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Cost of Living: Private rented sector

Volume 736: debated on Tuesday 18 July 2023

[Dr Rupa Huq in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the cost of living and the private rented sector.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq.

I am pleased to have secured this debate on an aspect of the cost of living crisis that does not get the attention it deserves: the huge financial challenges facing private renters. Much focus is rightly placed on the Tory mortgage bombshell that is causing misery for millions of homeowners, but we should not forget that this crisis also affects renters, who are seeing increased mortgage costs passed down to them as a result, or landlords selling up and leaving them at the mercy of a market in which rents are soaring. It is the latest blow to renters, whose home lives are already characterised by insecurity and extortionate costs. For many of the approximately 11.6 million people privately renting in this country, the situation is becoming increasingly untenable. Average rents in the UK are almost 10% higher than they were in 2020, and rents on new tenancies recorded by Zoopla have increased by 22% since March 2021.

National statistics do not tell the whole story, as they mask staggering increases in certain areas. For example, average monthly rents for lets in my home borough of Trafford were £1,093 per month in January 2023—a 12% increase on the year before. Rent as a share of income is at its highest level in over a decade, at 28% of average earnings, rising to 40% in London. That is among the highest in the OECD, and around three times higher than in Germany and France. Evidence from Shelter shows that a third of private tenants are now spending over half of their monthly income on rent.

The steep increases are a result of local housing allowance rates being frozen since 2020. In the past year, the number of private rented homes that are affordable on LHA dropped by some 55%. When less than one in five private rents in England is viable for those on LHA, and virtually everyone accepts that there is not enough social housing, what do we expect low-income renters to do? Grim figures released by the Office for National Statistics last week revealed that one in seven renters have reported running out of food and being unable to afford more. According to Shelter, almost 2.4 million renters are behind on their rent or consistently struggle to pay it. It is clear that renters have been experiencing the cost of living crisis for some time and are reaching breaking point.

Let me illustrate the situation by sharing some stories from my constituency of Stretford and Urmston. A single mum recently contacted my office in desperate need of help. She has two children, one of whom is disabled, with multiple health issues that mean she is now awaiting the fourth surgery of her young life. My constituent told me:

“The cost of living crisis makes it impossible to stay where I am.”

The family, unable to afford their rent, are now homeless and living in temporary accommodation under a level of stress that I cannot begin to imagine.

Another mum from my constituency suffers from a tumour on her spine, as well as anxiety and depression. She is currently living with her baby in a third-floor flat with no lift. There is mould in the flat, which is making her baby and her ill. She is in arrears, as the flat is so mouldy that she has been spending £100 a week trying to heat it. She has recently been issued with a section 8 eviction notice by a landlord who will not even return her messages.

I thank both constituents for allowing me to share their stories today, but the sad reality is that their experience is not uncommon. I could provide dozens of examples from my constituency alone, and many hundreds more, as a result of the engagement work that the parliamentary engagement team did in advance of the debate. On behalf of my constituents, and every other renter living under this intolerable pressure, I ask the Minister why support is so slow to arrive. Why is the plight of renters so often ignored? What will the Government do to help? The Renters (Reform) Bill, first promised in 2019, yet introduced only in May 2023, is moving at a snail’s pace—still no Second Reading, two months on from First Reading. During that time, the House has risen early on 10 occasions, which tells us the simple truth that this is not an issue of parliamentary scheduling; it is an issue of priorities.

We are going into a summer where, according to Generation Rent, a section 21 eviction claim—something the Government promised to end—is being made once every 15 minutes. That means that 96 tenants a day will be forced to find new homes over the summer, in this incredibly difficult market. Inevitably, that means that renters will be forced into cheaper substandard parts of the market, where approximately 600,000 homes pose a serious risk to health, with issues such as damp and mould.

Some renters will fare even worse, and be made homeless, adding to the shameful record of this Government, under which the number of people living in temporary accommodation has increased by 97% since 2010. The Government are sitting on the sidelines as our housing market, from rents to mortgages, is in crisis. Because of that, the situation is set to get even worse, with rents now expected to rise by 6.5% by the end of 2023, and the number of homeless people potentially reaching 300,000.

As the chief executive of the charity, Crisis, has said, low-income renters are facing a “catastrophe”. The Labour party grasps the urgency of the situation. Our renters’ charter will deliver substantial new rights and protections for tenants, including longer notice periods and, finally, a ban on no-fault evictions. Ultimately, the cost of living crisis for private renters is, at its core, another symptom of our broken housing market. The increased demand for private rentals, driven by years of Government failure to invest in genuinely affordable social homes, is the major reason why rents are so high. The only solution to this, and to the wider housing crisis, is to build, build, build. That is not just my view. The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee says in its report on the private rented sector:

“The affordability crisis in the private rented sector, the source of many of the other problems in the sector, can only be properly solved by a significant increase in house building, particularly affordable housing.”

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he acknowledge that we have more houses now per head than we did in the 1950s? It is not just a crisis of the number of units but, as he has just said, it is the tenure of those units that is vitally important. If we do not get that mix right, the crisis will not be solved.

My hon. Friend is right and, like him, I look forward to a Labour Government ensuring that social rent is returned to the second highest form of tenure. We retain a significant shortage of homes overall. We are nowhere near where we should be, compared with the European average. He is correct, and I agree, that we are in desperate need of a significant increase in social homes, up and down this country.

Conservatives seem to have given up on building, as demonstrated by their capitulation on housing targets, which will leave house building at its lowest since the second world war. Only last week, we learned that, under this Government, we are in a situation where, despite the UK being short of approximately 4 million homes, the Department that is meant to build those homes is handing back £1.9 billion to the Treasury after failing to find housing projects to spend it on. I am pretty sure that, had the Minister sought advice or support from Members in this room and beyond, that money could have been well spent.

Thankfully, Labour has not given up on house building. Reforming planning rules, reintroducing house building targets, building on parts of the green belt that are in fact far from green, and, as I have just discussed with my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle), restoring social housing to the second largest form of tenure will be key drivers in our mission to achieve the fastest growth in the G7.

I congratulate the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), on all his work to raise this issue and to promote house building but, as he knows, I would go further still. Our 76-year-old planning system needs to be scrapped so that we can shift away from a discretionary system at the mercy of nimbyism towards one that is rules-based, underpinned by a flexible zoning code and determined nationally for local implementation. Only then will we be sure that we can build the number of homes, and the types and tenures of property, that we require.

