Private Sector Rents (Outer London)
Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government
2:30 pm

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough, Labour)

What assessment he has made of recent trends in private sector rents in local authority areas close to London; and if he will make a statement.

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Don Foster (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government; Bath, Liberal Democrat)

There is no definitive source of data for rent increases at local authority level. What data we do have show an annual increase of between 0.9% and 3.3% to June 2012 nationally. For Slough, the Valuation Office Agency has published an indicative average rent of £750 over the same period. The figures for neighbouring boroughs range from £650 in Dartford to £1,200 in South Buckinghamshire.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough, Labour)

I feel tempted to give the Minister a geography lesson, but I will resist the temptation. Is he aware that spending in Slough on emergency housing provision for temporarily homeless people has gone up by 10 times in the last year? The reason for that is not an increase in homelessness; it is because landlords will not accept people who are being paid the local housing allowance rate as they prefer to wait for people being sent from London at higher rents and with premiums. What are Slough and other local authorities on the boundaries of London supposed to do about that?

Photo of Don Foster

Don Foster (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government; Bath, Liberal Democrat)

I think that all hon. Members are aware of that problem, as we all share it in our own constituencies. We are taking steps to address it, however. The hon. Lady should take a look at our latest moves that will make it easier for local authorities to use the privately rented sector. I can say to her that across the country some 30% of private affordable rental accommodation falls within the housing benefit levels, and we have invested £200 million to have more housing built specifically for that purpose. The key is to get more accommodation.

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Tony Baldry (The Second Church Estates Commissioner; Banbury, Conservative)

Is it not the case that prosperous home counties such as east Berkshire and north Oxfordshire are going to have to use our housing stock as effectively as possible? Will the Minister compliment housing associations such as Sanctuary Housing, which recently got together tenants in under-occupied property where children had grown up but had now left home, and tenants in over-occupied property, to see whether it was possible to arrange swaps so that the housing stock could be used more efficiently?

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Don Foster (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government; Bath, Liberal Democrat)

I welcome what my hon. Friend’s local authority and many others are doing in that regard. We have put in place measures to make sure the limited accommodation that is available is made use of most effectively in precisely the way he describes, but the key is building more affordable housing, and that is what this Government are doing.

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John Bercow (Speaker)

Order. Hyndburn has much to commend it, but it does not form part of a local authority area close to London. I call Karen Buck.

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Karen Buck (Shadow Minister (Education); Westminster North, Labour)

With private rents in London in particular soaring and driving up homelessness, can the Minister tell us which of the following two statements is consistent with Government policy: the statement by the previous Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, that homeless households should not be uprooted from their local communities and moved hundreds of miles away, or what is actually happening in the seven west London local authorities, who in their homelessness strategy have talked of their aim to manage the movement of households out of London?

Photo of Don Foster

Don Foster (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government; Bath, Liberal Democrat)

There is no evidence that across the board there are rising—or rocketing—rents as the hon. Lady described. Only on Friday we announced measures that will make it easier for local authorities to make use of the privately rented sector. We have also introduced measures to ensure that accommodation is appropriate, taking account of not only the accommodation itself but local facilities, including schools. That will help councils keep people in the local area.