One in five people in England is a private renter, representing 4.8 million households. The demographics of private renters are shifting and the market now encompasses people of all ages and stages of life. One third of renters now have dependent children, with a quarter of all families with children residing in the sector, while many of us will grow old in privately rented properties. Over a million people with a disability or long-term health condition also call the private rented sector home.
The 2.74 million landlords in England benefit from the current housing system – but it doesn’t work for their tenants. Too often renters spend over half their income on housing, with rent and bills combined now accounting 54% of tenants’ monthly income, only to face poor conditions and the vulnerability to eviction and homelessness at a whim. Meanwhile landlords make billions in profit every year - £22 billion in 2022 according to Generation rent analysis of HMRC figures, proving that the housing sector is used as a tool for financialisation as opposed to putting the needs of tenants first. Despite promises from the government, renters still have few rights to fall back on. This insecurity, combined with poor conditions and unaffordable rents, means the private rented sector is often a difficult place to live.
Faced with these challenges, and growing as a proportion of the population, renters are a political force with the ability to influence electoral outcomes. Polling commissioned by the Renters Reform Coalition demonstrates the sheer scale of public support for reforming private renting - 79% of the public, 80% of 2019 Conservative voters and 86% of voters aged over 65 support greater protections for private renters. A national renters movement is building, with renters coming together to stand up for their rights, join renter unions and campaign for housing justice.
The growing consensus that the housing crisis needs to be addressed is important. However, we cannot simply build our way out of the housing crisis. The power imbalance between landlords and tenants must be addressed and the right of all people to a safe, affordable and decent home must be prioritised over the profits of landlords and developers and public housing must be put ahead of building new homes for private rent. Otherwise there is a grave risk that the new consensus emerging between the main parties opens up home ownership to a slightly wider section of people but that millions of tenants will be left in unsafe homes that they cannot afford and that the housing system will continue to be a key driver of inequality in this country.
This National Renters Manifesto sets out the steps needed to ensure that everybody has a secure, affordable and decent home. The manifesto is based on joint work between Generation Rent, London Renters Union, ACORN, NEF, Greater Manchester Tenants Union UK. We are organisations that represent and support private renters, campaigning for radical reform of private renting and a transformation of our housing system.
The document is the second part of the manifesto, detailing policy suggestions covering the five key themes: security, standards, affordability, fairer private renting, and homes for people not for profit.
Ending unfair evictions
The Renters (Reform) Bill has finally been published, promising an end to section 21 (no-fault) evictions, but since legislation was promised by Theresa May, renters have continued to live with insecurity of tenure. The situation in England is among the worst in Europe: Tenancies are as short as six months and renters can be evicted from their homes with just eight weeks’ notice through no fault of their own. No-fault eviction from the private rented sector is the second leading cause of homelessness in England and is on the rise, with 2022 seeing a 76% rise in cases of homelessness directly related to section 21. To ensure that renters have the security to build a stable life, we need the Renters (Reform) Bill to pass as soon as possible. It must include open-ended tenancies as standard combined with an end to Section 21 to be truly effective. Landlords’ ability to end a tenancy should apply only in very limited circumstances, and relocation payments should be made to tenants when this occurs. For landlords who claim to be selling their property or moving in a relative in order to gain possession, a no re-let period of 24 months should apply, as an effective deterrent to abuse. If the tenant wishes to stay in the property during the sale, landlords and mortgage lenders must be permitted and mandated to sell with the tenant in situ if selling to another landlord. If a home is being bought by an owner occupier, then there should also be a 24 month no-let period.
The Renters (Reform) Bill pledges to end Section 21 evictions but within the legislation there are many loopholes that will enable landlords to get around the ban. For example, where the tenant isn’t at fault, most notably when the landlord is selling or moving in, relocation payments must be made to compensate tenants. However, landlords should be obliged to offer the tenant first refusal on the property before proceeding with an eviction. Landlords should have to prove it is their true intention to move or sell to a court as part of the process, with all evictions discretionary. There should be a two year no-let period on any property which has seen a landlord need eviction. Last year 300,000 tenants were evicted when they challenged an unaffordable rent increase. This demonstrates that landlords will be able to hike up tenants’ rents to force them out when the ban Section 21 is introduced. To prevent this, the loophole must be closed through in-tenancy rent rises being capped to prevent tenants being forced out by the back door.