Does my hon. Friend welcome the Labour party’s proposal to empower local councils to set up development bodies, which would not only be reactive in the planning policy debate, but would be proactive, in the sense that they could buy up land at the current land-value cost rather than inflated future costs, and develop it themselves or with partners?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I welcome the Labour party’s commitment not only to end the hope value that exists in the sale of land at present but, as he says, to introduce the vehicles that empower local authorities to build. As a formal local authority leader, I know how challenging it is, particularly without a housing revenue account, to build those homes, and therefore to influence the place-shaping of communities. It is imperative that local authorities can do that to ensure that we get the homes that our local neighbourhoods require.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. I am a London MP, representing a constituency in south-west London. On average, renters in London are spending almost 50% of their pre-tax income on rent, and the housing supply in the private rental sector has dropped dramatically. The impact is that our key workers—our nurses and teachers—cannot afford to live in the capital, and young families are being driven out, which is demonstrated in falling school rolls. However, London Councils says that local authorities could be building 143,000 new social homes; they are ready to do that, but they just need the funding. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government need urgently to come forward with that cash so we can boost the supply of social housing in our capital?

I agree with the points made by the hon. Lady. I commend the work of the local authorities that are leading the way in building social and affordable homes in an incredibly difficult climate. It is not an easy thing to do with the way the grant regime is set up, but I know how fixated council leaders are on tackling the housing crisis, particularly in places such as London and my constituency in Greater Manchester, where prices are driving key workers and low-income workers out of the local area, which causes all sorts of issues with labour shortages and the provision of skills that we desperately need.

I support planning reform, but it will not be easy. Difficult choices must be made to end the gross inequities of our housing market. In the current system, we are set to spend more on housing benefit than on building affordable homes, and renting is no longer a step in the journey towards owning a home, but an expensive, insecure quagmire, dragging down a generation of younger people. The cost of living crisis is affecting us all, but especially private renters. They are generally, younger, poorer, more vulnerable people, trapped in the vicious circle of a broken rental market. It is no wonder that Sky News found last week that low-income private renters are suffering the most in the current financial climate, and the need for action to tackle this social catastrophe is now acute. Labour has shown that it gets this. I hope that when the Minister responds to the debate, she will show that she understands it too.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Dr Huq.

I had not intended to participate in this debate, but having listened to what the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western) said in introducing his debate, I wondered where the issue of supply comes into this equation. The crisis in the rented housing sector is largely one of a lack of supply. When I had the privilege of being a junior housing Minister in the 1980s, we transformed the supply of rented housing by introducing the Housing Act 1988, which freed up tenancies and introduced shorthold tenancies. It enabled those with surplus accommodation to let it out through agreements under which they realised that, if they wanted to recover possession, they could do so at a time of their choosing and by agreement with the tenants. As a result of the 1988 Act, the supply of private rented housing in this country soared, and the sector was completely transformed for the better.

Does the hon. Member recognise that 50% of former council houses that have been sold off are now just rented out, rather than providing stable homes? The reforms that he talks about have led to an increase in private rents above and beyond the inflation in the housing market, less home ownership, less stability in the housing market and more insecurity. They have partly caused the crisis that we are in now.

Obviously, I do not accept that analysis, and I certainly do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s proposition that, just because somebody lets out a property that used to be a council property, that somehow means it is a meaningless value to the person renting it. If a former council tenant buys a house and ultimately chooses to let it out, that property is available in the private rented sector. On supply, a lot of people in that sort of situation are now withdrawing their properties from the rental market, thereby reducing the supply and forcing up pressure on costs and rents.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association that it is a myth that landlords are leaving the market, that in fact the private rented sector is growing, despite further regulation, and that there is no evidence that the private rented sector is being vacated? Some people are leaving, but more people are joining.

I do not accept that, because I have looked in vain at the impact assessment that accompanies the Renters (Reform) Bill—I looked at the latest iteration a couple of weeks back—and the Regulatory Policy Committee condemned that impact assessment as totally inadequate in dealing with the consequences of the reforms for the supply of housing from the private rented sector. The Government’s own impact assessment does not answer the question as to the quantity and quality of private rented accommodation that would be available were those reforms to be implemented. One can only assume that the Government either do not know the answer to that question or do not wish to disclose it.

As somebody who believes in the market, my instinct is that, if we put pressure on potential suppliers of a product through regulation, the likely consequence is that the potential suppliers will withdraw some of that product from the marketplace. That is exactly what is happening at the moment. One of the figures used by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston in introducing the debate was the large increase in section 21 evictions. My understanding—admittedly, it is only anecdotal—is that that is because private landlords now feel that they are going to be squeezed by both a nominally Conservative Government and the prospect of a real socialist Government, both of whom are basically anti-private landlord and are determined to reduce the supply of rented accomodation available in the private sector.

The Renters (Reform) Bill has only been printed and had its First Reading—it has yet to receive a Second Reading, which is a complaint from the Opposition—but I hope the Government withdraw that legislation, because the mere fact that it has been printed in the form of a Bill is driving a large number of people away from renting out their private homes and causing them to bring property back under their control, with a view to selling it. A lot of the property that is available for sale at the moment is property that was formerly rented.

May I take the hon. Gentleman back to his analysis—I will be polite and say “analysis”—of section 21 evictions? If there is fear of a Labour Government, can he explain why so many Members of Parliament are having to move out of their London accommodation? Landlords are putting up prices by so much, and when an MP says to the landlord, “Let’s negotiate,” they are immediately served with a section 21 eviction notice. If landlords are doing that to Members of Parliament, surely they can do it to anybody else. That why the legislation needs to be scrapped.

Surely a landlord should have the right to decide whether they wish to rent out a property. If they decide that they cannot rent it at a price that they think is reasonable, they can withdraw it from the marketplace.

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point about Members of Parliament and the rented sector. When I was first a Member of the House, we had a system whereby the taxpayer subsidised the cost of Members of Parliament renting a second home. Then the rules were changed, because it was decided that it was very poor value for taxpayers to keep on paying rent for Members of Parliament. The rules were changed to allow Members of Parliament to take out a mortgage on their constituency home or second home, and the interest on that mortgage, rather than rent, was paid by the authorities in Parliament. That was because prices in the rental market could only increase, and it is why, traditionally in this country, most people choose to be owner-occupiers, rather than renters, if they can afford it.

The point was made earlier about the reduction in the number of people who own their home, particularly among the younger generation. It is really sad and a chronic problem. Between 1 million and 2 million more people would probably own their home if we had the same policies in place for home ownership as we had in the late 1980s. The advantages of home ownership include flexibility, and the fact that when someone retires, they will probably have paid off their mortgage and not have any ongoing housing payments. It also means that people can be mobile; if their job takes them to another part of the country, they can move. All the rigidities in the private rented sector were reduced, to an extent, by the 1988 legislation, but it seems that there is pressure, from both my Government and the Opposition, to reintroduce a lot of the controls. That would make it very difficult for somebody to move from one private rented home to another in another part of the country for a job.

The supply of private rented housing is key, and nothing suggested by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston would do anything other than reduce the supply of private rented accommodation.

The hon. Gentleman is arguing very strongly on behalf of landlords in the private rented sector, but the overwhelming evidence shows that the majority of tenants are on a low income. Their tenure is often insecure, and the properties are often low quality, with damp and mould. Did you consult tenants? Can you speak on behalf of the tenants who are suffering?

