Given that the number of people living in private rented accommodation has grown, doubling in the past three decades, renters are now a political force that the main parties can no longer ignore - so it is no surprise that they are starting to take the renting crisis seriously, with politicians in agreement that the rental system needs improving.
From the introduction of a ‘lifetime’ deposit that moves with a tenant to scrapping Section 21 notices to encourage greater security of tenure, there was a wide range of policies proposed ahead of the recent general election that will affect buy-to-let landlords.
Given that just 31% of private renters voted Conservative at the last election, with 46% voting Labour, ministers are unsurprisingly looking to affirm the government’s pro-tenant credentials.
The government has already unveiled its Renters’ Reform Bill, announced plans to encourage landlords to accept tenants with pets, lifted the housing allowance freeze and made fresh funds available to clampdown on rogue landlords.
But David Smith, policy director for the Residential Landlords Association (RLA), is concerned that while the Tories are ‘courting renters’, they are simply ignoring landlords and the need to offer them a ‘helping hand, too’.
Writing in the Telegraph, Smith says “the government’s approach to the sector remains inconsistent”.
He argues that while ministers want to encourage the development of long-term tenancies, the tax system “is making short-term holiday lets more attractive than providing long-term homes to rent”.
He adds that the Ministry of Justice has ‘failed to provide any concrete proposals’ when it comes to changing the way landlords can repossess properties, with “considerable improvements to the court system” still needed, “a year after its consultation on this issue closed”.
Smith also points out that the government has failed to introduce tax incentives to “encourage pro-active energy upgrades”, despite wanting to see all rental properties become more energy efficient.
He believes that initiatives for the rented sector are being developed “without any reference to other departments and with no clear idea about where Whitehall, collectively, wants to take the sector”.
“It has led to a hotchpotch of one-off initiatives which often work in opposition to one another,” he adds.
Smith is calling for a “common vision across government that recognises that the private rented sector has a vital contribution to make to housing the nation”.
He goes on: “We need a cross-government strategy for the sector, one which supports good landlords to provide the homes to rent we need, which improves enforcement against the minority of landlords who are criminals, which ensures the benefit system has the confidence both of tenants and landlords and which uses taxation to support positive choices made by landlords.
“A government with a strong majority provides the opportunity for coherent thinking. It is time to seize on this, end the piecemeal approach to rented housing and provide a positive vision that all departments can get behind.”