Stamp out illegal evictions
Local councils must have a legal duty, and proper resources available, to investigate and prosecute landlords who illegally evict tenants.
Police forces must be properly trained on their responsibility to prevent illegal evictions, and should treat them as the criminal offences that they often are, and not a civil matter.
Open ended tenancies
Open ended tenancies, as endorsed in the Renters (Reform) Bill, give tenants flexibility; aid in pushing up standards by giving renters the freedom to move if they are unhappy with the quality of the home; allow tenants to flee dangerous situations without worrying about being liable for a contracted amount of time of rent; and allow tenants to take opportunities if they need to move unexpectedly for work or care or changing family circumstances etc. Open ended tenancies will also benefit the wider community. When tenants are confident that they will be able to live somewhere long term, they are more likely to put down roots, feel a sense of security and contribute long term to their local area.
Living Rent (Scotland’s tenants union) have encountered cases where individuals wished to relinquish their tenancy to flee domestic abuse, but because they were in a joint tenancy with the perpetrator, they were unable to legally do this without their agreement. The use of joint tenancies in Scotland has also proved inefficient for both tenants and landlords. In order for one tenant to move out, all the tenants in the property need to agree, and then sign a brand-new agreement, creating more paperwork for both parties and leaving the tenants who wish to remain at greater risk of rent increases or eviction as new contracts are negotiated more frequently.
Joint tenancies should be avoided - to support people being able to leave for their safety, and stop other tenants being evicted or face a rent rise. Tenants should have to give one month’s notice unless exceptional circumstances, such as needing to flee abuse.
Notice periods for tenant ‘fault’ evictions should be proportionate and take into account where people may have been victims of abuse/violence in the home. This is especially important given the proposed changes to anti-social behaviour grounds.
Safe, Healthy and Decent Homes
Landlords should be required to demonstrate that their homes meet good standards, beyond the minimum requirement for Homes fit for Human Habitation. The government is committed to extending the Decent Homes Standard to the private sector as a part of the Renters (Reform) Bill, to ensure that tenants are getting good value for money, and this must be implemented in full. The ability to operate as a landlord and collect rent should be contingent on properties being of good standard and landlords meeting conditions set out by local authorities.
Enforcement processes and licensing schemes should put tenant needs at their heart and be proactive. At present, local councils do not use the powers they have to fulfill their duties to hold landlords that break the rules to account. Local councils should have the duty and be properly resourced to massively scale up inspections and enforcement action against landlords who fail to make their homes decent and safe, through fines, prosecutions and banning orders. It should be less profitable for landlords to break the rules than follow them. As well as utilising the proposed property portal to better inform targeted enforcement action, local authorities should also carry out random inspections to ensure compliance.
The introduction of a “powerful ombudsman” has been promised by the government but it is still yet to be seen. It must go beyond procedural parameters and be given the ability to investigate and find fault on substantive issues, including powers and funding to effectively protect tenants who suffer from inadequate conditions. It must also resolve disputes in a timely manner. This should include meaningful enforcement action. The Ombudsman should be a method for redress for tenants who feel let down by local authority enforcement teams, as well as for disputes between landlords/agents and their tenants. The Ombudsman should make accessing justice more accessible to tenants, but it is important that the existence of an Ombudsman process does not remove a tenant’s right to take legal action against their landlord, and that access to legal aid and support is made more available to tenants to exercise their rights. Any standard metrics and timescales related to the social rented sector should also apply to the private rented sector - most notably Awaab’s Law.
The process to get disability facilities grants must be easier, while all properties which are affected by this should be subject to a strengthened Decent Homes Standard or Fitness to Human Habitation.
Landlords should have a legal duty to make adaptations to homes for tenants with disabilities, and failure to do so should be treated as an enforcement issues. These adaptations should be supported by an easier to obtain Disabilities Facility Grant.