I shall try to address the hon. Lady’s remarks by saying that in my constituency, there is a lot of social rented accommodation, and to suggest that poor-quality accommodation with damp and mould is the exclusive purview of the private landlord is a complete travesty of the facts. In much of the social rented sector, the stock is very poor quality, insulation standards are very low, repair standards leave much to be desired, and rents are increasing. This year, the Government have allowed social rents to go up by 7%. The point was made just now that there may be a 6.5% increase in private sector rents by the end of 2023.

There is a problem right across the rental market—it is not confined to private landlords—but one thing is absolutely certain: if we restrict the supply of private rented accommodation, rents will go up, and the Government’s response will be to control the rents, which will produce an even worse result. Landlords will not even have the resources to maintain their properties in good repair. Those of us who were privileged to be around in the late 1970s and to see the state of the accommodation across much of our urban areas, particularly London, know that that resulted from years and years of neglect by the public sector, and of penalising the private sector and driving it out of business. My concern is that we should not get back into that scenario. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister winds up the debate, she will confirm that the Government will not go ahead with the renters’ reform legislation, because that will have the perverse consequence of reducing supply and increasing rent.

My final point is about population. The population of this country is expanding exponentially and unsustainably. Since 1990, which is also the base date for measuring CO2 omissions, the population of this country has gone up by between 10 million and 11 million, or about 20%. Last year and the year before, net migration was more than 600,000. The number of people who wish to live in this country is increasing far faster than our ability to provide rental accommodation for them.

Order. I am told by the Clerk that we are straying from the terms of the debate. There are others who want to get in.

I have given way a lot, and hope that I have been able to give some more balance to the debate. My hon. Friend the Minister should not forget the undoubted success of the 1988 reforms, and should remember that she is a Minister in a Conservative Government.

As ever, it is an honour to serve with you in the Chair, Dr Huq, and an honour to take part in this debate, brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western). It is really important and timely, because the cost of living crisis rages on. Inflation is at its highest for 41 years, and thousands of our constituents up and down the country are falling into poverty. I have no doubt but that since the emergence of the crisis, every colleague in this Chamber will have heard, in their advice surgery, harrowing stories—perhaps more of them than ever before—of suffering and difficulty. Indeed, when I hosted a dedicated cost of living support event in Rhydyfelin just a few weeks ago, I heard story after story from terrified residents who felt that they just could not make ends meet any more. They told me that it felt as though the walls were closing in. That is the reality of Tory Britain today.

It is the same story across the country. One in seven people in the UK goes hungry because they cannot afford to eat. According to recent research from the Trussell Trust, an estimated 11.3 million people have faced hunger in the past year. That is double Scotland’s population. This Tory Government have presided over the largest slide in living standards in a generation, in the sixth-largest economy in the world. That is a shameful indictment of the Government’s record. As colleagues will no doubt be aware, a staggering fifth of our population lives in poverty—13.4 million people. The Prime Minister has hedged his bets on delivering on those laughable five priorities, but so far he has failed to get a grip on inflation, or do anything of substance to help the thousands of families and households who are suffering.

We have nothing but inaction from this zombie Tory Government, who are asleep at the wheel while our constituents face the impossible decision of whether to pay the rent or feed themselves. In recent months, we have heard much about the impact of the Tory mortgage penalty on homeowners, and the mortage market has capsized, thanks to the Tories’ incompetence, but it is absolutely right that today’s debate should highlight the incredibly difficult conditions that our constituents in the private rental sector face. Thousands of people are already struggling with rent arrears from the pandemic, but now, on average, renters are having to spend a third of their income—or, more often than not, half—on rent. We desperately need reform in the private rental sector. One of the most urgent changes for which Labour and housing campaigners have been calling for years is reform of the cruel practice of no-fault evictions. Tenants already suffering under impossible conditions thanks to inflation and the cost of living crisis frequently face eviction by their landlord, just for reporting disrepair or mould.

Colleagues will be aware that the Tory Government promised to ban no-fault evictions in England way back in 2019, three whole Prime Ministers ago. The disgraced former Prime Minister Boris Johnson also promised to ban them, but we are all familiar with his reputation for breaking promises. Of course, the disastrous short-lived tenure of the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) as Prime Minister hardly left her time to act on no-fault evictions. It is shameful that it has taken the Tory Government four years to act on their manifesto commitment to introduce a Bill banning the vile practice.

The Renters (Reform) Bill looks set to be delayed once again. As we have heard, First Reading took place in May, but colleagues will not be able to debate the Bill until September at the earliest. With every day of delay that passes, the Government are letting down thousands of renters in desperate circumstances. This is more dither and delay from a hapless Tory Government who seem to have given up the ghost. There is zero progress on debating the Bill, let alone passing it into law.

A staggering 65,000 households have faced homelessness through no-fault evictions since the Government first pledged to act, but I am pleased to say that the Welsh Labour Government are leading the way. The Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 is the biggest change to housing law in Wales for decades. The Welsh Government have taken the bold step of extending the notice of eviction that landlords must serve to their tenants to six months. That is a vital period of respite. The measure will go a long way towards reassuring renters in difficult situations. England is the only nation in the UK without a mandatory landlord register; the devolved nations, including the Welsh Labour Government, have had such a register for years. That is yet more evidence that this Tory Government are just not interested in helping vulnerable tenants in the private rental sector.

Before I finish, I would like to give one anecdote. We all have hundreds from our constituency surgeries, but the one that hit me hardest was from a resident of Tonyrefail. She has rented her house for 14 years, and is the single mum of a young daughter. Recently, she got in touch with me because she is being evicted by her landlord of 14 years. The landlord is putting up her rent from £425 to £650 per calendar month—a 50% increase in the rent. How is that reasonable? Where is the compassion? Where is she meant to find that extra money every month?

We urgently need action to help those in private tenancies who are already exhausted from the cost of living crisis, but with zero leadership from the Tory Government, it is clear that only a general election, and a Labour Government, will deliver the change that we desperately need. I urge the Minister to bring forward legislation as soon as is possible. We desperately need it on the statute book. Renters can no longer wait.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dr Huq. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western) on securing this vital debate. We are living through a housing crisis in the United Kingdom, and there is a desperate lack of affordable, accessible, suitable and settled accommodation for millions of people across the United Kingdom. At the same time, we are suffering the greatest cost of living crisis in living memory, with rising rents, extortionate energy costs, food bills rising, below-inflation pay rises and inadequate social security benefits. This is a perfect storm, and nowhere more so than in the private rented sector, as others have commented.

