Private Rented Sector — [Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:41 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Heather Wheeler Heather Wheeler Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 2:41 pm, 29th November 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I thank hon. Members from across the House for their considered speeches. I congratulate my friend, Mr Betts, on securing this debate. I thank him and all the members of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee for their inquiry into the private rented sector and for working with the Government to improve the lives of those living in it.

The private rented sector plays a vital role in providing homes across the country and is an integral element of the Government’s approach to making the housing market work for everyone. As we outlined in our response to the Committee’s inquiry, the sector has changed dramatically over the past decade. Not only has it grown to become the second largest tenure, but it also houses an increasingly diverse range of tenants. It is of great credit to those who deliver and support the private rented sector that it has managed to react to such change, and continues to drive forward improvements in quality, standards and safety.

I want to use this speech to reflect on the Committee’s report and outline some of the work the Government are delivering to ensure that everyone living in the private rented sector is able to build the life they desire. We agree with the vast majority of the Committee’s recommendations; where differences arise, they are of degree, not kind. Although I cannot cover everything in such a short time, I hope that hon. Members will see how the Government are pursuing a package of measures that will work together to improve the private rented sector. As the Committee cautioned in its report, the Government recognise that they cannot take a piecemeal approach to the sector—they must take a holistic approach to reform.

Successive Governments have shared the opinion that the rights and responsibilities that govern the private rented sector must be placed on a statutory footing. In its report, the Committee raised concerns that the volume of legislation covering the private rented sector could be creating a complex and challenging landscape to navigate, as we have heard again today.

Although the Government share the Committee’s desire for greater understanding, we do not feel that the legislation is in need of the type of root-and-branch reform that the Committee—or, indeed, the Labour party—suggests. Instead, we believe that the challenge for the Government is to help everyone understand the legislative foundations of the sector, to ensure that people can make the best use of these important protections. That is why we are structuring our work to address the key challenges that flow from our overarching objective, which is to rebalance the relationship between landlords and tenants, to deliver a high-quality, fairer and more affordable private rented sector.

To achieve that aim, we need to address a number of interconnected challenges, which the Committee also highlighted in its report: affordability, property standards, enforcement, and the rights and responsibilities of landlords, agents and tenants. I want to use this debate to set out some of the work under way to drive improvements in the sector, how this work links together and the progress made since we responded to the Committee’s inquiry.

A lack of affordable rental property can mean that tenants are forced to accept substandard or unsafe accommodation. That is not a choice that we want anyone to face, so we are working hard to improve the private rented sector to ensure that no tenant faces that choice in the future. We believe that the key to improving choice and affordability for tenants is to build more homes for rent.

To answer the question raised by my hon. Friend Mr Prisk, we want to build more homes. We want build to rent to continue to grow and make a significant contribution to housing supply. That is why the Government introduced the £1 billion build-to-rent fund and the £3.5 billion private rented sector guarantee scheme, to support thousands of extra homes built specifically for private rent. However, we also recognise that house building takes time. That is why we are working to improve affordability and conditions for tenants now.

We introduced the Tenant Fees Bill to protect tenants by capping tenancy deposits and banning unfair fees at the outset, renewal and termination of a tenancy. As well as helping tenants, the Bill will strengthen the hand of good landlords and agents across the UK by levelling the playing field, driving out rogue operators and ensuring that reputable landlords and are no longer undercut by those who overcharge.