Safe and Decent Temporary Accommodation
Temporary accommodation has become long term housing for hundreds of thousands of people, with over 100,000 children living in the sector long term as of 2022. Too often, conditions are exceptionally poor or even dangerous. Temporary and emergency housing must be safe, secure and part of a quick, clear path to a permanent home, with standards monitored and enforced by local authorities. Landlords and management companies providing temporary accommodation must be made properly accountable and their properties subject to the same nationally set standards, monitoring and enforcement as other private rented homes. Councils should not award contracts or procure housing from private providers that routinely provide unsafe housing.
Temporary should mean temporary – public investment in high quality council homes is needed to reduce the use of temporary accommodation. The crisis of standards in exempt accommodation, labeled by a parliamentary inquiry as “beyond disgraceful” in an “unknown but significant number of cases,” must also be addressed. The sector is growing in size, with at 58% increase in the number of households living in it since 2016, and the reasons for that must be understood. There must be provisions to stop widespread evictions taking place to facilitate the creation of temporary accommodation such as requirements in local authority commissioning frameworks that they will not use providers who have evicted long term residents to convert homes into temporary accommodation.
There is a great need for investment in more accessible temporary accommodation units alongside further training of providers to support neurodiverse residents.
While there is an understanding that some types of exempt temporary accommodation require stricter rules for residents, this should be the exception not the rule and most tenants in temporary accommodation should not be set arbitrary curfews, and should be allowed to have visitors in order to lead as normal a life as possible while they look for a long term home. The license agreements should only include 24 hour eviction rights for the provider in exceptional circumstances.
Property Portal and National Database of Landlords
There should be mandatory national registration of private landlords (as proposed in the Renters (Reform) Bill) agents, and rented properties. This must include; information on ownership, details of gas safety, electrical safety and other required documentation, evidence that the property meets the Decent Homes Standard, energy efficiency standards, the amount of rent paid, whether the property is currently in a ‘no-let’ period (due to a previous eviction on the grounds of a landlord selling or moving in) and any relevant convictions or history of enforcement orders and of rejected deposit claims. The portal should also show whether the landlord has filled out their self assessment for tax to support HMRC in targeting their enforcement action. The register must be free and publicly accessible, funded by a registration fee. Tenants should be able to get rent back if their landlord hasn’t registered. The registration body should carry out random non-intrusive inspections on registered properties to ensure they meet decent standards.
Rent controls which bring down rents to 30% of tenants’ income
We need to get a grip of spiralling rents by introducing legislation that regulates rent, bringing it down to ensure that no-one is spending more than 30% of their income. Rents in England are soaring, eating up household income and pushing people into financial hardship. One third of private renters in England lived in poverty in 2021/22. Over half of the families with children living in private rented accommodation are below the poverty line. The total amount of rent paid by renters has continued to rise to increasingly unaffordable levels. From 2013 to 2021 this rose by roughly £17 billion.
Such a plan should focus on the causes of high rents holistically, including a fundamental lack of supply in the social rented sector, to ensure that it is effective. It is also critical that the metric devised should not inadvertently harm tenants, especially those on the lowest incomes, and should take into account a number of factors including local income, wage growth, income disparity between private renters and the broader population (ie to take into account private renters’ lower spending power), quality of property, and a fixed percentage. Rent controls should be introduced in a sensitive manner, to mitigate the risk of negative consequences for current tenants, and must account for both between and during tenancies. Any measures should be accompanied by a massive increase in public housebuilding. The incoming government in England should follow the example of the Senedd and immediately start work on a green paper for rent controls when they take office. Devolution of rent control measures must be explored to ensure maximum efficacy, but Westminster should have the power to introduce national rent ceilings and freezes. It is also worth considering that rent level data is fairly unreliable and could make any rent control implementation difficult. The proposed property portal could be an effective tool for capturing and analysing rental data.