Data from last week shows that private renters are five times more likely to struggle financially than homeowners. The private rented sector is now bigger than the social rented sector, and the demography of the people using the private rented sector has changed quite significantly. They tend to be older people, families and those on low incomes. Private renting tends to be insecure, and the accommodation tends to be in poor condition. If Government Members cared to look at research by Shelter, Crisis and many others—the Chartered Institute of Housing has written a lot about this—they would see that hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to accept properties that are either unsuitable or in poor condition. They are living in damp, mouldy and overcrowded accommodation, because that is all that they can afford. That is a major issue in the private rented sector.

The increasing competition for private rented properties means that there are increases in rents. Private rent prices increased by about 5% last year. Low pay is the cause of housing issues for millions of people, but many of those on low incomes are unable to afford private rent because of the complete inadequacy of the local housing allowance, which has been frozen since 2020. More than half of those receiving LHA have a shortfall. In Wales, during the first two weeks of February, just 1.2% of properties advertised on the formal rental market were available at or below LHA rates. That is absolutely shocking. That is putting unbearable pressure on families. There was an almost 70% increase in repossessions across the UK between January and March last year. Local authorities are doing what they can to help, through the discretionary housing payment scheme, but that is insufficient to meet the shortfall. Wales spent 155% of its discretionary housing payment allocation on support for housing costs. That is much more than any region in England.

The evidence is clear: the Government must restore local housing allowance rates and re-link them to rents, so that they cover at least the cheapest 30% of local rents. As others have commented, we have been inundated by constituents with an array of housing problems, including problems with affordability in the private rented sector. One lady has taken on a kinship caring responsibility, but she is being penalised by the system. She was unable to afford rent; she had assistance via the discretionary housing payment, but it was insufficient, and she is now in arrears with her utilities. That is not acceptable in the fifth-richest nation in the world. The quickest and most effective way to keep people in their home is for the Government urgently to invest in local housing allowance, so that it covers the true cost of rents.

The Renters (Reform) Bill does not address cost issues, so, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) mentioned, the Welsh Government are leading the way. They have just opened a consultation on fair rents and affordability. They are seeking evidence on defining “local income” and “fair rent”, as well as setting out proposals for fair rent and affordability. ACORN in Wales commented that rent controls are “the bare minimum response”, but it is pleased to see the Welsh Government considering rent controls. Rent controls must be considered. I completely agree with the comments of the Bevan Foundation: it endorses rent controls, but says that we must also increase the provision of social housing, reform the social security system, and take action to improve security of tenure.

To conclude, if we are to address the UK’s horrendous housing crisis, we need a holistic approach that also looks outside housing. We need to challenge the capitalist neoliberal system, which allows the few to benefit at the expense of the many. Housing is more than bricks and mortar; it is a home. We need to look at housing in a different way. Diolch yn fawr.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dr Huq, and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western) on securing this important debate.

The cost of living crisis has hit people across the country hard. The price of food, fuel and household bills have soared at the same time as wages have fallen in real terms, and 13 years of consecutive Conservative Governments has seen family budgets squeezed at the longest and deepest levels since records began in the 1950s. One of the biggest household expenditures, of course, is a place to live, whether that is a rented or mortgaged property, and that means monthly rent or payments. Almost one in five households in England live in the private rented sector, and that number is rising as the cost of home ownership rises, too.

As we have heard today, people who live in the private rented sector face a number of challenges. The charity Crisis found that private rents rose by an average of 11% across the country in 2022, but household allowances and people’s wages have not kept pace with the rise. Between January and March 2023, landlord repossessions increased by 69%. More people are struggling to support themselves and their families, and, of course, if they live in the private rented sector, they often live in fear that they will be evicted through a no-fault eviction notice. As we have heard, this Government promised to abolish no-fault evictions in their 2019 manifesto, but they have not done so to date.

Privately renting in this country is far too insecure. Renters not only face the prospect of no-fault eviction, but can have their rent raised considerably at short notice. Landlords are piling the rising costs on to tenants, or in some cases simply putting prices up to the highest level they can get away with. One distressed constituent contacted me after they, along with their partner and four-year-old, were forced to move back in with their parents because their private rented property was repossessed. Their sibling and nephew are also living with their parents—all sharing one bathroom and toilet. Family members are suffering health issues because of the stress of the situation, and relationships are fraying.

Having somewhere to live should not be a luxury. A number of people living in private rented properties in Barnsley have contacted me about the quality of their housing. They have described having to put up with conditions that make it unfit to live in: plaster falling off the walls, areas of rising damp, windows that will not shut and unresolved structural issues. That needs to change. A Labour Government would pay the private sector the urgent attention it needs by introducing the private renters’ charter, which would ban no-fault evictions, lengthen repossession notices and introduce a code of practice for letting agents.

Too many people are being forced to make difficult choices just to keep a roof over their head, and the poorest in society are suffering the most from the cost of living crisis. I have spoken today about those living in the private rented sector, but of course people across Barnsley, whether they rent or own, are struggling. The Tory mortgage bombshell has cost mortgage owners £1,500 extra a year, and in Barnsley that is in the context of poverty rates that are higher than the national average. Over 40,000 residents in the borough are in fuel poverty, 11 children in every class of 30 are living in poverty and workers are on average £100 a month worse off than in previous years.

I have spoken to many constituents at the various cost of living advice surgeries that I have hosted across Barnsley East, and they have told me about the real impact of the cost of living crisis on their health and wellbeing. As we saw from the ONS report a few weeks ago, levels of anxiety and depression are at their highest in over 15 years, and life expectancy in areas such as Barnsley is significantly lower than the national average. The cost of living crisis has a real impact not just on people’s day-to-day existence but on their future. I hope that the Government are listening to the debate, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western) for securing this incredibly important debate.

The cost of living is one of the most difficult challenges facing people across the UK. It comes up on the doorstep and in my constituency surgeries in Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale time after time. My constituents, just like many people across the UK, are really struggling to manage the rising costs of energy and food. A constituent told me that they cannot even pay their bills, let alone start paying off their debts. This is all while residents have been hit by the Tory mortgage bombshell—either as homeowners or as renters absorbing costs through higher rents. One of my constituents said:

“Our rent was increased twice within the space of a few months”.

That feeling of helplessness is sadly not unique to communities such as mine. Shelter estimated that on a single night in 2022, there were more than 20,000 homeless people across the west midlands and more than 14,000 in Birmingham. That is equivalent to one in 80 people in the region. We know that the cost of living crisis is pushing more people than ever out of secure housing, with no-fault evictions increasing by 116% this year.

One of my constituents was issued with a section 21 notice. She lives with her son and is a foster carer for her three grandchildren. She has been renting her home for the last six years, but her landlord has decided to sell the property and now she does not even know where they will be living this time next month.

