Guest debate: What should we be doing to support renting families?

(68 Posts)
MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Wed 11-Jun-14 16:18:27

In April, MN Blogger Fiona Elsted wrote a powerful guest post asking why renting a home has to be so tough on families – and plenty of posters shared their stories, too.

Here, Housing Minister Kris Hopkins and Shadow Housing Minister Emma Reynolds debate the best way to tackle the issue.

Emma Reynolds MP, Shadow Housing Minister:

"Last month, Fiona Elsted's frustrations and anxiety struck a chord with many people who are renting, had rented in the past or had close friends or relatives with similar experiences.

It also struck a chord with me, because, since I was appointed Shadow Housing Minister late last year, I've heard countless stories about the problems encountered by families and many other people who are renting privately.

That's why I'm proud that, last month, Ed Miliband announced that a Labour government would reform the private rented sector to provide greater stability and security for renters and families.

Under our plans, we will legislate to make three-year, long-term tenancies with predictable rents the norm, and, as part of our plan to deal with the cost-of-living crisis, we want to ban agents from charging letting fees to tenants. These measures would allow the nine million people who rent – including 1.3 million families with children – to live safe in the knowledge that their rents will not jump up from one year to the next, nor will they be evicted at two months’ notice.

Labour will reform the current system so tenancies would start with a six-month probation period - if the renter passes this period, the tenancy will automatically run for a further two-and-a-half years, providing the security that many crave. We will also pass legislation for predictable rents in order to stop excessive hikes in rents out of sync with the market.

Landlords and tenants will set initial rents based on market value as they do now, and conduct a rent review no more than once a year. Rents could be reviewed downwards, upwards, or stay the same – it will be subject to market conditions. But there would be an upper ceiling on any rent increases, based on a benchmark such as inflation or average market rents.

And it's not just about the rent. Giving people back the ability to plan the family budget is an essential part of our reforms, but it's also about something much deeper - giving people the confidence that they have a home in a community where they can put down roots.

As Fiona highlighted, families who rent privately are nine times more likely to have moved than home owners. Few people enjoy moving, it’s a stressful and anxious time for home-owners and renters alike. But imagine having to do it every few months or years. It's not just the time spent packing boxes and paying for removals, it’s the disruption, or, as Fiona put it, “the tears, the anxiety, and the genuine sadness”. Children who move regularly are faced with either the strain of changing schools or the burden of a longer journey each day.

As well as providing confidence and security, our reforms will remove the sense that a rented property is not a home. Why re-paint the bannisters and skirting boards or maintain the garden if you're not sure if you’ll be there in a couple of months’ time? Without that sense of insecurity, renters will not only have peace of mind, but they’ll feel able to take pride in a home that's really theirs, re-decorating the property and getting to know their neighbours.

Landlords stand to benefit from our reforms too. By encouraging a long-term approach, they are far more likely to have good tenants who pay the rent each month and care for the property as if it were their own.

There will also be strong safeguards for landlords. If their circumstances change and they need to sell the property or move back in, or if tenants fall into rent arrears or commit anti-social behaviour, landlords will be able to reclaim their property. We’ll make sure this is a streamlined process and that the circumstances for recovery of the property are fair on both sides - but the practice of evicting tenants because they've complained about the standards in their property is not acceptable and will be brought to an end.

We've come in for some criticisms for our proposals. The Conservative Party has dismissed our plans as “Venezuelan style rent controls”. This is a great shame, because the government had previously said it was in favour of longer-term tenancies, but has failed to make any changes to bring them about.

It's also a shame because our private rented market is one of the most unstable in Europe. In Ireland, similar changes were made ten years ago – with no adverse impacts on the market. And it's a similar story elsewhere: in France they have a three-year tenancy period, in Spain it's five years, and in Germany – where half the population rents, and 60 per cent of landlords are individuals – there is indefinite tenure.

And it's a shame because David Cameron has often claimed that the Conservative Party want to stand up for families. "Families are the most important institution in our society. We have to do everything in our power to strengthen them”, he tell us. And yet, he opposes Labour's reforms to the private rented sector, which will do just that, by providing renting families with security, stability, and peace of mind.

Of course, as well as reforming the private rented sector, we need to be building many more homes to ensure housing is more affordable and home ownership is a realistic prospect for young people and families. That's why Labour has committed to increasing house building to 200,000 homes a year by 2020.

But even if we build many more homes, I agree with Fiona that the "private rented sector needs to be fair and less precarious for all, but particularly for young families". The status quo is simply not working for the millions of people renting from private landlords. Fiona rightly asks why private renting has to be so tough on families - but the truth is it doesn't have to be. That's why Labour will reform private renting so the sector can provide decent, stable and affordable homes for all."

