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Assured Shorthold Tenancies

Volume 624: debated on Monday 24 April 2017

On 18 April, 20 leading members of the British Property Federation pledged to offer three-year tenancies in build-for-rent developments, and leading housing associations have made a similar pledge. We hope that will encourage a shift in the market towards more landlords offering longer tenancies.

Thousands of renters in Colchester and across the country will welcome that news, but does the Minister agree that landlords are only half the issue? In fact, getting mortgage lenders, 50% of which at the moment do not lend on more than a year’s assured shorthold tenancy, to change that policy will be the key to unlocking longer tenancies for the future.

My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of security for people in the private rented sector, and he is also right to identify the issue of lending. Since the Government introduced their model tenancy agreement, which has appropriate break clauses, there is no longer any impediment to landlord customers submitting longer tenancies. The majority now permit tenancies of up to two to three years.

If the Minister had visited Cambridge recently, he would have seen the manifestation of the housing crisis in the number of people sleeping on the streets, which so depresses residents and those people. When I recently visited Wintercomfort, one of the leading charities, it told me that landlords are increasingly unwilling to let to people on housing benefit because of insecure employment. Does he agree that cracking down on insecure employment would help us to tackle the housing crisis?

I had the opportunity to visit Cambridge very recently, and I share the hon. Gentleman’s diagnosis of the problem: we desperately need to build more homes in this country to give people more choice. He is also right about our employment market, but it is the policies of this Government that have driven record levels of employment, and it is the national living wage that is increasing people’s spending power.

Both landlords and tenants often mistakenly believe that a tenancy has to be six months or a year renewable, when of course there is no legal impediment to people having longer tenancies, and in some cases they do. One reason why longer tenancies do not happen is that landlords often find it difficult to recover possession if they need to occupy the house themselves or if the tenant fails to pay their rent. Will the Minister consider encouraging landlords to provide longer tenancies by making it easier for them to recover occupation?

My hon. Friend is right that we need to ensure that, when a tenant behaves antisocially or is in rent arrears, landlords can regain possession, but the fundamental pressure we face at the moment is in giving the increasing number of families in the private rented sector the security they need. Reforming our housing market, increasing supply and bringing in these new build-to-rent schemes that will offer longer tenancies is a key reform.

Labour councils like Newham, Redbridge, Greenwich and my own borough of Hammersmith and Fulham are doing a fantastic job of cracking down on rogue landlords. If the Minister actually cares about private tenants, why is he blocking borough-wide private sector licensing schemes? Is his party still the slum landlord’s friend?

The suggestion that Conservative Members do not care about these issues is as ridiculous as it is insulting. The work of Labour councils to which the shadow Minister refers is often being funded by this Government. He is factually wrong to suggest that this Government are blocking borough-wide selective licensing, and I point out the many reforms that we are introducing—we are banning letting agent fees and insisting on client money protection—that were not in place when the shadow Housing Minister, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), was running this Department.