I congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Buck on securing this important and timely debate. It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I apologise for arriving a little late.
As hon. Members on both sides of the House should recognise, my hon. Friend has done some steadfast work to advocate the rights of tenants. She has my unwavering support in her campaign for all homes to be fit for human habitation. The Government’s failure to support the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill in 2015, or to back a similar amendment to the Housing and Planning Act 2016 a year later—I served on the Bill Committee as an Opposition Whip—shows the scale of the challenge we face on this side of the House.
We have a flawed system that completely lacks balance, as my hon. Friend said. The housing security enjoyed by the post-war generation has been systematically eroded through the right to buy, the failure to build truly affordable low-rent social housing, and the boom in the buy-to-let sector. Those factors have moved many tenants from housing security to housing insecurity in the private sector. The right to buy, coupled with the failure to build, has created generation rent, as my hon. Friend said, and our children are paying the price. They are financially excluded, and for many home ownership is a distant dream. Their reality is insecurity and relatively high-cost private rents with few enforceable rights.
We must address the issue of tenants’ rights. The private rented sector has substantially increased, even in my time in the House. The private rented sector comprised just 9% of households in 1988. It has more than doubled since then and today accommodates one in five households.
Clearly, section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 and “no fault” evictions create—in fact, add to—a one-sided power imbalance, with landlords having practical rights while tenants have what are, in effect, unenforceable paper rights. This power imbalance encourages poor management practice, with tenants worried about challenging rent rises and often afraid to ask for essential repairs because they fear eviction.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North for circulating a briefing in advance of this debate, which notes that there were 12,711 evictions by bailiffs under section 21, which was recorded by the Ministry of Justice under the “accelerated” procedure. However, that figure is a baseline; it is really the tip of the iceberg, with the vast majority of tenants actually moving out without going through the daunting court process.
I will now mention some of the issues in my constituency; they are different from those in the inner-city areas of London, but they are very real, and in some respects probably more acute. In my constituency, I have seen constituents move from one bad landlord to another and from one dilapidated house to another. It is a never-ending cycle of debt and disruption, which traps families in poverty. And no matter how hard they try to escape, it seems that they are caught in a vicious circle.
I hope that the Minister is aware of Horden in my constituency. I have raised the problems of the private rented sector there on a number of occasions. Indeed, I invited the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Jake Berry, who is the Minister with responsibility for the northern powerhouse, to visit Horden. He promised that he would do so, but has not so far. In addition, I have written to the Minister for Housing, Kit Malthouse, inviting him to visit and discuss some of the particular problems that we have and how they might be addressed.
Without going into too much detail, I will just mention that some of the problems arise from the withdrawal of Accent Housing and the subsequent fire sale auction of houses in Horden, which led to an influx of absentee landlords with little interest in their tenants. We talked a little earlier about the tale of landlords who are not acting in a socially responsible manner, and that is certainly evident in some of the former mining communities that I represent in east Durham. Many people now find themselves living among derelict houses. Dilapidated housing, smashed windows, arson and fly-tipping are the epitaph of a failed private rented sector market in Horden, in my constituency.
Frankly, the situation in Horden is nothing short of a national housing scandal and I hope that the Government will engage with this issue, because we cannot sit by passively and see the situation continue. I hope that the Minister and her colleagues will prove me wrong.
My own local authority, Durham County Council, is nearing the publication of a Horden master-plan to address some of the issues with the private rented sector. It will set out a range of options and I hope that if we can work with the council, it will help to deliver some housing regeneration. However, there is still a need for Ministers to engage and support the proposal with appropriate funding, because we have an influx of absentee landlords, housing conditions are poor and tenants are being exploited. I am glad that my local authority is now seeking to challenge that situation.
I am told that it is not a formality to get an authority-wide landlord licensing scheme. I had thought it was a formality, but I understand that the Government have some reservations about such schemes.