Private Rented Sector

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 25th June 2014.

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Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 3:39 pm, 25th June 2014

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman was in his place when my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East answered that question during the debate. She talked about how we need to ensure that there are protections in place for the short-term landlord. Believe me, I have a quarter share in a property, so I understand what it is to be an accidental landlord.

Lack of security of tenure means that tenants in the private rented sector feel less able to complain about poor standards. A third of these homes are “non-decent”, and we heard from my hon. Friend Jack Dromey the story of Kathleen who lost her home after complaining about its poor condition. I want to talk about some of the conditions that people experience in my own borough of Newham.

Newham is an area in east London that has seen a startling change in housing tenure over the years, as similarly and ably illustrated by my hon. Friend Dr Whitehead in respect of his home town. Over the last decade, the private rented sector in Newham has doubled from 20% to 40% of the housing stock, so it now stands at double the national average for England. Labour-led Newham council understood that the unprecedented growth in the largely unregulated private rented sector and increasingly poor housing conditions—not to mention income tax and council tax evasion—meant that something needed to be done. The council listened to the community it serves and showed real leadership by implementing a licensing scheme to tackle those who refused to play by the rules, whose poorly run properties ruin neighbourhoods and blight family lives through unsanitary, squalid, overcrowded and insecure tenancies.

Let me provide just one example of what Newham’s licensing scheme has uncovered. Seven adults and two children living in a small three-bedroom house were paying £2,300 in rent each month. The kitchen window was cracked with sharp edges in places and the bathroom window could not be closed. Fixtures, fittings and appliances were in such poor condition that they presented serious health and safety, fire and electric shock risks—and they did not even have a smoke alarm. Those tenants, afraid of losing their home, felt unable to complain. I am sure that Members will agree that those are terrible conditions for a high and unpredictable rent. High rents, low wages, the shortage of housing supply and insecurity of tenure all exacerbate conditions in which exploitative practices flourish.

I do not think that we have heard anything from the Government today to suggest that they understand that this housing crisis—and it is a crisis—is a major driver of the cost of living pressure on hard-working families. We are building less than half the number of homes that we need to build in order to keep up with demand. That creates conditions in which families can be ripped off by letting agencies, and can find themselves in exploitative, insecure, short-term tenancies, experiencing unpredictable rises in their rent bills. Our families deserve so much better, and I urge Members to vote for those families today. I commend the motion to the House.