The NLA, and many others with an interest in the private-rented sector, have over the years had reason to complain that the tenure has been neglected by politicians keen to pin their colours to the twin ideals of aspirational owner-occupation and the security of lifelong social housing.
On the one hand this is understandable, few aspire to rent given multiple options and landlords occupy a position in the public consciousness usually reserved for politicians themselves. However, on the other hand it has become harder and harder for those in power and/or seeking power to ignore almost 1.5 million landlords and approximately 9 million people who rent their home privately.
Which is why in May 2014 – only 12 months away from the first guaranteed, pre-scheduled General Election in British political history – the PRS looks to be far from a forgotten third tenure.
Following his announcement last week of ‘policies’ to cap rent increases, guarantee security and ban letting agent charges Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, pressed David Cameron in Parliament to back his proposals. The PM’s response to which went something (exactly) like this:
The Prime Minister: I have not had the time to study the rent control proposals, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be able to lay them out for the House. Let me be clear about my view. If there is an opportunity to find longer-term tenancy agreements to give greater stability—a proposal made at last year’s Conservative conference—I am sure we can work together. If, however, the proposal is for rent controls that have been tried all over the world, including in Britain, and have been shown to fail, I think it would be a very bad idea.
The Prime Minister: Actually, I have got some very good briefing on these proposals—from Labour MPs. Here they are. Let us start with Labour’s Housing Minister. You would think she would support Labour’s policy. She says:
“I do not think it will work in practice”.
The shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government says this:
“We don’t want to return to rent controls because the rental sector is meeting a demand for housing.”
There we are—the authentic voice of Bennism.
Then we come to the Chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee, a Labour MP, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts). He said this:
“We concluded that rent control was not feasible.”
So there we have a Labour policy, completely unclear about what it is; but the one thing that is clear is that Labour MPs do not back it.
Which you could be mistaken for believing was the end of the discussion but apparently you would be wrong. Unfortunately, rumour in the Westminster bubble has it that the Opposition has decided that with a year to go the Coalition is not using its time in government to full effect – dubbing it a “zombie government”.
To combat this ‘lack of legislating’ it seems that Labour plans to begin tabling amendments to bills already before Parliament to force debate and even votes on issues close to their manifesto pledges. Starting with rent control and a ban on letting agent fees.
Miliband hopes to force a vote on an amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
While very unlikely to form part of the final bill, it will be interesting to see the Coalitions response to this challenge. It is of course perfectly right for Parliament to debate and vote on important issues which are in the public interest. However, academic interest aside, it is difficult to avoid concluding that political posturing like this on matters so important to peoples’ homes, businesses and lives is callous and more than a little unfair.