I very much welcome the fact that the Opposition have called this debate today. It is high time that those who form Generation Rent were given the high place on the political agenda that they have long asked for. I tabled an amendment because although the motion goes in exactly the right direction, I want a more ambitious response to the crisis and to the deep and growing unfairness and inequality faced by people in the private rented sector.
There are 9 million people in the sector, and the figure is expanding because of 30 years of housing policy failure. People on low incomes and young families—and, indeed, people on average incomes—have no chance of getting on the housing ladder, and most have only a slim chance or none of getting a council house or of getting to the top of a housing association list.
The cost of housing in my constituency is eye-watering. Prices have increased at an alarming rate, and a typical home in Brighton and Hove now costs about £350,000, if not more, which is about twice the British average. As a result, the private rented sector—about a third of homes—is about double the national average, and it is expanding. I frequently hear from constituents who are spending between 70% and 80% of their income on their rent, and many people have simply been forced out of the city altogether. Many of those constituents come to my surgeries in desperation as they struggle with housing costs and fuel poverty. Many are living in damp, leaky, poorly maintained homes.
Generation Rent spans all ages and backgrounds. It includes the single mum from Hollingdean, who told me:
“I am not sure what to do when I am qualified. I will be a nurse living in Brighton who can’t afford to live here. If we were able to get a council house this would change our lives.”
It includes the family who are worried about taking their children out of Elm Grove primary school because of an unexpected rent increase of £50 a month, which means that they can no longer afford to live in their present home. It also includes the student whose friends have warned him about the “Brighton paint job”, where landlords or agents paint over the penetrating damp before viewings, then retain the deposit at the end of the tenancy on the ground that the tenant has not properly ventilated the property.
Generation Rent also includes the young couple who felt enormous relief at finding somewhere to live, despite paying more than 70% of their income in rent, and then had to find an additional £480 in letting agents fees. To add insult to injury, on top of extremely high rents and large deposits there is the scandal of fees. These unwarranted fees reflect how the private rented sector is, in large part, out of control. Letting fees are a scandal; they are sometimes over £300, which is a huge amount to find on top of a deposit. That is why I agree that they should be banned.
I do not agree with the argument that the fees would just be passed on to landlords who would pass them back to tenants in higher rents. Agents would not be able to get away with hiking up fees to landlords in the same way as they do with tenants, as landlords are in a more powerful position. The landlord would just go to a better agent who was not trying to rip them off, because they had a property for rent, which is in very high demand, in Brighton at least. Tenants do not have that choice because of the huge demand for properties.