I am sorry to interrupt the flow of the hon. Lady’s speech, but she gave startling statistics on homelessness in the west midlands. I wonder whether she is aware that in London, where the homelessness crisis is probably at its most acute, a shocking one in 23 children is homeless. That is, on average, one in every classroom. In constituencies such as mine—Twickenham, in the London Borough of Richmond—very little emergency accommodation is available to the council. Families who come to my surgery are having to come in from as far afield as Croydon, Slough and the upper reaches of north London to get to school. That is particularly difficult if their child is on an education, health and care plan. Does the hon. Lady agree with me that as well as urgently building more social housing, a short-term fix for some of these problems is to increase the local housing allowance urgently?

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. I absolutely agree with her that the allowance needs to be increased. The situation is just going from bad to worse. At the moment, to say that we must tighten our belt, as the Prime Minister has said, is just not good enough. Sometimes we have to spend so that we can ensure that our citizens are being taken care of.

There are real, human implications from the Conservatives’ failure to end no-fault evictions. Since they promised to do so three years ago, more than 50,000 households—like my constituent’s—have been threatened with homelessness under section 21. Where people can find housing, it is not always suitable or even safe.

In Erdington, we have real problems with houses in multiple occupation and exempt accommodation. In April 2023, the ward of Stockland Green in my constituency was assessed as having 271 HMOs. That places the ward sixth highest in Birmingham, with an increase of 39 properties this year; it is reducing family homes in that area. I hear regularly from constituents living in so-called supported housing complaints about anything and everything from bedbugs and disrepair to serious concerns about fire safety, fly-tipping and antisocial behaviour.

In the last month alone, two new planning applications have been made for HMOs in my constituency. One is to turn a three-bedroom property into a seven-bed HMO, and one is to turn a former pub into a 10-bed HMO. I led a campaign calling on local people to object, and our petition collected the support of 398 concerned residents in a week. That is an issue that my constituents and I feel strongly about, and it is not going away. The only way to fix the housing crisis is to build far more social housing. Under the Conservatives, the number of new social rented homes has fallen by over 80%. Labour will build more social homes, ban no-fault evictions and prioritise boosting our economy so we can fix the broken housing market. The bottom line is that everyone deserves a secure and safe home, but sadly right now my constituents and people across the UK cannot have one because they are paying the price of a Tory Government. It is time for change.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dr Huq. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western) for bringing forward this extremely important debate. The UK is a country shamed by the poverty of its people and especially of its children. The Government’s failure to act to curb the corporate profiteering that is driving inflation is just one of many ways in which the Government are fanning the flames of the cost of living emergency. In this country, 14.5 million people live in poverty and 4.3 million of them are children. In the last full calendar year, real-terms wages fell by 3.1% while, according to the latest ONS figures, private rents rose by 5% in the year to May.

Figures from Generation Rent tell us that private rents have increased by 22% since March 2021 and have been pushed up further in response to even higher interest rates and as landlords take advantage of the crisis to improve profits. As a result, private renters in England pay up to 40% of their median household income on rent. Rent as a share of income is at its highest level in over a decade. While the Scottish Government took action last year to at least temporarily cap rent increases at 0% through the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Act 2022, the Westminster Government have allowed rents to be driven by the market and by greed, with little thought for the additional burden it places on the backs of those already going under.

The Government’s Renters (Reform) Bill, which was introduced in May almost a year after the planned reforms were announced, has seen its Second Reading delayed until at least the autumn, with no date yet announced despite the imminent recess. Meanwhile, more than 4 million households that rent privately—a number that has doubled in the two decades of failure to build council and social housing—continue to face unsecure tenancies, arbitrary and back-door section 21 no-fault evictions and often appalling living conditions. In the middle of a cost of living crisis, they are also paying over £570 a year more than they need to in energy costs, according to E3G, because of landlords’ refusal to upgrade heating systems and insulation. As a result, fuel poverty charity National Energy Action has noted that private renters are more likely to be fuel poor than people in all other types of tenure and more likely to live in the leakiest properties, often needing to spend thousands of pounds more than the average household just to keep a healthy temperature at home.

We have seen, in the case of the odious Illegal Migration Bill, just how quickly this Government can force legislation through Parliament when they have a mind to do so. Against the backdrop of a perfect storm of misery for millions living in privately rented accommodation, the Government must—yes, must—urgently publish an accelerated timetable for the Renters (Reform) Bill and combat the affordability crisis in private renting, which is absent from the proposed measures, but will at least go some way toward reducing the injustice and inequality of private rent.

I am delighted to see you in the Chair, Dr Huq. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western) on leading the debate. I always like and enjoy listening to his contributions. He follows a fantastic former Member of Parliament, Kate Green, who represented his constituency very well. He used his local authority experience, which is very important when discussing such issues.

The related issues of the cost of living and the private rented sector should be of great concern to members of all political parties as they affect the wellbeing of people in each of the nations of these islands. Much of what we are discussing today is centred on the experiences of people in England and Wales, so I will contribute a Scottish perspective. There have been some criticisms, from some sources, of the SNP-led Scottish Government and how they have handled the private rented sector. What Members will hear from me are the views of other interested organisations that contradict those misgivings and are supportive of the stance the Government have taken in Scotland.

We are familiar with the factors that have contributed to the current cost of living crisis, although some might question how much those factors have contributed, or even whether they have contributed at all—for example, Brexit—but no one will dispute that the war in Ukraine has driven up the price of oil, with a consequent massive increase in domestic energy costs. Russia’s de facto blockade of the Black sea has also resulted in Ukraine’s exports dropping to one sixth of the pre-war level, causing grain prices to rise dramatically. We have all seen the effects on the price levels on supermarket shelves. Covid has also played an obvious part in taking us to where we are.

We know that the biggest factors in determining the cost of living are wage rates and housing costs. The limits of devolution mean that the Scottish Government have no real say in private sector incomes, but for many in the public sector—nurses, midwives, teachers, junior doctors—pay awards have been sufficient to avoid protracted industrial and strike action. It is not as much as we would wish to pay, but better than elsewhere and certainly appreciated, which brings us to the major factor in the cost of living crisis: rent prices.

Different legislatures in the UK have taken different approaches to dealing with rent prices. In Scotland there were recent changes to the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Act 2022, which took effect from 1 April. With the exception of some defined limited circumstances, those changes have included a cap on most private landlords’ mid-tenancy rent increases at 3%. The enforcement of evictions continues to be paused across all sectors for up to six months and increased damages for unlawful evictions of up to 36 months of rent will continue to apply. Those measures will be in force until 30 September, provided they remain necessary, but there is also the option to extend for another six-month period if required. As previously announced, a social sector rent freeze has been replaced with agreements from landlords to keep any rent increase for 2023-24 well below inflation. That voluntary approach to rent setting agreed with the social sector will equate to an approximate average rental increase of £5 per week. That is still a strain for many, but more manageable than is the case elsewhere.