Kris Hopkins MP, Minister for Housing:

"As someone who has lived in a council house, I know exactly what it is like to experience the world of renting, but also to strive to leave it, too. It was the aspiration of my parents to own their own home, and they made sacrifices to achieve that. Holidays, meals out, treats; these were all carefully considered so that they could afford the mortgage. This was my own experience, too, after I left the army.

My parents wanted to better themselves, and for them, this meant making the long-term investment of home ownership. For today’s generation who share this same drive, Help to Buy is making the transition from renting to owning so much easier. So far, it has helped 27,000 households turn their dream into a reality. 85% of sales have gone to first time buyers, and the vast majority have been sold outside of London. Property sales are at their highest level since 2009, and mortgage approvals were up 39% last year.

The very British tradition of home ownership is about much more than just having a nest-egg. Home is a place of sanctuary, a place most of us cannot wait to see at the end of the day. Owning that home can also be a source of pride, and in my opinion, it is that unique feeling that keeps the dream of home ownership alive.

We must remember, though, that whilst home ownership remains the desired choice for many – it isn't the full story. There are those who enjoy the flexibility and freedom of renting, or aren't in a position to afford or commit to a mortgage. It is our job to ensure that the system does not penalise those people for not being home owners, and that renters have access to affordable and high quality places, wherever they want to live.

The best way to ensure improvement of housing standards for renters is to increase the housing supply. Topping up choice and availability is the natural path to driving up quality. The £1 billion Build to Rent fund is one way we are achieving this - by progressing large-scale rental sites and producing up to ten thousand new homes. On top of this, we've delivered 170,000 new affordable homes since 2010 and our Affordable Housing Guarantee scheme (which enables housing associations to borrow money at more favourable terms, so they can build more homes), is providing real support. Up to 3.5 billion worth of guaranteed loans are available for affordable housing developments across the UK.

For those who call for rent control, I disagree. It is simply a sure-fire way to choke off supply. Those with a longer memory than Labour will remember that this was tried and tested – and it failed. It caused the rental sector to shrink, and a move towards rent controls again would hold back investment at a time when we need it most. Just last week, Jersey's Housing Minister, Deputy Andrew Green, reflected the exact same sentiment – that the best thing for the price of rentals is to increase supply.

Many renters have called for more protections – and this government has delivered. We're working on a Model Tenancy Agreement, which will support tenants who would like longer, family-friendly rentals, taking the edge off for parents who want peace of mind and a stable environment for their children. We want to encourage longer tenancies free from the fear of upheaval. Additionally, the code of practice will set the benchmark for a well-managed property.

Not only are we making sure that tenants (and landlords) are aware of their rights and responsibilities with the How to Rent guide we are publishing, we are also making it easier for them to complain when they do not receive the service they are entitled to. Complaints about a letting or management service will be heard by approved redress schemes, and if upheld, tenants will be entitled to compensation.

Lastly, we've been clear that exploitative landlords have absolutely no place in our rental sector. Local authorities can now take decisive action to prosecute landlords who do not comply with the law, and we have allocated £6.7 million to local authorities where this issue is particularly prevalent.

To make the private rented sector bigger and better, we have made our policies bolder. I have seen the frustration and upset that an unstable housing situation can cause, and hard-working people deserve better than that. It’s a legacy of uncertainty that we will not allow to carry on. Renting is not the second choice, nor the lesser choice. It’s a choice that deserves better recognition and support, because whether mortgaged or rented, everyone deserves a place that they can call home."

Madlizzy Wed 11-Jun-14 17:19:59

I think Kris Hopkins will find that he doesn't know "exactly" what it's like to live in rented accommodation as council owned properties are very, very different to the private rental market. He doesn't know how it feels to not know if you'll be asked to leave when you've been somewhere for 6 months. He doesn't know what it feels like to have someone walking around your house, inspecting it every 3-6 months. Yes, you can refuse to allow inspections, but that will usually lead to you being given notice.

Xcountry Wed 11-Jun-14 17:31:00

He needs to make it easier for landlords to get rid of really really bad tenants too, so we can give the genuine good people looking for stable rented accommodation somewhere it live, I accept there are bad landlords but there are bad tenants also.

We have our first flat that we rent out because after the market crash we would never be able to sell it now for what we paid for it so would be in negative equity, we rented it out and the first tenants were lovely but moved to another place for work reasons, the second tenants were a nightmare, 4 months in a row they were late with rent, 2 months they paid short and 5 months they didn't pay at all.

