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Affordable Accommodation (Private Rented Sector)

Volume 483: debated on Tuesday 18 November 2008

3. What assessment she has made of the future prospects for the private rented sector as a provider of affordable accommodation. (236264)

Julie Rugg’s review of the private rented sector, which the Government commissioned in January, includes an assessment of how well the sector caters for those on low incomes and in housing need. The review reported last month. We are currently considering the report’s findings, including its suggestions for delivering new and affordable property supply, improving rental property quality and professionalising rental housing management.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. One of my main concerns about the impact of the credit crunch on the housing market is that it could push even more people into the private rented sector. While there are some good private landlords out there, there are also some rogue ones. The Rugg review suggested an independent procedure for complaints and redress, particularly for long, drawn-out complaints. Can my hon. Friend confirm whether the Government are looking at implementing that suggestion?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has been championing the idea of tackling unprofessional landlords in his own patch. There is a similar problem in my area, particularly with regard to more vulnerable households. We need to do more. The Rugg review provided a range of options on how we can increase the professionalism of landlords. We are considering those options, and hope to respond in the housing reform Green Paper some time in the new year.

The House was delighted when the Government introduced deposit protection for people renting under assured shorthold tenancy agreements back in April 2007—I believe that the whole House supported that. The threshold for the scheme remains at £25,000, but if it had been index-linked, it would be £52,000. The reality is that many young and vulnerable tenants are simply not covered and need to be, so will the Minister urgently examine the issue?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I shall take them away and examine the matter. He will be aware that under the tenant deposit protection scheme about £1 billion of tenant money has been protected. We are anxious to build on that to ensure that further protection is provided for vulnerable tenants.

My hon. Friend will be aware that Brighton and Hove city has one of the highest proportions of private rented housing in England outside London, and that it is also a successful university city. It has two successful universities, whose students not only contribute to the economy and the vitality of the city, but put pressure on the private rented housing sector. When will guidance be issued to councils stemming from the ECOTEC report, which I know his Department recently received?

I would like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is a strong Brighton Member of Parliament, but I do not want to do so because Hartlepool United are playing Brighton and Hove Albion in an FA cup replay this evening. He makes an important point; Brighton is a fantastic place, but its large proportion of private rented properties creates an issue. On studentification and its associated problems, he will be aware of a range of possible planning proposals and non-planning proposals. He also mentioned the ECOTEC report, on which I am hoping to consult later this year.

Despite the current market correction, the need for affordable housing in south Devon remains as great as ever, yet both the proposed new towns, which were intended to deliver much of that affordable housing, are now unlikely to happen for many years because of the credit crunch. Can the Minister tell us what plan B is?

I am not entirely certain what that had to do with the private rented sector, but one of the things that the Julie Rugg review says is that we must grow the business of that sector—we must improve the supply. That is true of not only the private rented sector but social and affordable housing. As I mentioned in an earlier response, the Government are providing about £8.4 billion to help improve the supply of affordable housing. We need to do that, and we need to correct the imbalance between housing demand and supply, which persists in this country. I hope that Conservative Members will support us in that.

My hon. Friend will be aware that many local authorities in London have to cope with homelessness by leasing properties in the private rented sector and that such properties are anything but affordable. I saw an example this week where someone was living in a poor-quality three-bedroomed flat, yet the rent was £380 a week. The only consequences of this situation are huge housing benefits bills for local authorities, and people not being able to afford those properties and get into work. What steps does he intend to take to tackle it?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, which demonstrates how this is not solely a departmental issue; it involves working in partnership with local authorities and other Departments. He may be aware that I published the Government’s new rough-sleeping strategy this morning, which pledged that we will end rough sleeping once and for all by 2012. He will also be aware of the housing benefit reform package that the Department for Work and Pensions is taking forward. On his point about unscrupulous landlords taking advantage of the system, I am working closely on that issue, particularly with the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Kitty Ussher). I am keen to take a cross-governmental approach, so that we can tackle the problems that he rightly identified.