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Households at risk of homelessness

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 6th November 2019.

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Photo of Tom Copley Tom Copley Labour

30% of households assessed by local authorities as being homeless or at risk of becoming homeless are in full or part-time employment, rising above 40% in some London boroughs including Newham, Merton, Lewisham and Enfield. What can you do to help these households in London?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Thanks, Chair. These figures confirm the shocking impact of the Government’s failure to build enough social housing, their cuts to the welfare system and their lack of action to ensure people earn decent pay. As it has become harder to buy a home or get a social tenancy, more and more Londoners are being forced to rent privately. Rents have spiralled and with wages stagnant, the number of private tenants in London in work and on housing benefit has more than doubled to over 100,000 over the past ten years. In 2009, only 26% of private renters who received housing benefit were in work. Now it is 59%. The Government’s savage cuts to the benefits to help cover private rents have led to a huge increase in renters losing their homes and this accounts for the bulk of increasing homelessness in the capital in recent years.

We need the Government to change course but in the meantime we are doing a number of things in London to help. We are promoting the London Living Wage through my Good Work Standard. We are also, through the Adult Education Budget, helping those who earn less than Living Wage to be eligible for training courses to help them progress. Second, we are building record numbers of new council, social rented and other genuinely affordable homes, and third, we are pressing the Government to reverse the welfare reforms which have made it so difficult for Londoners on low incomes to secure and sustain homes. The Government urgently needs to bring benefits back into line with rents over all the private rented sector and give London, City Hall and the councils the investment powers we need to build the council, social rented and other genuinely affordable homes Londoners so desperately need.

Photo of Tom Copley Tom Copley Labour

Thank you very much, Mr Mayor. Last week Generation Rent released data showing that private renters in England are losing out on about £70 million a year when landlords kick them out. Missed time at work, cleaning bills and moving costs stack up to around £1,400 each on average. I have written to the Secretary of State to urge him to follow up on the promise that was made by the Prime Minister’s predecessor to end section 21 no-fault evictions. Do you think this is a move that would help London’s struggling private renters, or do you agree with members of the Conservative Group that it is just a cheap stunt?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I was astonished when they said that because they clearly are not in tune with Londoners who have to rent privately. You were a big part of the campaign to get the Government to abolish the fees tenants pay to letting agents, which they did last year, and that is because we saw tenants paying huge fees when they moved into new tenancies and letting agents being incentivised to have shorter contracts, change the contracts and flip to get a fee from it. Similarly, section 21 leads to big problems because we know that tenants do not have security. They can be turfed out for no good reason and have to pay the cost that you have alluded to.

The Government said previously that it was going to end section 21 evictions. It was consulting on this, and I am concerned that a delay will lead to it changing its mind. It is not a stunt. It will hugely improve the quality of life for tenants and the sooner it happens the better.

Photo of Tom Copley Tom Copley Labour

Thank you. Yes, I agree and I have experienced this myself. In one flat I was living in, every year you would be served a section 21 eviction and told what next year’s rent was going to be, take it or leave it. I do not think that is a particularly good way to be treating private tenants.

Do you think it is important, as well as abolishing section 21, that we need a package of measures for private tenants - who, let us remember, are living in one of the most insecure parts of the housing market - and that it should also include things like open-ended tenancies and the package of rent control that you have been advocating but which would require the Government to devolve powers to City Hall in order for you to implement?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Absolutely. There are two parts of the equation, in simple terms. One is genuine security of tenure, and the second is to have affordable and predictable rents. What the Government needs to do, rather than this piecemeal approach to the private rental market, abolishing letting agent’s fees and hopefully getting rid of section 21 evictions, is to look at the whole private rented sector. It simply will not be possible, in the short to medium term, to build the homes we need to address the housing crisis, so in the meantime it should address the issue of the exorbitant cost of renting in London. One way of doing that would be to look at the London model we have worked out, work with the Government, set up the commission, and then we can get going so that we can get in London rents not going up hugely, as they have been doing, but being stabilised and then going down.

Photo of Tom Copley Tom Copley Labour

Thank you very much, Mr Mayor.