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Housing: Private Rented Sector

Volume 826: debated on Thursday 12 January 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the demand and supply of housing in the private rented sector in the implementation of their housing policy.

My Lords, I declare my interests in rural rental properties as set out in the register, and I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Our priority is to ensure that everyone lives in a decent and secure home. The proportion of private rented sector households has remained relatively stable for nearly a decade, currently accounting for 19% of households. At present, demand for PRS properties is greater than the available supply due to a range of factors, and we continue to monitor the market. We will publish a full impact assessment, setting out the costs and benefits, of our planned private rented sector reforms.

I thank the Minister for her response. Clearly, the supply of houses for rent is an increasing problem. I want to focus on the methodology of energy performance certificates used by the Government for upgrading efficiency. By an early date yet to be confirmed, all rental properties must have an EPC rating of C, which is likely to be both very expensive and unachievable for many properties. EPCs were introduced in 2007 to measure the efficiency of a house based on average energy consumption. While there have been adjustments, the relevant standards still take little account of the age and character of the house, or the carbon embodied in it, so all houses are assessed on the same basis. Therefore, EPC remedies are often based on inappropriate standard assumptions. Please could the Minister tell us how and when this blunt tool will be replaced by a measurement that is fit for purpose?

My Lords, I do not agree that it is a blunt tool. We propose to apply to new tenancies a requirement for an EPC rating of C and raise the maximum spend that landlords are required to invest to £10,000 from April 2025, and to all tenancies by April 2028—the noble Lord is right. If we are going to meet our net-zero strategy, we have to commit even further to consulting on phasing in even higher minimum performance standards. That will take place through the social housing sector but also through the private rented sector.

My Lords, further to the noble Lord’s original Question, is there not an inevitable tension between the interests of the private landlord on the one hand, who wants access to his capital or property and is therefore interested in a short lease, and the interests of families and tenants on the other hand, for whom renting may now be the only tenure and who want a much longer lease? Should we not be moving far more quickly to the position that exists in most other countries, where good-quality rented accommodation is provided by financial institutions as a long-term investment, as they are more prepared to issue the long leases that tenants increasingly want?

My noble friend brings up an extremely important point. The Government have always welcomed new institutional investments in the private rented sector and will continue to do so. We have also made a number of interventions to support the build-to-rent sector, such as the build to rent fund and the private rented sector guarantee scheme. Build to rent boosts housing supply and diversifies the private rented sector, but it also increases quality and choice for renters in cities and towns across the country. I will take the noble Lord’s views back to the department, and we will look into this further.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her answer to the first part of the Question, but does she accept that part of the reduction in supply is due to some landlords choosing the more lucrative Airbnb lettings and platforms, and that the Government’s policy to restrict mortgage interest relief on buy-to-let mortgages has inadvertently contributed to this loss of homes by exempting those lettings from that relief? Will the Government look seriously at this and other tax issues to level the playing field in order to attract landlords back to much-needed longer secure tenancies?

The noble Baroness brings up an important point. We know that this has become more important over the last year. We have committed as a Government to consult on the introduction of a use class for short-term lets; I think that is important. Subject to the outcome of that consultation, this will help local authorities to better control the increase of such uses where landlords seek to use existing homes for short lets, rather than using them for longer lets.

My Lords, given the ongoing cost of living crisis and the reliance of many people for survival purposes on food banks, what impact do the Government believe the lack of available homes to rent is having on the ability of councils and other providers to provide for the homeless?

My Lords, any shortfall in the number of permanent long-term homes available in the market will have a pressure on people looking for those homes and could put pressure on their household budgets, because if people are desperate for housing they will pay more than maybe they should have to. The Government are looking at all that. However, we have helped tenants and all people across this country. We have put in £37 billion of support for people who need it in 2022-23 to help us through this difficult time, and we will continue to look at making sure that we have as many houses of all types of tenure in our stock available for people.

Is it possible to look at the tragedy of increased evictions that is happening now? Are the Government going to come up with a solution to these two opposites: the tenants who can no longer afford the increase in rent and the landlords who are stymied in a similar way? We need, and I recommend, a debate in the House about this problem.

I am afraid that I have to answer the noble Lord that it is not up to me to agree to a debate, but I am sure that the Front Bench along from me has listened to what the noble Lord said. It would be an interesting debate.

My Lords, I recognise my noble friend’s sincerity in her initial Answer. Nevertheless, 95,000 families are living in temporary accommodation. In recent months, we have seen rent rises nationally of 17% and as high as 59% in some boroughs of London. Will my noble friend put some motion and activity behind a proper analysis so that we can produce an urgent way forward?

The Government have made it clear that, within this Session, they will bring forward the private renters Bill, which will look at the issues that my noble friend raises, as well as many others. The Government have allocated £654 million in funding this year and next year on homelessness and people in temporary accommodation. Recently, because of those issues that we know are happening, we have topped that up in December by another £50 million. We are doing everything that we can in this difficult time to support these vulnerable people.

My Lords, as a serving councillor, I deal with cases of homelessness every day. The number is increasing every day because of eviction from private tenancies and/or the affordability of those tenancies, and fewer landlords coming forward. With social housing waiting lists now at over 1 million due to decades of underinvestment in social housing and an annual loss of 24,000 social homes a year due to demolition and sales under the right to buy, what are the Government going to do to address the housing emergency?

My Lords, the Government are doing many things. When the renters reform Bill comes through—it was a Conservative Party manifesto commitment—it will look at these issues, particularly in the private rented sector. However, this is a much bigger issue across all sectors, as the noble Baroness said. We are doing an enormous amount, as I have said and am not repeating, and will continue to do so. Just to say, I think that an important thing that will come out in the renters reform Bill is that we will remove Section 21 evictions.

The Government have not considered that, although we may have to consider such measures for temporary accommodation as a result of pressures due particularly to immigration from Ukraine and Afghanistan. However, it is up to local authorities to find innovative responses to the pressures that they are under.