Industry News Ben Beadle 13/10/2023

Home is where the heart is – we just need politicians to recognise that

With detailed housing policy largely absent from this year's party conferences, NRLA Chief Executive Ben Beadle calls for a commitment to housing that goes beyond rhetoric and includes in-depth practical proposals for positive change.

Housing is a basic human right. The United Nations describes housing as the centre of our social, emotional and economic lives, with the right to adequate housing enshrined in international law.

It therefore stands to reason that before we can make any headway in making improvements in policy areas such as education, health and welfare, we must first tackle the country’s housing crisis.

A safe, warm and secure home is the bedrock on which people build their lives, yet the Government – and the opposition – seems to have lost sight of this fact.

According to the most recent figures from the English Housing Survey more than 4.5 million households are living in rented homes – with demand set to rise.

However the most recent Zoopla data shows a 40% dip in the number of available properties since the pandemic, with 400,000 homes sold by landlords since 2016. The result, says Rightmove, is that there is now an average of 25 would-be tenants enquiring about every available home to rent.

Those properties that are available are increasingly unaffordable, with those on benefits only able to afford the cheapest 5% according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies

Conservative Conference

Despite this, while outlining the importance he attaches to a thriving private rented sector in response to questioning from the NRLA, Housing Secretary Michael Gove failed to address rented housing at all in his speech to the Conservative Party Conference.

The Government has made much of its proposed Renters (Reform) Bill, yet at the time of going to press there was still no date for a second reading.

Similarly Housing Minister Rachel Maclean made a commitment that the courts will process legitimate possession cases more swiftly – yet failed to explain how this will happen, whilst expressing a mere ‘hope’ that the Bill will begin to progress through Parliament soon.

And while there was a general acceptance that there is a supply problem in the rental market, little was said about how the Government will fix it, or whether it will commit to reversing the freeze on housing benefit rates, which is making it increasingly difficult for claimants to access rented homes.

Labour conference

Detailed proposals on how to fix the fundamental mismatch between supply and demand of private rented homes were also absent from the Labour Party Conference.

In her speech, the Shadow Housing Secretary Angela Rayner focussed discussion on building new social and council housing, to be facilitated by reform of planning laws.

While she reiterated Labour’s commitment to rental reform – including the abolition of section 21 – she gave no further detail as to what such reform would look like, although her predecessor Lisa Nandy confirmed Labour is not planning to bring in rent controls.

What needs to happen?

Both conferences were high on rhetoric and low on detail when it comes to the private rented sector – and that just won’t cut it.

Good quality, affordable rented housing – in the places people want to live – is vital to the health and wellbeing of the country’s 11 million tenants.

Labour has stressed its commitment to building new social housing and planning reform should it win the next election, yet this is easier said than done, with the Centre for Cities among many to note the housing supply crisis in the UK has been decades in the making.

And, without any detail its policies on the private rented sector, on the face of it Labour’s plans differ little from those of the Conservatives.

It is clear that the current housing market is broken. What’s needed are not fine words but action, the development of workable and fair policies that will encourage responsible landlords to remain within the sector and continue to invest. Without this, tenants will have less and less choice about where to live.

Punitive taxation alongside record demand for rented housing is a disastrous combination that serves only to hurt renters, and politicians need to go back to the drawing board to explore new ideas to revitalise the sector.

We want them to grasp the nettle and bring forward bold taxation policies that will give the vast majority of landlords who are providing decent housing, confidence at a time when profits have hit lowest levels since 2016.

The NRLA wants the Government – of whatever colour – to undertake a comprehensive review of the taxation of the rental market. This needs to assess the impact recent tax hikes, including changes to Mortgage Interest Relief and Stamp Duty, are having on supply.

We need pro-growth measures to support renters to access the homes they need and the landlords who provide them, and we will continue to hammer home this message in the lead up to the upcoming General Election.

More information

Find out more about the NRLA’s work at the Conservative Party Conference here.

Find out more about the association’s work at the Labour Party Conference here.

For more on the association’s campaign on tax click here.

Ben Beadle

Ben Beadle Chief Executive

Ben is the Chief Executive of the NRLA.

Prior to taking up his position at the NRLA, Ben was the operations director at Touchstone, part of the Places for People housing group, and was also the managing director of a leading deposit scheme in Northern Ireland. Ben is also a landlord.

See all articles by Ben Beadle