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Overcrowded Accommodation

Volume 476: debated on Tuesday 20 May 2008

2. What assessment she has made of the capacity of the private rented sector to contribute to a reduction in the number of families in overcrowded accommodation. (206422)

Working with local authorities has shown that providing access to larger properties in the private rented sector can be a positive solution to the problem of overcrowding in some circumstances. We will shortly be publishing good practice guidance on the Department’s website demonstrating the practical solutions that local authorities can take—and which some are taking—to address the problem of overcrowding.

I am very pleased to hear my right hon. Friend’s response. Will she outline the review of the private rented sector that Julie Rugg is undertaking and will she also tell the House when we will receive information on how she sees larger houses being utilised to manage overcrowding?

The review of the private rented sector that Julie Rugg is undertaking will report in October and is focusing on four key themes: how to create an accessible private rented sector; security of tenure for tenants; the provision of safe and decent homes; and improving landlord-tenant relations. Over the past few months, I have had a number of conversations with colleagues in the House, local authority leaders and others about the question of whether, if it comes up to standard, the private rented sector could be part of a family of providers, as well as about tackling houses in multiple occupation and overcrowding. I hope that that will all feed into the housing reform Green Paper that the Prime Minister announced will be forthcoming at the end of this year.

Has it dawned on the Minister that the move to pay housing benefit directly to tenants rather than to landlords for new tenancies will result in an increase in evictions and a reluctance among private landlords to let their houses to people on benefit?

With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is a somewhat patronising attitude towards tenants. I understand that the driver for the change was about ensuring that those renting in the private sector who have traditionally been in receipt of housing benefit can take more responsibility for finding their housing and assume more financial responsibility, too. The change is about developing a more independent approach, rather than a dependent approach. I also understand—I am sure that colleagues from the Department for Work and Pensions will be happy to provide him with information on this—that safeguards are in place, particularly for vulnerable tenants, to ensure that rents are paid and, where appropriate, that adequate and suitable support is given either by Jobcentre Plus or by local authorities, or by charitable organisations working with particular groups of vulnerable people.

Milton Keynes council is using the private rented sector to try to provide more suitable accommodation for many of the people on its waiting list and those in overcrowded accommodation. However, does the Minister accept that a major disincentive for council tenants to move to the private sector is the security—or rather, the insecurity—of tenure in the private sector? Will she ensure that the review considers that issue seriously?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As I have outlined, security of tenure is one of the issues that Julie Rugg and her colleagues are addressing. For people to feel safe and comfortable about alternative options, particularly where children are involved, they want to be assured that if accommodation is provided in the private rented sector, they can make the appropriate arrangements for schools, doctors and, I hope, employment, too. I hope that my hon. Friend and colleagues on both sides of the House will engage and make their views known to Julie in her review.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the private sector can take advantage of the housing market because people cannot afford to buy their own properties, which is driving up rents in the private sector? Has the time not come for more investment in the public sector, because it is the people in that sector who can really deal with the housing problem? Can we make more houses available through the public sector?

It is absolutely the case, as my hon. Friend has outlined, that although we seek to engage with positive landlords in the private rented sector and to tackle landlords’ bad practices, the issue is also about building more affordable homes for low-cost ownership and, importantly, for rent. That is why we are investing more than £8 billion in the next few years. We want to increase the number of homes being built and those that are available for social rent. As I have said to colleagues across the House, MPs play an important role in making sure that local authority bids for growth points or housing supply targets are underpinned by an understanding of the housing needs of those communities and the priority that should be given to those who need homes for social rent. As MPs, we can play an important role in ensuring that what is talked about locally is delivered on the ground.