Private Rented Sector

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 1:50 pm on 25th June 2014.

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Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge 1:50 pm, 25th June 2014

I am happy to accept that some places should be looked at more, and I am about to talk about some of the safety issues. The question is whether the council should introduce some sort of accreditation scheme, as Cambridge has, to make sure that HMOs are safe, or ban them. I hope that the hon. Lady would not suggest capping the number of HMOs in her constituency because she knows as well as I do the problems that that would cause for people looking for somewhere to live.

We have problems with safety in the private rented sector. There are far too many unsafe properties. In particular, we have problems with electric fires. There are about 17,000 electric fires in the private rented sector and it seems bizarre that there are no requirements for them to be safety checked. We should introduce such a requirement; it is not excessive red tape, it is a simple safety measure.

We want a fair deal for tenants. One group that we also need to consider is people who rent from private landlords and pay their rent using the local housing allowance. This was touched on earlier. There have been shocking cases of people being told that they cannot rent because they are on benefits. That simply should not be tolerated. We should not let landlords exclude a large number of people who need to find housing.

We have a particular problem in Cambridge. The local housing allowance was introduced by the previous Government with broad rental market areas. One of the problems was that the rent levels for Cambridge were set by averaging places as far afield as Haverhill and Littleport, which are both much further out and have lower rents. It became impossible for anyone to find anything to rent in Cambridge on the LHA amount. My predecessor fought strongly against this when it was set up. It was highlighted by the Work and Pensions Committee, which emphasised the specific problems in Cambridge and Blackpool. Those problems were not fixed. The message that the Labour Government sent to people in Cambridge on benefits was, “You can’t afford to live in Cambridge. Go somewhere else.” They made Cambridge unaffordable and increased rents in places such as Littleport and Haverhill. It was a poor scheme and I am pleased that the Government have finally, after much effort, launched an independent review of the adequacy of LHA levels and increased the levels in Cambridge by 4%—well above inflation. That is a start.

There is agreement across the House that we should make it easier for people to have longer tenancies. The stability is worth while. Some time ago in our policy paper, we in the Liberal Democrats proposed mini-leases, with new fixed-term leases of at least three years after a probationary period.