I would certainly like the Government to look at what advice and support is offered to people who find themselves in extremis.
Landlords’ loss of earnings do not compare to the trauma faced by tenants in a situation in which they just cannot pay the rent. Some such situations call for compassion. Let us remember that landlords have the right to increase their tenants’ rents as much as they want and can evict a tenant with two months’ notice without loss of earnings, but a tenant cannot leave a tenancy early in extremis. Why should landlords have the flexibility when the tenants do not? Surely, the Government must think more about the protection for tenants in such situations.
Many more children now live in the private rented sector than 10 or 20 years ago. With growing child poverty, any potential for charging households fees beyond the monthly rent and security deposit can be an absolutely debilitating blow to families on the breadline. I urge the Government to look at the Mind report, “Brick by brick: A review of mental health and housing”, which makes for particularly concerning reading. Published in November last year, it finds that the instability of the private rented sector is bad for children’s social, emotional and mental health. As a GP, I see the effect of that instability every week. Some 28% of all children in the north-east live in poverty, and more than two thirds of them are from working households in which one or two parents work full time. Nearly half of working-age people in poverty spend more than one third of their income on housing costs.
There is a strong case for the Government to strengthen the Bill further. Unaffordable housing affects a family’s ability to pay for essentials. From school uniforms to energy bills, to healthy and nutritious meals, families should not have to sacrifice the basics to keep a roof over their head. A healthy and stable home can support healthier children too. I urge the Minister to go away and look closely at schedule 1(4) and to protect people who have to default on tenancy agreements through no fault of their own. Let us think of someone who has lost their job, had a family bereavement or mental health crisis, is off work without sick pay or is fleeing domestic violence; the Bill should grant to tenants in such circumstances more financial protection from any charges from letting agents or landlords. I urge the Government to look into these issues more carefully.