Opinion

General Election 2024: What next for rental reforms? All parties must vow to support renters

The Renters Reform Bill was diluted, delayed and ditched by the Tories. All parties must commit to a bill that tackles the renting crisis, writes Renters Reform Coalition's Tom Darling

Renters Reform Bill failed to tackling private renting crisis

Renters marched on Parliament calling for the Renters Reform Bill to support tenants. But it failed when Rishi Sunak called a general election. Image: Renters' Reform Coalition

Private renting in England has reached a crisis point – we spend a higher share of our income on housing here than almost anywhere else in Europe, in exchange for a worse experience, with houses that are on average smaller, older and lower quality.

The symptoms of our broken housing system are nowhere more evident than in the appalling levels of homelessness we are currently seeing. Soaring numbers of evictions have forced unprecedented numbers of people into temporary accommodation, which is often unsuitable, cramped and unhealthy. The cost of providing even this woefully insufficient service is pushing many councils towards the brink of bankruptcy.

The number of children living in these conditions, also at a record high, and all that means for their life chances, ought to be a particular source of national shame.

Meanwhile many of those who can afford a place to rent are putting their futures on hold due to the renting crisis. The basic insecurity of renting – an unaffordable rent hike or a no-fault eviction constantly dangling menacingly over one’s head – prevents renters from putting down roots in their local communities. And with almost a quarter of renters spending over 40% of their income on rent, for so many the dream of home ownership, the prospect of saving enough to put a deposit down on a home, has become little more than that – a dream.

Against this grim backdrop, the response of policymakers has been at times been maddeningly inadequate.

At the 2019 general election, all the major parties stood on platforms which offered renters a better deal and the end to section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, the practice which underpins our unbalanced renting system by giving landlords the power to evict tenants on a whim and without a reason.

The last five years have seen an abortive attempt to deliver on that promise – with the government initially setting out a package of reforms that were a good starting point in changing the private rented sector. We campaign groups watched on in horror as these reforms were first delayed, then diluted, and – finally – ditched, as the government called a general election and failed to pass the bill on Parliament’s last two sitting days.

So what do renters – who make up 20% of households in England – need to hear from politicians at this election?

First and foremost, we need an end to no-fault evictions – in full – immediately. The Big Issue’s blueprint for change is right to highlight this – no fault evictions are at the heart of our broken renting system. We have been pleased to be working alongside the Big Issue as a partner organisation in the campaign for this crucial change.

Big Issue is demanding an end to poverty this general election. Will you sign our open letter to party leaders?

We also want to hear the parties – all parties – commit to a Renters Reform Bill that is in keeping with the scale of the emergency we face. That means closing loopholes that would allow landlords to continue no fault evictions by the backdoor, through tougher measures to stop landlords abusing the new system, longer notice periods, longer average tenancies, and a limit on how much rent can be increased within a tenancy, to stop unaffordable rent hikes being de facto no-fault evictions.

These policies would be a start – and I’d hope that any party that sees clearly the challenge before them would commit to them. But the next government can, and should, look to go further for tenants.

Big Issue founder John Bird rightly observes that the “the time has gone for a light-touch approach” – the next government must offer a serious programme of clear and real change. Tinkering around the edges won’t get the job done, and a weak or watered down Renters Reform Bill will not be enough to fix our broken renting system.

England’s 12 million renters, and the organisations in the Renters’ Reform Coalition that represent and advocate for them, have been demanding change for a long time. Whoever is elected on 4 July, we need to see action, and we’ll be right here holding their feet to the fire.

Tom Darling is the campaign manager for the Renters’ Reform Coalition.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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