In an Opposition Day debate on the private rented sector on Wednesday, Labour’s shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds declared the private rented sector “no longer fit for purpose”.
Reynolds told the Commons the UK has "one of the most short-term, insecure and unstable private rented sectors in Europe", with tenants facing "exorbitant rates".
Reynolds said if Labour came to power the party would cap rent increases, ban letting agent fees and legislate for three-year tenancies to give greater security and stability to the UK's nine million renters.
However, planning minister Nick Boles accused Labour of recycling old ideas to tackle the problem and dismissed the policy as "idiotic", warning it would drive up rents and undermine confidence in the sector.
Reynolds said: “The opposition have called for this debate because we believe the private rented sector is simply not fit for purpose. It is in fact more suited to the 1980s than the 21st century.
“The sector has grown massively in size, but also beyond recognition in terms of the demographics and character of those renting from private landlords. Nine million people now rent privately, more than those who rent a social home.
“Over a third of those who rent privately are families with children and nearly a half are over the age of 35. However many people who are renting privately are not doing so out of choice but because they can't get on the housing ladder and they are being priced out or they can't secure a social home.”
Responding, Boles warned of the negative effects of rent controls.
He said: “They disinter a mouldy old policy from the 1970s, spray a bit of shiny new paint over it and present it as the solution to all of the ills of the modern market economy. We have seen them follow this script in relation to energy bills and now they are trotting it out for rental housing.”
Labour MP Lilian Greenwood invited those against regulating renting to come and see for themselves the ‘misery’ caused by an unregulated market.
Conservative MP Jackie Doyle-Price said letting agents encourage ‘churn’ in the rental market because they can charge fees each time a new tenancy begins, and that many landlords would prefer long term tenancy agreements – a point echoed by Labour MP Andrew Love, who said long term tenancies would assure institutional investors as well as tenants.
Conservative MP Angie Bray argued that young people prefer to move house often, saying Labour’s proposals for a three-year tenancy would not be popular with those who prefer the short-term lifestyle. Emma Reynolds explained that under Labour’s plans, tenants would have the choice to leave during the tenancy.
Several Labour MPs pointed at the damage done to children’s education when families have to move at the end of a tenancy. “Just ask primary teachers what effect it’s having on their pupils,” said Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP.
Alex Hilton, director of Generation Rent, said: “If you’re in a damp flat that is making your children ill, or if your landlord suddenly increases your rent above what you can afford, it’s not a ‘choice’ to leave, it’s a necessity.
“As long as long term tenancies remain voluntary, letting agents will systematically deny renters a stable home as they seek annual renewal fees. Politicians owe the 9 million people living in private renting – including more than a million children – the right to a long term tenancy.”