We still had to cover the mortgage for this and pay for Sherriff officers to go round as well as all the legal fees for notices serviced to get them out and then the damage to the property once they finally left. All this time and money spent trying to get these people out could have been better spent with someone in there who is looking for a home.

sweetkitty Wed 11-Jun-14 17:40:52

My first reaction to this question is build more social housing.

Cheaper rents, long term security for tenants, much needed jobs in the construction industry.

I think Labour should promise to build 1 million new council homes, there's land available for all these new builds that spring up.

My question to Kris Hopkins: what makes Britain different from other European countries that do have rent control? Why would rent control work so well in France and Germany but not in the UK?

The issue is not really so complicated. Renters have 3 primary problems:

1) Poor living conditions

2) Exorbitant rents and fees

3) Unstable tenancies

The market has been shown to be a poor regulator to address these problems. If other countries have successfully regulated these problems, why can't the UK?

keepyourchinupdear Wed 11-Jun-14 18:47:21

Build more social housing ffs. Not all people can afford to buy a home, even on the help to buy scheme.

fielsted Wed 11-Jun-14 20:47:26

In response to Kris Hopkins:

As Madlizzy points out above, having lived in a council house a number of years ago, does not afford you insight into the experience of a private renter in 2014. Council housing offered families secure tenancies, genuinely affordable rents, accommodation of an appropriate size and type and the opportunity to be part of a strong community. Contrast this with the experience of many families in the Private Rented Sector now where tenancies are frequently short-term or at least lack any assurance of their being longer; rents are high and are on the up; and moves are frequent due to a whole host of very negative factors. They are two completely different worlds. As Housing Minister, it is useful for you to understand the differences, I feel.

fielsted Wed 11-Jun-14 20:49:47

Another one for Kris Hopkins:
Let’s talk about ‘aspiration’. Do you perhaps think that private renters don’t have those same aspirations? Let’s talk about ‘sacrifice’. Do you perhaps think that private renters don’t make sacrifices? I think you will find that we make sacrifices all the time in order to live in our privately rented accommodation. We spend an enormous amount of our income on our rent and then we use what is left over to pay our other bills. Bills which cost us a lot more now than only 5 years ago. We may also aspire to own our own homes but we simply can’t save for the deposit. Day to day costs use up all of our income. We don’t eat out; we don’t have holidays but neither do we have a mortgage. We make those sacrifices just to keep a roof over our heads; not as an investment.

flixybelle Wed 11-Jun-14 21:00:21

I agree with stable tenancies, our current tenancy is a rolling month to month tenancy and we have no where to go if they give us notice.

soleils7 Wed 11-Jun-14 21:07:15

A few points for Mr Hopkins
1. So your parents had to watch their pennies and carefully consider "holidays, meals out, treats"... How about being a private tenant and cutting those out altogether, because your rent is already exorbitant and likely to go up who knows when?

2. You see home ownership as the obvious way to "better oneself". This says it all, really. It is because of this mindset that people are so obsessed with getting on the property ladder, at whatever cost, and that tenants are perceived as second-rate citizens. I don't feel I need to better myself through that route, I feel I need to better the living conditions of my three children, my partner and myself, through stable and fair tenure. I also feel I need peace of mind, and being a private tenant currently offers anything but that : you are permanently walking on eggshells, you can not plan ahead at all, in any way, including but far from exclusively financially.

3. Of course, as a hard-faced capitalist, you are going to resort to the supply and demand argument and omit to remove the blinkers that allow you only to see one solution: increase supply, encourage competition on the rental market too! How short-sighted and how callous. How over-optimistic too... You really think landlords are going to keep their own rents in check? I certainly don't, and if a few are ever tempted to, estate agents (who often negotiate contracts with tenants) will make sure their best intentions are swiftly quashed. Rents MUST be capped, the State MUST take that responsibility, because housing is too basic a right and the State, our elected representatives, must uphold it on our behalf.

4. I fail to see how Jersey's Housing Minister's view has any bearing at all. Do enlighten us.

5. How can you say this government has delivered? When are these fabled policies going to come into force? It sounds like so much hot wind. I have seen conditions deteriorate sharply since this government has been in power. This government couldn't care less about tenants, be they private or council. I wish you had the courage to admit it. But no, you continue to brandish the myth of the "dream of home ownership" rubbing tenants' faces in it, in effect.

6. I think you'll agree that your £6.7 million budget to sort out rogue landlords is laughable. I can't even bring myself to comment further on this...

