It is a pleasure to have the chance to speak in this debate and to follow Dr Whitehead. This is an important issue nationally and in my constituency. We have a huge number of people renting, and that is reflected across the country. For the first time there are more people in the private rented sector than the social rented sector, and there are still too many problems in the private rented sector. It is incredibly expensive, in many cases exploitative and in some cases unsafe.
Some people choose to rent because it suits their lifestyle, and that is something that we should allow and support. Others have to rent because they simply cannot find the deposit for a mortgage. The rented sector is now not much easier to get into than property ownership. I have been contacted during the debate by someone whose fees to rent a new, not particularly large, property come to £3,700 cash upfront. That is not atypical. It is a significant amount of money for many people to find. Many agencies also impose exit charges. I have also been contacted by people who face having to pay a large amount of money simply to leave a property. People can find themselves trapped in inappropriate or inappropriately priced facilities.
Many people have a fantastic experience with landlords. There are many decent landlords out there who behave correctly. The challenge is those who do not, and I welcome the focus that is being placed on that problem. I was delighted to be at the launch of the Generation Rent manifesto and have a chance to speak about how important this is to me and my party and to talk about some of our party policy proposals.
I introduced a private Member’s Bill in the previous parliamentary Session, which sadly went the way of most private Member’s Bills in this place. It dealt with many of the issues that we are talking about today such as the regulation of letting agents, accreditation of landlords, an ombudsman for the private sector, longer tenancies and getting rid of above-cost fees. There are disagreements about the details of how one could introduce such measures, but I hope that we can resolve them.
The heart of the problem is often just that rents are too high. The fees and everything else are a problem, but the overall level of rents is just too high, because demand is so much greater than supply. I see this in my constituency. The solution has to be to fix the supply—to make more housing available. Unfortunately, that has not happened. Everyone knows the figures. Under the previous Government, the amount of social housing went down by 421,000. We need those houses; we have to build many more. Hardly any council houses are being built, which is a huge problem.
Under the previous Government, council tenants were taxed and the money was taken away from Cambridge and could not be used to repair council houses or build anything new. The Liberal Democrat city council has worked to build many more houses. There has been a huge increase in the number of affordable homes and social homes, and existing council houses have been improved. There is also a scheme to build 2,000 more council houses—something I am incredibly proud of. Unfortunately, Labour took control of the city council at the most recent elections and one of its first acts was to scrap a scheme to improve council houses, many of which are not wheelchair accessible and not fit for purpose. I hope that it will not also scrap our scheme to build 2,000 council houses because people want to get on with that.