The legislative approach has had its detractors who suggest that SNP policies have harmed or unfairly targeted the private rented sector. There is, however, no credible evidence for that, leaving the detractors’ motives open to question. For example, concerns are expressed by some private landlord representatives about the different approach between social and private landlords. The Scottish Government contend that a collective approach like that in the social sector is simply not possible in the private rented sector. As a consequence of the policy, the 3% increase in the average rent of a two-bedroom private rented property, which is the most common size, is broadly comparable in monetary value with the average planned increase in the social sector.

The Scottish Government continue to monitor the data and to listen to landlords and tenants, in order to consider whether the measures that are in place remain proportionate and necessary. The recent legislation is time-limited and can only be extended with the approval of the Scottish Parliament, and in any event it cannot extend beyond March 2024 at the latest.

Some have suggested that investors will exit when certain rent-controlled regimes are introduced, and some political parties claim that this has already happened. But, again, there is no evidence to support those claims or suggestions. On the contrary, the chief executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords has stated publicly that

“We do need to have rent control in Scotland. I think that’s where we’re going to be going.”

Let me add a few other views about Scotland and its recent decisions. Crisis Scotland told Parliament:

“We all know that the cost of living crisis is an emergency at the moment, and for those in poverty that’s an emergency as acute as the pandemic. And it calls for emergency measures that at other times wouldn’t be considered. We absolutely support the need to do something to support tenants through that crisis.”

Living Rent said that a rent freeze would have a

“massive impact, as skyrocketing rents continue to pile on top of out of control energy bills.”

Shelter Scotland stated that short-term emergency measures in the Programme for Government

“are great news for tenants and will stop people from losing their homes.”

The Scottish Trades Union Congress said that

“the Scottish Government is to be commended for freezing rents…when used, the powers of our Parliament can bring positive change.”

It is on the use of the powers of the Scottish Parliament that I will now dwell, because Scotland has delivered 10.8 social rented homes per 10,000 population compared with just 1.2 per 10,000 population in England—nine times as many. Spend on affordable housing in Scotland remains the highest in the UK. Since the Scottish National party came into office in 2007, that has produced 14 homes per 10,000 population compared with 9.7 per 10,000 population in England. The Scottish Government’s per capita spending on affordable housing is more than three times higher than that of the UK Government. And in their published 2022-23 Programme for Government, the Scottish Government pledged to deliver 110,000 homes ahead of 2032, of which at least 70% will be available for social rent and 10% will be in our remote rural and island communities.

The Scottish Government have also committed a five-year investment of £3.5 billion to Scotland’s internationally recognised Affordable Housing Supply Programme, which this year’s £752 million affordable housing budget feeds into, despite a 3.4% real-terms cut in capital funding from the UK Government.

The first-time buyer relief, which raises the nil rate band to £175,000, means that the majority of Scotland’s first-time buyers pay no land and building transaction tax, which replaced stamp duty, and all other buyers benefit from a tax reduction of £600.

All that activity can be compared with the work of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which recently handed back £2 billion in funding, including £1.2 billion that was unused from the Help to Buy scheme.

I ask everyone here to ponder on the past achievements and future plans for Scottish housing, and consider whether some of them might also be applicable in some other parts of the UK. There have been several well-documented attempts in recent times to dilute the dissolution settlement and reduce the decision-making powers of the Scottish Government.

The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful contribution to the debate and the comments with regard to Wales and Scotland show the progressive, more radical policies there. Does he agree that if the devolved nations received fair, needs-based funding settlements from the UK Government, we could go much with those radical socialist policies?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Member.

In closing, on the cost of living in the private rented sector, the UK Government might do well to follow the policy lead of Scotland and Wales, and I urge the Minister to respond positively to the suggestions that have been made today.

As ever, Dr Huq, it is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair.

I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western) on securing this incredibly important debate and on his powerful opening remarks. He has served in this place only for a relatively short time, but he has already made a considerable impact. His commitment to advocating for all those at the sharp end of the acute housing crisis has helped and will continue to help to ensure that it remains a prominent consideration for the House.

I also thank all those other hon. Members who have participated in this afternoon’s debate. I particularly commend the compelling contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), for Birmingham, Erdington (Mrs Hamilton), and for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter)—I hope that I pronounced that last constituency correctly.

I also want to take the opportunity at the outset to express the Opposition’s thanks to all those organisations that have done so much to keep the issue of renters’ reform on the political agenda, particularly the 20 organisations that form the Renters’ Reform Coalition.

The cost of living crisis remains the most pressing issue facing households across the country. Against the backdrop of static inflation and rising core inflation, prices in some areas are easing, but remain high by historical standards. Pay is now rising, despite a cooling labour market, but continues to fall in real terms. Direct cost of living support for households is being scaled back, and the Government have overseen one of the biggest tax rises in a generation. As a result, families are continuing to feel the squeeze, and many are cutting back on essentials, withdrawing savings and racking up debts.

All the evidence suggests that private renters are particularly hard hit. Data released by the Office for National Statistics only on Friday, made clear that renters are nearly five times as likely to be financially vulnerable compared with mortgage holders or outright homeowners. According to that analysis, as many as four in 10 renters are finding it difficult to pay their rent. Renters are more likely than mortgage holders to cut spending on groceries and other essentials, to run out of food, and to be behind on energy payments.

The pressure on private renters reflects, at least in part, the sharp increase in rents over the recent period, owing to the mortgage crisis this Conservative Government presided over, as well as the general shortage of lettings, an issue rightly highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston in his comments relating to overall supply. According to the ONS, private property rental prices across the country rose 5% in the 12 months to May 2023, the biggest increase since the national data series began in 2016, with rent rises most acute in London.

We have heard several statistics in the debate, and other analysis suggests that the situation could be even more dire, with property website Rightmove suggesting that rents have risen nationwide by 9.4% in the past year, and by an eye-watering 14% in Greater London. The combination of all those pressures means that the situation for many renters is nothing short of dire. According to Shelter, almost 2.5 million are either behind or constantly struggling to pay their rent, an increase of 45% since April 2022. An analysis produced by the debt advice charity, StepChange, suggests that private renters are twice as likely as the general population to be in problem debt.

With renters across the country at breaking point, and many falling into arrears and at risk of eviction, they urgently need the long-term security and better rights and conditions they have been promised by this Government. After so many years of waiting, the Government finally published the Renters (Reform) Bill on 17 May. Yet, two months on, the Bill has not had its Second Reading and will not have it before the summer recess. That means, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd mentioned, we will not get a chance to consider it before September.

The Government’s justification for the delay, as suggested by the Secretary of State at departmental questions last week, is that a “fit-for-purpose impact assessment” was required to be available before progressing the legislation. No one disputes the need for a fit-for-purpose impact assessment to accompany the Bill, as we subject it to detailed scrutiny. We welcome the fact that the regulatory policy committee declared it green rated as of 3 July. However, it is frankly laughable for a Government that published the impact assessment for the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill the day before Third Reading to suggest the absence of a fit-for-purpose one is the sole reason that Second Reading of the Renters (Reform) Bill was delayed.