7. Yes, everyone (not just your beloved "hard-working" types, incidentally) deserves a decent home, it is about basic human dignity. I can't emphasize strongly enough how much I know the current government has different priorities.

I do not buy your spiel, Mr Hopkins. Ms Reynolds, I shall vote Labour in the next election... Hope springs eternal. But this will be my last try. If they don't deliver, emigration will be the only solution left to us. This struggle has gone on for much too long.

soleils7 Wed 11-Jun-14 21:12:49

Re-reading my comments, I sound angry. Well, I am. An open debate around this is way overdue.
I look forward to responses.

HeeHiles Wed 11-Jun-14 21:45:32

In the 80's as a young single woman on a starting salary I was able to get a mortgage - In the 70's my parents, a part time dinner lady and a postman were able to get a mortgage to raise their family - Not a hope in hell of anyone like me or my parents being able to do that today.

So what are you going to do about all those young people and young families earning £20k a year (like most people have for 2 decades - have you noticed salaries haven't risen much in the past 20 years?) These measures you speak of won't help because landlords will keep turfing families out when they need their home back, or want to see - there is no security in private renting and the costs are way beyond most people.

The answer? Replace all the council homes you sold off - This is the single most disgusting policy ever to come out of government - these homes should never have been put in to the private sector - low paid workers need somewhere to live and the council should be providing homes for them.

Boris sickens me - property developers who don't get their own way due to public objections go over their heads to Boris who OK's their projects - normally to the detriment of the local area and never any allowances for council homes!!

And don't talk to me about 'Affordable' rents - you know no one can afford them right? How is a rent of £300pw affordable?

I am sick to death of luxury apartments being built on public owned land - ie our libraries? Police stations. Fire stations all being sold off for luxury apartments - it's disgusting!

Start building council houses - I know Westminster have loads of money in the pot accrued from backhanders from developers to go build social housing somewhere else!

Building social housing will reduce the benefits bill enormously - no one would have to claim HB and CTB if our wages could pay the rent, but you're meant to be clever people - you know that so why I wonder are you not doing anything about it?

Aspiration - Well I HAD aspirations - I lost my home due to redundancy back in the late 80's when we had the last recession - when was the last time I went out for a meal? No idea - years ago. Last holiday - 2000 - Treats - what are they?? basic food, no treats, no holidays, no nights out - what exactly am I supposed to cut back on in order to save £50k?

Oh and by the way Mr Hopkins - you are not 'better' than me just because you have a mortgage and I pay rent. The aspiration of home ownership today is unrealistic for the vast majority of Londoners.

HeeHiles Wed 11-Jun-14 21:50:32

Soleils7 - I am angry too - this situation was avoidable years ago and the government have sat on their hands too long - this is the single most important issue today, surely a home is a basic human need? not an investment!

Viviennemary Wed 11-Jun-14 21:53:40

No amount of tinkering around will solve the basic problem of housing shortage in certain areas. I don't think the problem can be solved in the short term. Rent control won't make more properties available. In fact it could make less properties available.

soleils7 Wed 11-Jun-14 22:02:53

HeeHiles - YES

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (and before you say anything, Mr Hopkins, this has nothing to do with Europe...)
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

And let's not even mention Article 17...
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

greeneggsandjam Wed 11-Jun-14 22:22:40

Yes to everything HeeHiles has said.

Shared Ownership/Part Buy Part Rent to help people buy their homes who would otherwise be unable to do so??? Are you kidding me? Every time I look in my area you need to be earning at least £38k for a small 2 bed flat. Its a joke, it isn't helping the poor.

Stuck in a lowish paid job and you need to claim help for rent, except no one wants to rent to you and if you are lucky enough to find someone who will you better hope they don't ask you to leave.

Noone wants to ask for help to pay their rent but prices are so silly you are forced to do so. Work full time and still need to ask for help to cover silly rent prices. Get a council home and pay an affordable rent? No chance.

Get help to pay your rent, what happens when your children reach the age you are no longer entitled to help with your rent? You appear to all have to move out and go your separate ways renting rooms in shared houses or hope that your children walk out of school and earn plenty money to help you cover the silly rent costs.

The rich get richer and the poor stay poor.

HeeHiles Wed 11-Jun-14 22:36:10

soleils7 - Mmm - think I need to start quoting that to Westminster council's housing dept wink

HeeHiles Wed 11-Jun-14 22:43:27

I do not buy your spiel, Mr Hopkins. Ms Reynolds, I shall vote Labour in the next election... Hope springs eternal. But this will be my last try. If they don't deliver, emigration will be the only solution left to us. This struggle has gone on for much too long

I am a life long Labour voter But Milliband isn't speaking to me - he's not listening.