The current deposit system penalises tenants moving between tenancies by forcing tenants to pay for a second deposit before the return of their original one. The government and deposit schemes should work together to implement a passporting system which would allow tenants to automatically transfer the value of their deposit to their next tenancy. At a minimum, schemes should release uncontested elements of the deposit to tenants as soon as the tenancy ends. Tenants’ money, in the form of deposits, accrues significant interest while sitting in a protection scheme, and they should be able to benefit from the increased value of their cash, either directly though reimbursement, or indirectly via investment into projects of benefit to renters as a whole, such as technology for deposit passporting or through legal support for tenants. Tenants should also be made aware of what is ‘fair wear and tear’ relating to the deposit’s return, and what reasonable charges for different issues and repairs should be.
Interest accrued on tenants’ interest while it is being held should be used to fund schemes that benefit tenants, such as a deposit passporting scheme. According to deposit scheme data released under Freedom of Information, the value of money held in deposit schemes in the UK is approximately £4.6bn
Green Homes Fit for the Future, and an End to Fuel Poverty
Fuel poverty in the private rented sector is the worst of all tenures. Private rented homes should be made energy efficient to address soaring gas and electricity prices, climate emergency and help combat fuel poverty. Regulations requiring landlords to bring private rented homes up to a minimum EPC rating of C must be announced without further delay and robustly enforced with local authorities able to reclaim homes through compulsory purchase orders where landlords fail to meet these requirements. Means tested financial support should be available to landlords to assist them in meeting this target, but this must be paired with protections relating to the tenant, who must see the benefit of these improvements. This should include a freeze on evictions for landlord moving themselves or a tenant in, or for sale, once the works have been completed, and a discount on the rent linked to the grant, to ensure energy savings don’t go to the landlord as rent. Tenants should be able to claim rent back from landlords who fail to meet the minimum standards of energy efficiency, with this coming automatically when there is evidence these standards are not met. Where a tenant pays rent with bills included, their rent should go down where energy saving measures have been introduced. There should be a freeze on evictions and rent rises during any improvement works and after they have been completed for a certain period, in order to ensure tenants feel the benefits of these improvements and costs are not passed onto them.
A Welfare System That Supports Access to Safe, Secure and Affordable Housing
Benefit shortfalls, delays and sanctions within the welfare system put private renters at risk of eviction and homelessness. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and other relevant public bodies must urgently address these issues to ensure that people claiming benefits can access housing and stay in their homes. This must include an unfreezing of the Local Housing Allowance and relinking with market rents. Mechanisms to ensure that tenants who receive benefits, often women, families, or people with long-term conditions or disabilities, are not discriminated against in the market must also be put in place. Private rented properties continue to be advertised as “No DSS”, a clear form of discrimination against private renters claiming benefits – which can be understood as a form of indirect discrimination covered by the provisions of the Equality Act. Enforcement practitioners should implement the practice of ‘mystery shopping’ to ensure that landlords and letting agents are adhering to these regulations. The practice of asking for multiple months’ rent upfront, which automatically excludes people on a low income from accessing housing and was experienced by one in four private tenants in 2022 according to Generation Rent research, is often demanded concurrently with the deposit and must be capped at one month in advance. It must be stopped through legal means to ensure affordability at the beginning of tenancies, as well as the practice of bidding wars.
A FAIRER PRIVATE RENTED SECTOR
Private Renters to Have Control Over Their Homes
The vast majority of renters lack basic control over their home environment, yet being able to make decisions relating to one’s home is vital for wider wellbeing. Private renters should have more control over their homes, including the right to request permission to install aids and adaptations to make their homes accessible, as well as the right to challenge unreasonable refusal of these requests, especially in light of the increasing number of elderly and disabled private tenants. Residents should also be able to redecorate, and to keep pets and to carry out anything short of structural changes that will improve their quality of life and allow them to flourish in their homes for the long-term. Aesthetic changes should not be eligible to be deducted from deposits.
