The RLA launched a collection of essays looking at the future of the PRS as part of its 20th anniversary celebrations. Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive at Crisis was one of the contributors to ‘Private Renting: A Vision for the Future”. You can read his essay below.
At Crisis we have over 20 years’ experience of making the private rented sector (PRS) work for people as a route out of homelessness. Over that 20 years we have supported landlords and tenants to create over 10,000 successful tenancies. This year we published ‘Everybody In: How to end homelessness in Great Britain’. This plan sets out the vital role that social housing plays in providing solutions for homeless people. However, it also recognises that the PRS is also a crucial part of the solution. The PRS can provide choice, variety and a range of locations; and we believe with legislative reform we could make the PRS a sustainable solution to end more people’s homelessness. We want to see the creation of a standard tenancy agreement which would only allow for notice to be served on justifiable grounds and where rent increases are linked to inflation, providing longer, more secure tenancies. We also want to see the link between the market and local housing allowance re-established so that letting to people on low incomes remains viable for landlords and being in receipt of Local Housing Allowance doesn’t mean you are restricted to all but the worst properties. However, with all our experience, we know legislative change alone will not go far enough. We work with many landlords who, without the need for new legislation, already provide long term tenancies in high quality homes for people to move out of homelessness. Help to Rent We refer to the projects we support as Help to Rent, as a direct juxtaposition to government’s focus on Help to Buy.
We know there are millions of people to whom home ownership is not, at the present time, a realistic option and they need some support to help access the PRS and help access a decent home with a good landlord. We want to see a Help to Rent project in place in every local authority and a national rent deposit guarantee scheme. Help to rent projects support homeless people, vulnerable tenants and landlords to make the private sector a viable option. Support includes: pre-tenancy and ongoing support for homeless people when they become tenants; written guarantees for landlords in place of cash deposits; and help with benefits. Current availability of Help to Rent schemes is patchy and current Local Housing Allowance rates do not allow Help to Rent projects to sustain themselves without some additional support, and Government needs to step up to provide this. We want to see Government underwriting the deposits of anyone moving out of homelessness into the PRS.
This would be at a tiny fraction of the level of Government underwriting supporting home ownership and would shift potential liability away from local projects, who are then able to go on supporting more people. We can confidently assert that underwriting this liability is no great risk; the claim rates on the tenancies we help create are minimal because we get the support right for tenant and landlord. We don’t want to see anyone forced to accept sub-standard accommodation with a bad landlord just because their need for help with paying their rent forces them to make dangerous compromises. Help to Rent projects can drive standards up by providing a genuine choice to tenants on low incomes and turn off the supply of desperate tenants forced to accept the worst the PRS has to offer.
To ensure there is consistency between local help to rent schemes, we envisage a national scheme where any landlord looking for a tenant can call one number, look at one website and deal with one team. The landlord would then receive a clear and consistent offer of a tenant, with the right level of support before and during the tenancy, arranged centrally but delivered locally by an accredited and professional local Help to Rent project. In return the landlord would be expected to meet a clear and achievable set of conduct and property standards. We believe this idea has huge potential.
If coupled up with a capital investment programme it could help target empty homes and homes in poor condition where the landlord cannot afford to address the disrepair. Too many landlords tell us that they don’t know about Help to Rent projects, and with many small but over performing local schemes, marketing at scale isn’t possible. A national scheme, with government backing, would create the awareness that we need. We know that there are lots of landlords looking for long term tenants and to minimise turnover of tenants – our evidence over the last 20 years is that Help to Rent projects provide just that that. We believe that with better awareness and with some lessons learnt from the commercial sector they can provide this for more landlords and for more tenants in the next 20 years.