding a backbench debate last Thursday on the Rental Reform White Paper, was to try and speed up the somewhat sluggish progress of securing legislation so that we can all start to fix the problems in the Private Rented Sector (PRS).

Quoting my good friend Karen Buck MP from Thursday’s debate I have to agree that I too;

“…was struck by the speeches of Conservative Back Benchers, who sounded—well—like us, really.”

This raises the question that with such clear political consensus from Conservative MPs that rental reform is urgently needed, why do we still not have a date for publication of the Rental Reform Bill?

As we heard in the debate from all MPs, there is much that needs to be fixed and even when legislation is in place, correcting such a huge chunk of the property market is not going to happen overnight.

The rental market houses around a fifth of the UK population and is predicted to rise by a further 24% over the next four years. It’s not just the young who are renting, 1.13 million-over 50’s now rent, an increase from 651,000 just a decade ago.

This debate at it’s very core is how we can create a private rented sector that is stable, affordable, safe and where all parties have access to justice when things go wrong.

MP after MP gave examples of their constituents being treated unfairly.

We heard about repairs either not being done or shoddy workmanship that in some cases was downright dangerous. In one of the ‘rental horror stories’ sent to me, a renter from Sheffield wrote about live exposed wiring sticking out of the wall in their children’s bedroom.

We heard numerous stories of Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions and a particularly poignant example was given by my Co-Chair of the APPG on Rental Reform, Natalie Elphicke who told us about a young mother and her two- year old child who have been given notice to quit by a private landlord in Dover and have been desperately looking for alternative accommodation without success…the eviction date is Christmas day.

Research by the housing charity Shelter show that every 7 minutes in England, a Section 21 notice is served to a household.

I accept that fixing the PRS is complex and multifaceted and the levers that drive the market vary between urban, rural and seaside areas.

We know that all over the UK Council house waiting lists run into the thousands with all those people hoping for an affordable secure home and little prospect of getting it.

Selaine Saxby MP for North Devon told of 16,000 people on Devon’s housing lists. She said that “even if those lists closed now, at the current rate of building, it would take over 32 years to clear the backlog.”

Each constituency has different pressures. In North Devon, a combination of tourism and changes to tax relief, make it more attractive for landlords to offer short-term holiday lets, rather than long-term rentals to the resident community.  

This has a domino effect.  People who work in pubs and restaurants can’t find anywhere affordable to live so there is a shortage of hospitality workers to serve the many tourists renting out the holiday homes.  Ghost towns are created in the winter as holiday homes sit empty.

Natalie Elphicke, MP for Dover spoke of Kent being pushed to breaking point and community tensions rising due to the number of migrants arriving and putting pressure on the housing market.

The impact on Councils is huge and unforgiving. Some local authorities are having to increase homelessness provision by seven-fold in preparation for the ongoing affordability crisis which is being driven by greed. 

Families being evicted through no fault of their own, are being moved miles away from work, schools, family and friends. Councils are having to fund taxi fares to get the children to school and enable some kind of continuity in their education. As Selaine Saxby MP put it: “At a time when council resources are under pressure, we are adding layer upon layer of extra cost, simply because we do not have enough homes for people to live in.”

In university towns, pressure comes from universities, with family homes turned into HMOs to house the many thousands of students looking for accommodation.

I offer a solution. Dare I say that there should be an opportunity, if not a duty, for universities to house all their students who wish to be housed? Universities could engage in tenancies with the private rented sector. They would be permanent periodic tenancies, and universities could license rooms to their students. That would give the private rented sector the security it needs and students the wraparound support they often require. Such a solution would give universities the knowledge that their students were in safe and secure accommodation.

Renters also need access to justice and once again, there is broad agreement on both side of the House and in the sector on this. Unless we take enforcement and the ability to access redress seriously, this is all a waste of time. The rogue landlords list was set up in 2018 with a great deal of fanfare. It was meant to be a game changer. Earlier this year, the Government were asked how many landlords were on the list. The answer was 61. That makes a joke of the entire system. I could probably name more than 61 in my constituency, let alone the country. That is even more reason why the White Paper’s proposed property portal, which would require all landlords and properties to be registered, is the only way forward. I think that the Government have come to realise that. I genuinely believe that they have seen the error of their ways. That is why they talked about establishing an ombudsperson to  “provide fair, impartial, and binding resolutions for many issues without resorting to court.”

The White Paper goes on to say: “The Ombudsman will have powers to put things right for tenants, including compelling landlords to issue an apology, provide information, take remedial action, and/or pay compensation of up to £25,000.”

That is spot on. It empowers renters and gives them a body to seek redress, but it also means that landlords know that there is a place where they will be fairly heard. That, combined with the removal of section 21, is a life changer for many. It will give people the ability to complain about poor housing.

Intervention is urgently required to make the market work, to remove tension between communities and to create an acceptable balance between everyone’s needs.

I was disappointed that the Government Minister responding to the debate was unable to give a date for publication of the Bill, instead saying they would publish the next steps ‘in due course.’

The Government talk of being committed to reforms, but the only way to show commitment is to give us a date when the Bill will be published.

The market will not fix itself. The Government need to get a sense of urgency and get on with the job of rental reform.

With every day that goes by, the situation gets worse. More people get evicted, more people start sofa surfing or worse, end up on the streets and the pressure on everyone trying to manage housing, intensifies.

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