My Lords, I speak briefly in support of Amendments 104E and 104F, in the name of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. In doing so, I declare my interest as director of Generation Rent.
Predators online attempt to coerce men and women to exchange sex for a home by exploiting their financial vulnerabilities. They have used the economic effects of the pandemic as a marketing technique. This is already a crime, and it is not a new crime, but there has only ever been one charge for this offence, and that was in January last year. However, back in 2016, Shelter found that 8% of women had been offered a sexual arrangement. Two years later, its polling estimated that 250,000 women had been asked for sexual favours in exchange for free or discounted rent, and its more recent research showed that 30,000 women in the UK were propositioned with such an arrangement between the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and January 2021.
This is a crime that goes on, openly and explicitly, through adverts on online platforms. Despite the adverts being clear in their intention, they go unchecked, are placed without consequence and are largely ignored by law enforcement and the online platform providers. The fact that there has only ever been one charge for this crime shows how inadequate the law and CPS guidance are in this area.
The victims of this exploitation have been failed. As my noble friend said, for a victim to get justice, they need to be defined as a prostitute for a criminal case to progress, which is a huge deterrent that has to be changed. The online platforms—that is what I believe is meant by “publisher”—allow this crime to be facilitated, and they must have action taken against them. That is why I very much support the amendments tabled by my noble friend.
In closing, I pay tribute to the honourable Member for Hove in the other place for his campaigning on this issue, and the many journalists who have kept this issue on the agenda, including the team at ITV, whose research I understand helped to lead to the one charge for this crime that there has ever been. No one should ever be forced by coercion or circumstance to exchange sex for her home. There is a housing emergency in this country. It continues to hit new lows—so low that sexual predators can deliberately take advantage of people’s desperation to find a home. For me, Amendments 104E and 104F are an opportunity to protect some of the country’s most vulnerable renters.