You may have read in the news over the past couple of weeks that we are really reaching a bottom line when it comes to the housing (and renting) crisis in the UK. The housing charity Shelter was reported in the press at the start of January as saying that the problems experienced by tenants were now so bad that they were frighteningly similar to when the charity first started in the 1960s. The charity quoted a YouGov poll carried out for its purposes with more than 4,500 people, which indicated that 53% of tenants were struggling to pay their rent, and an additional 3% were falling behind on payments. 15% were worried about paying rent and more than 30% of the survey participants had said that they had been forced to cut back on winter basics – such as warm clothes and heating – just to be able to meet financial obligations.
This year is Shelter’s 50 year anniversary – the charity was first started in response to a housing crisis in the 1960s characterised by inner city slums that provided inhuman living conditions for those who couldn’t afford anything else. With rising rents and a serious shortage of affordable housing, as well as a reduction in public housing that is ongoing, some worry that this is the situation to which we could return. Figures at the start of the year support this fear, showing that there were 84,200 tenants who were two months, or more, behind with their rent in the third quarter of 2015 – this is compared to 74,000 in the second quarter of last year. Homelessness figures are also rising – the number of households now living in B&Bs has risen from 2,050 to 5,270 over the past five years and those who are homeless and in temporary accommodation number 64,710 in 2015, as compared to 51,350 in 2010.
Together, these statistics offer rather a grim picture as to the current state of renting in the UK – it’s tough, expensive and unrelenting, as many of you already know. So, it’s even more dispiriting then that an attempt to legislate to ensure that all rented properties meet certain basic standards has recently been struck down. A Labour amendment to the housing bill that would require landlords to ensure their properties “are fit for human habitation” has been defeated by the conservatives claiming that it would simply result in pushing rents up even further.
Shadow housing minister Teresa Pearce said, “Where else in modern day life could someone get away with this? It’s a consumer issue. If I purchased a mobile phone or a computer that didn’t work, didn’t do what it said it would or was unsafe I would take it back and get a refund.” The ‘it will push up rents’ argument is one that we have heard all too often justifying introducing controls to a renting sector that is largely unregulated – at least when compared to others. Given the frightening statistics highlighted by Shelter, we think it’s time to ensure that all tenants everywhere are getting value for the rent that it takes such a huge effort to afford.