End Discrimination in Renting
Mandatory “Right to Rent” checks on immigration status by landlords have encouraged racial discrimination in housing and made the private rental sector a part of the hostile environment. Right to Rent checks push migrants into renting from and being exploited by the very worst landlords. Discrimination against tenants based on their immigration status must end. All other forms of discrimination within the PRS, including against BAME tenants and LGBTQ+ tenants, must be addressed to ensure that the barriers which currently restrict their access to a home are taken down. Enforcement practitioners should perform periodic random mystery shopping exercises to deter discrimination by agents and landlords.
Renters Right to Organise
Renters’ needs have been ignored for too long, with the interests of landlords prioritised over tenants. Politically independent renter unions should be recognised, including through legal provision for collective bargaining, the right to rent strike and laws against victimisation of renters involved in union organising. Renter unions should be actively supported in their work: public funding should be made available to renter unions and unions should be publicised to new tenants. Renter unions should be consulted on policy decisions which affect renters, and tenant representatives should sit on boards setting and monitoring standards and rent controls.
Improve access to justice for private renters
Private renters in dispute with their landlord often face difficulties accessing legal support. Free housing advice services are in decline and renters are unable to access legal support. Legal aid for housing cases should be restored and extended to cover damages, and local support and advice on housing issues must be readily available. Legal aid and legal support should be more accessible for renters who are neurodivergent or have communication difficulties. Although an Ombudsman could provide an accessible means for tenants to access justice and resolved disputes with their landlords, tenants must also have the right to take legal action even if they have engaged with an Ombudsman.
HOMES FOR PEOPLE, NOT FOR PROFIT
Public Investment in Public Housebuilding
Decades of undersupply of council and social housing stock, compounded by Right to Buy, has meant millions of people on low incomes have no choice but to rent privately or face homelessness. A cross-party commission organised by Shelter determined that the UK needs to build 3.1 million social rent homes over 20 years. Building more homes primarily as an investment for private rent and private ownership is not the solution to the housing crisis; public funding must be directed solely towards building council and social housing.
England alone requires at least 155,000 new social homes a year, and these targets should be enacted as soon as possible. We need large-scale public investment in building high-quality council homes or community-led housing to ensure that everyone has access to a secure and affordable home, accompanied by sufficient investment in infrastructure and community facilities to account for the increase of homes. The need for accessible housing should be a fundamental priority in how we build new housing stock, to tackle a severe shortage, moving towards the aim of universal accessibility in all new homes. Right to Buy must be scrapped to assist in the drive to increase public homes, but at the minimum any continued existence of the scheme must give local authorities discretion over the discounts offered and ringfence the funds raised to build new council housing in order to protect access to housing for future generations.
Private Rented Homes Brought into Public or Tenant Ownership
If landlords choose to sell their properties, tenants, the local authority or community-led housing projects should have first refusal. Any homes bought by the local authority or other social landlords through this channel should be converted into homes rented out at social rent. Local authorities buying back homes and retrofitting projects should be supported. Alternatively, or concurrently, tenants should be offered the right to purchase their home if it is entering the market.
Homes Not Assets
Housing is now valued as an asset more than as a place to live. Property has become an important form of speculation and income generation. Investors have flooded the private rental market, and this combined with a lack of rent control and a shortage of available homes in any tenure (exacerbated by the right to buy scheme) has pushed up the cost of housing and created an affordability crisis for almost all renters. Landlords are offered preferential mortgages, most often interest-only, when purchasing buy-to-let properties, giving them an advantage over first-time buyers and other owner occupiers - this must be addressed.
Replacing stamp duty and council tax with a proportional property tax would be an effective step in redressing this disparity, while we must also address the issue of hoarding, with owner occupiers encouraged to "invest" in property, rather than downsize. This is particularly true of homes being stripped from the rental stock and put into the holiday and short term lets market, removing homes from communities in the interests of profit. Holiday lets must face the same tax treatment as residential tenancies, and councils must be given powers to license and cap the number of holiday lets, and to impose higher council tax and business rates on holiday lets and second homes.
We must disincentivise landlordism to ensure that our housing system meets the needs of people over the interests of private profit, investors or financial capital. Housing must be seen as a fundamental human right and not as an asset for the generation of profit.