The Greens have got it spot on

Mr Hopkins - Take a look, this is what you should be doing. These policies you speak off won't even hit the sides of this problem!

marineville Thu 12-Jun-14 00:26:57

dear mr hopkins

you answered like a man who didn't hear the question but wanted to restate tory policy, regardless of whether the answer fits the question. it's the same tactic that you've all been taught in your media awareness classes and it painfully obvious.

here are the points you seem to fail to answer in any way:

the loss of council stock has been severely detrimental to lower paid or what you would probably identify as 'non-aspirational' families who would prefer to rent. while it won you an election or two it has saddled the country with a desparate belief that housing should always go up in value and that has made it a replacement for pensions, due to the wrecked and increasingly impoverished pension pots.

at least when the council had stock there was some effort to regulate their minimum standards. it is a political ideology that has trashed this source of housing.

having witnessed many private rental properties, i can now see that it is utterly, 100% unregulated. there are no minimum standards that can be enforced or, rather, there is no desire by the present government to bring regulation to do this, for fear to damaging re-election prospects. you believe that renters vote labour so stuff 'em... btlers vot tory so keep supporting them, especially as private renting is now a major private income stream... that said, i wonder how scrutinised the income tax from these deliverate and accidental landlords is by hmrc and how much is ignored for fear of rocking the tory voter boat?

also, please tell me why it's policy to give btlers a financial advantage over residential homeowner wannabes? to convert non-commercial property into a business is just plain sinful and works against both your nascent tory voter and home-ownership in general.

give the powers back to councils to build good quality, low density housing at cost, reap the benefits of benefit payments returning to councils instead of private business to expand their portfolio with interest only mortgages, cocking the trigger for another banking bust if the economy goes the way some fear it still will.

and, in the future, try answering the question put to you, even if the answer to the questions is 'i intend to do nothing to help.'

AdeleNazeem Thu 12-Jun-14 01:09:22

I am a teacher, and my rent for a two bedroom flat (tiny yard) in north london for myself and my daughter (where I have lived and worked for 30 years) is 80% of my monthly wage. it is cheap for the area. But in pretty poor repair (draughty windows, antiquated boiler, tatty)

I have to get housing benefit which makes it possible for myself and my child to have the same residual income , after paying the rent, as someone on the dole...

how in god's name can that situation be right?

differentnameforthis Thu 12-Jun-14 01:13:27

Under our plans, we will legislate to make three-year, long-term tenancies

Thereby making it harder to evict troublesome tenants, no? I get that not all tenants are troublesome, but some are.

YoungAndAngry Thu 12-Jun-14 01:38:55

Well, if the troublesome tenants weren't tenants at all but owned their own home, then it wouldn't matter when they smashed it up would it?

soleils7 Thu 12-Jun-14 07:44:19

differentnameforthis - 1. A tiny minority of tenants are troublesome. That is one more myth associated with tenants. Who in their right mind trashes the place they live in? And who in their right mind risks losing the massive deposit they have to put down to be able to sign the contract? Hence many tenants permanently walking on eggshells around their home.
2. Even with longer-term tenancies, landlords would have rights and tenants duties, you know. But longer-term tenancies would go some way to reestablishing some sort of balance. At the moment, landlords have most rights and tenants most duties. This is wrong and needs to be addressed urgently.
3. Currently, a landlord can evict a tenant with two month's notice and without having to provide a reason, even if the tenant has been exemplary. Think of what this means for a family, in terms of general upheaval and costs, and then getting the kids onto yet another school waiting list, hoping the children will settle and won't feel bereft or distressed. It MUST be made more difficult for landlords to evict tenants. If you are a "troublesome" tenant, I can assure you landlords have plenty of ways to get you out, that is all sorted thank you very much and I doubt any government would remove those assurances for landlords.

differentnameforthis Thu 12-Jun-14 07:52:29

soleils7

Thank you for your post. I do understand that not all tenants destroy their houses, and I do know that some do.

Same as I understand the stress of losing a deposit or trying to maintain a certain level of living, as I privately rent too.

soleils7 Thu 12-Jun-14 07:58:49

differentnameforthis - thanks for your response. You say you know some tenants destroy their houses. That is what we are told. Do you know anyone (tenant or owner, in fact) who has destroyed their house? I really feel this is one of those urban myths that keeps getting peddled when landlords run out of arguments. I know nobody who has done such a thing - the stakes are much too high.
Therefore, I still feel tenants need to be protected, even if a minuscule percentage damage the property they live in, why should the rest be penalised?
Good luck with your tenancy.

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