Whatever the reason for the delay, with a green-rated impact assessment now available, there is no reason whatsoever that we cannot begin to progress this long overdue and desperately needed piece of legislation. Will the Minister confirm to the House, and all those renters following our proceedings today, that the Renters (Reform) Bill will finally have Second Reading in the weeks immediately following the House’s return after the summer recess? Can she also reaffirm the commitment she made in response to a question from journalist Vicky Spratt at the Renters’ Reform rally on 21 March, to the effect that the Government will ensure that the abolition of section 21, and presumably therefore the passage of the Bill in its entirety, will be completed this autumn?

As the Minister will know, the Opposition were supportive of the proposals published in the “A fairer private rented sector” White Paper last year, on the basis that they provide a solid foundation for overhauling the private rental market, and we welcome much of what is in the Bill. However, we do have some concerns. We were troubled, for example, that the proposed legally binding decent homes standard for the private rented sector, and the ban on landlords refusing to rent to those in receipt of benefits or with children, commonly known as “no DSS” practices, are not in the Bill.

The explanatory notes accompanying the Bill state:

“The Government is carefully considering how to implement these policies and intends to bring forward legislation at the earliest opportunity within this Parliament.”

The Minister confirmed to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee last Monday that separate legislation was not required, but that the Government intended to introduce both measures, along with stronger enforcement powers for councils, through the Renters (Reform) Bill. Can she confirm today that that is indeed the case? Will she provide the House with an assurance that the changes will be considered and scrutinised in Committee, rather than tabled as detailed amendments just prior to Report, thereby allowing for only limited scrutiny, as her Department has done with other pieces of recent legislation?

Lastly, the Minister will know that the Opposition regret the fact that important elements of the White Paper are missing from the Bill as published, including powers to limit the amount of advance rent that landlords can ask for and measures to expand rent repayment orders to cover repayment for non-decent homes. Can she tell us whether the Government are open in principle to amending the Bill to include those measures and to address its other well-known and well-understood deficiencies and loopholes, not least the inadequate means of redress provided for challenging extortionate within-tenancy rent hikes, or is it the Government’s intention to resist such attempts to strengthen this important piece of legislation?

Private renters have waited long enough to secure a fair deal. The case for transforming how the rental sector is regulated, and for finally levelling the playing field between tenant and landlord, is indisputable. The case for reform existed before the cost of living crisis, which has now made it an urgent imperative. The Government must act, and must act boldly. I look forward to listening carefully to the Minister’s response.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq, and to respond to the debate on behalf of the Government. As is traditional, I thank the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western) for securing the debate on this important issue, which matters to all of us, including those of us who serve in the Government. He spoke passionately on behalf of his constituents, as did the other Members who have spoken, and I will come on to their contributions before I conclude my remarks.

The hon. Gentleman’s concerns reflect my determination to make sure that the Government deliver a strong, functioning private rented sector. As has been reflected during the course of the debate, private rented accommodation is the second largest housing sector in England, providing homes for 4.6 million households and an estimated 11 million tenants. It plays a vital role in supporting people to study away from home, explore new locations or move to find work, which is why we are ensuring that tenants have the security they need and enjoy a positive experience of renting a home.

As has been alluded to, the Government recently introduced the Renters (Reform) Bill to Parliament. The Bill will help change the landscape of the private rented sector. It is the most significant reform to the private rented sector for a generation, and it will deliver on the Government’s commitment to a better deal for renters. The Bill will make a fairer, more secure and higher quality private rented sector, fit for the 21st century. It will end section 21 “no fault” evictions and move to periodic tenancies, allowing landlords and tenants to end tenancies when they need to. This means that tenants can rent decent, secure homes and put down roots in their communities, while being empowered to challenge poor practice without worrying about retaliatory eviction, or they can leave if the landlord fails to meet their basic responsibilities.

However, we know that the overwhelming majority of landlords provide a good service, and we recognise that good landlords play a vital role in providing decent homes for millions of people across the country. That is why we will introduce comprehensive, fair and efficient grounds to ensure that landlords have confidence that they can regain possession of their property when it is reasonable to do so. We also want to simplify the system for both tenants and landlords, which is why all rent increases will take place via one mechanism. We will allow rent increases once per year in periodic tenancies and increase the notice that landlords must give to two months, giving tenants more time to plan and to seek advice. That will create a fairer system that allows both parties to negotiate rents effectively, while protecting security of tenure. I want to be clear: this Government do not support rent controls. Some Members asked me to set out our position on that. We recognise, however, that most people want to buy their own home one day. We are therefore firmly committed to helping generation rent to become generation buy.

We are working towards delivering on our commitment of 300,000 homes a year. Despite all the doom and gloom that may be reported, we are making strong progress. There is always more to do, but it is important to recognise that annual housing supply is up 10% compared with the previous year, with more than 232,000 net additional homes delivered in 2021-22. That is the third highest yearly rate for the past 30 years. We have also announced £10 billion of investment in housing supply since the start of the Parliament, and the Government are on track to deliver thousands of affordable homes to rent and buy across the country through our £11.5 billion affordable homes programme. A large number of those are for social rent.

I want to address the—if I may put it this way—nonsense stated by a couple of contributors to this debate, who said that money has been handed back to the Treasury. That is simply not the case. The money referred to was re-profiled, which is a normal part of Government accounting —[Interruption.] Opposition Members might want to listen and find out how Government funding and finance work. That money will be recycled and refocused into the 2016 to 2023 affordable homes programme. I hope that we will hear no more of that kind of comment.

A healthy housing market thrives on having a range of tenures. That is why we have launched the £1.5 billion levelling-up home building fund, which provides loans and takes out equity in house builders that would otherwise struggle to access finance. The Government have made a range of interventions to support the sector over the past decade. The construction of new Build to Rent homes will play an important part in helping to ease demand pressures in the private rented sector and is already providing thousands of much-needed new quality homes.

We know that right now meeting immediate housing costs is a huge struggle for some people, and that a higher proportion of income is being spent on rent by those on lower incomes in particular. In April 2020, therefore, we raised local housing allowance rates—a significant investment of almost £1 billion—and that increase has been maintained since then. Where tenants are unable to meet their housing costs and need further support, discretionary housing payments are available from local councils. Since 2011, the Government have provided almost £1.6 billion in discretionary housing payment funding to local authorities. For those who need additional support, the Government are providing another £1 billion of funding—including any Barnett impact, as colleagues from the devolved nations have spoken today—to extend the household support fund in England into the next financial year, bringing total funding to £2.5 billion.

I will not give way, if the hon. Lady does not mind, because I have a lot to get on the record.

