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Private Rented Sector

Volume 539: debated on Monday 30 January 2012

3. What recent assessment he has made of value for money and standards for tenants in the private rented sector. (92056)

The English housing survey shows that standards in the private rented sector have continued to improve more rapidly than in other sectors. In most areas, renting remains more affordable than purchasing a home.

Shelter’s rent watch report 2011 found that, on average, private rents in 55% of local authorities in England were unaffordable for ordinary working families, and that 38% of privately renting families with children had to cut down on food to pay their rent. Many rogue landlords are still out there, providing appalling accommodation at poor value. What are the Government doing about those issues?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point out those issues. I am concerned to ensure that quality in the private rented sector is as good as possible, and I am undertaking work in that direction. It is worth considering, though, that satisfaction rates in the private rented sector are higher, at 85%, than those in the social sector, at just 81%.

What is the Department’s view on local landlord accreditation schemes, and what advice does he give on such schemes to local authorities?

Local accreditation and licensing schemes can be good value for local people. I attended a local accreditation in Welwyn Hatfield on Thursday evening. The scheme is very good and designed locally to address local problems; in our case, it happens to be a student population. That is the advantage of doing it locally: it can be fitted in with what the community requires.

Rents are soaring in the private rented sector, and too many rogue landlords are ripping off tenants, undermining reputable ones. Yet earlier this month the Prime Minister said that rents were falling, and the Minister for Housing and Local Government has put up for grabs the remaining tenant protections that he has not already scrapped. Will he explain why the Prime Minister is so out of touch that he thinks that rents are falling and why he believes that basic tenant protections amount to red tape, at a time when it has never been more important to regulate the private rented sector, in order to drive standards up and rogues out?

On the first point, I imagine that the Prime Minister was probably referring to recent surveys by LSL Property Services showing two-month falls in rent levels. Those might be partially seasonal, but nevertheless rents have been falling—we will see what happens in future months. The hon. Gentleman calls for greater regulation. I will tell him what happened when there was greater regulation in the private rented sector. There used to be rent controls, for which some of his colleagues, including Labour’s London mayoral candidate, are calling, but when they were introduced, the housing rented sector fell from 55% of the overall sector to just 8%. However, since rent controls were abolished in the late ’80s, the market has doubled to 16%. I am afraid, therefore, that more regulation is unlikely to be the solution.

House owners have a duty to declare neighbour problems or disputes when selling their properties. Will the Secretary of State protect tenants in the private and social housing sectors in the same way by making it the law that landlords and agents must disclose neighbour problems when they enter into a new tenancy agreement, so that we do not have one rule for house owners and another for tenants?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important that when people move they know what their neighbours are like, whether for social housing, properties purchased or in the private rented sector. I encourage everybody thinking about renting to use an agent that belongs to something like the Safe Agent Fully Endorsed scheme, which provides reassurance that some of these checks are being carried out properly.