Cost of living pressures go beyond housing costs, and that is why we have taken decisive action to support households, totalling £94 billion or £3,300 per household on average, across 2022-23 and 2023-24. We uprated benefits and state pension by 10.1% in April. For 2023-24, the Government are providing additional means-tested cost of living payments of up to £900. We also provided significant support for households with their energy bills, covering about half of a typical household energy bill this past winter. I utterly reject comments to suggest that the Government are not interested in helping people on low incomes. I have set out how we are doing just that with billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

I will touch on the Members who have spoken. I thank the hon. Members for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter), for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), for Birmingham, Erdington (Mrs Hamilton) and for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe), the Front Benchers of the SNP and the official Opposition, the hon. Members for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) and for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope).

I am about to refer to my hon. Friend’s comments, if he will allow me, so he can come back to me after that. He asked about the RPC and the impact assessment. I agree with him that this is about supply, and I assure him that the number of PRS properties increased by 11,000 in 2022 compared with the previous year. The data from UK Finance shows that the number of buy-to-let landlords reached a record high at the end of last year. There is no evidence that private rented landlords are leaving the market. Our Bill is fair to decent landlords, and the RPC has estimated the net cost to landlords to be just £10 per property. The committee has given the Bill a green rating, and I do not think £10 per property is a significant sum that is going to force landlords to leave the market.

I want to ask the Minister about her aspiration to move from generation rent to generation buy. When does she expect the Government to deliver the voluntary right to buy for housing association tenants, which was first promised in 2015?

I refer my hon. Friend to my earlier remarks, which set out that we are building record numbers of houses both to buy and for rent. We will make further announcements on that point in due course.

I gently remind the other Members who have spoken that all of them, I think, represent areas that have Labour-run councils, or else represent areas in the devolved nations. Their own councils have considerable powers, funding and tools, especially in enforcement, to tackle a lot of the issues that have been raised in their casework.

I was struck by the complaint made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington about the way her own city council, which is run by the Labour party, is allowing HMOs to be delivered. I suggest that she takes that up with her own Labour-run council—likewise for the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston, whose constituency is of course part of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which is run by Labour Mayor Andy Burnham, who has considerable powers, influence and devolved funding from the central Government.

Is the Minister aware that the devolved nations have been underfunded by billions of pounds? Going back to the point that the Minister made earlier, the local housing allowance is a reserved matter, and it has been frozen since 2020, since which time we have had a cost of living crisis. People are struggling. My question, though, relates to the report by the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, which stated:

“If the Government believes the PRS is the right place for those on the lowest incomes, it should…make sure housing benefit…covers benefit recipients’ housing costs.”

The Committee is still awaiting a response from the Government. When will the Government respond?

I am afraid that I do not agree with the premise of the hon. Lady’s question, which is that the devolved nations have been underfunded. Her Government in Wales is led by the Labour party, and it is up to them to deliver housing for people who live in Wales. I suggest that she address her comments to their door.

We recognise the struggles that renters have faced in recent months, which is why we have taken decisive action to offer vital support where it is desperately needed. More importantly, we are making the most significant change to the private rented sector in over 30 years to provide the stability and security that renters need, as well as continuing to build new affordable homes so that many more people can own their own home. I therefore look forward to working with Members from across the House to achieve that goal, which we all share. I thank all Members who have contributed.

I thank all colleagues who have taken the time to contribute to what has been an important and insightful debate into an issue that affects all our constituents very acutely. I will not speak to all the contributions from Opposition colleagues, but they have all accurately reflected the plight of private renters, both in terms of the impact of the cost of living crisis on their living standards and ability to pay for basics such as food, energy and rent, and in terms of the condition of the properties that many constituents have to live in. Many constituents are unable to afford to move and terrified to challenge their landlords on the need for repair.

I want to spend rather longer, though, on the comments of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope). He is absolutely right to state that we need additional supply in the housing market. He seemed to suggest that I had not referenced that when I set out the need to scrap the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to build, build, build, to utilise the green belt, and to drive up housing supply in a way that delivers significantly more affordable and social homes. None the less, we agree on that point. I stress that because it was probably the only part of his contribution I agree with. He will appreciate that I am not in a position to comment on many of the changes made 40 years ago in the 1980s; sadly, I was not born until 1985. However, it is certainly the case that the interventions made back then have done nothing to ease the terrible situation for those at the sharp end of private rent, who are experiencing this cost of living crisis, often on very low incomes.

I also object to the suggestion that immigration, or indeed any form of demand issue, is driving the housing crisis. It is simply a fact that the biggest driver of demand for private rent is the 307,000 young people looking to move out of their parents’ homes in 2022, which was caused by many of them staying at home for longer during covid, as well as the impacts on their employment during that time and so on. Although that is the biggest aspect of demand, it is important to remember that the housing crisis is always fundamentally about supply.

I am sure the hon. Member for Christchurch will be aware of this, given that he has already subjected us to one history lesson. If I point to the history of house building in this country, we have not been building enough homes for the past near 70 years. In some of those years we had net migration out of the country, so to suggest that immigration is a driver of the housing crisis does not bear any alignment with the evidence before us. It was wholly unsurprising to hear that the hon. Gentleman stands against the Renters (Reform) Bill—not only from his contribution today, but from the significant delay in bringing the Bill forward for both First and Second Reading. We know now that it is the Tory Back Benchers who have caused significant delay to this important legislation.

I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) for his comments. I am not going to speak to the merits of the system that has been brought forward in Scotland, other than to note the significant difference between the interventionist approach there and the inertia from the Government here in bringing forward their proposals.

Again, I thank the Opposition spokesperson, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), who was absolutely correct to highlight the ONS data showing that private renters are five times more likely to be struggling, and that 2.5 million of them are struggling to pay their rent. I know he understands that, which is why he is pressing so hard for the Renters (Reform) Bill to come forward, as he did today.

In many ways, the Minister echoed that desire to see the legislation come forward, which leaves one wondering why there has been such a delay. I appreciate that we have had a number of Housing Ministers over the past few years; I can only hope that she is still in the job on Monday. The issue with that many changes, and with the number of Prime Ministers over the past few years, is that this legislation has been kicked down the road time and again. When people are in desperate need and struggling to pay their rent, that is simply not good enough.

I was interested by what the Minister said about the £1.9 billion not actually being clawed back, but reprofiled. I am sure that will be of great reassurance to the many people struggling to get on the housing ladder and to access social and affordable property, not least because the Minister promised that the money will be available from 2026. How wonderful!

What I said was that the programme is from 2016 to 2023. It is already delivering affordable housing. I will send the hon. Gentleman a copy of my speech, and he will find it in Hansard.

I am grateful for that and I apologise if I misheard the Minister. However, the fundamental point is that there is still much work to do. Yes, we need to see the Renters (Reform) Bill come through urgently. We also desperately need to see the support package that is being brought forward to stop mortgage holders being evicted extended to renters. Of course, we also need to build, build, build social and affordable homes in a way that gets them back to the second largest form of tenure in this country, giving the housing security that people desperately need.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the cost of living and the private rented sector.