RLA at 20 essay collection: Shelter shares its vision for the future

Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

The RLA launched a collection of essays looking at the future of the PRS as part of its 20th anniversary celebrations.  

Polly Neate, chief executive of homeless charity Shelter, was one of the contributors to ‘Private Renting: A Vision for the Future’.

In her piece she praises the RLA, which she says has done ‘great work over the past 20 years to educate landlords and equip them with the knowledge they need in order to ensure they are providing good homes’.

She said she hopes more can be done over the next 20 years to reach landlords who would not fall into the ‘rogue’ category, but who do not have the necessary knowledge and training to meet their responsibilities.

She said: “Shelter’s vision is simple, and hopefully uncontroversial: we are working towards a day when everyone has a safe, secure and affordable home.

This vision applies to the private rented sector (PRS) as much as any other housing tenure.

Whether you own your own home, rent from the council, rent from a private individual, you have the right to a home that enables you to thrive, to achieve your potential.

As long as so many of our fellow citizens are denied this, our country falls short of its potential as well.

At Shelter, our job to is try and make that vision come true, because we are accountable to the people who need us, who use our services every day.

And with so many people now privately renting, this inevitably means we spend a lot of time thinking about the PRS – a sector which is now responsible for providing a home to one in every five households in the country.

Rapid expansion

This has not always been the case. In fact, the sector has doubled in size over the past decade and with that rapid expansion has come a new set of challenges.

Specifically, it’s taken a little while for our perceptions of who lives in the PRS to catch up with the reality.

Lots of people, including many law-makers, are still holding on to an outdated view on renting in which the vast majority of renters are students or transient workers who need and want a short-term housing solution.

But we know that is no longer accurate. The face of renting has changed beyond recognition.

The PRS is now home to many more people with a wider variety of household incomes encompassing households who, in a previous generation, may have owned their own home or been able to access social housing.

The PRS is home to millions of children – with 1 in 4 families with children now renting privately – and an increasing number of older people for whom renting is not a stop-gap measure.

House prices

House prices have spiralled so far out of reach of working families and social housing is so scarce and tightly rationed, that many have no option but to rent long term.

Lots of renters are therefore seeking to put down roots, to establish their place as part of a settled community, and a home that serves as the foundation for the other aspects of their lives: health care, school, family links, friendships.

Renting has the potential to provide those long term, decent homes that people are looking for and, in many cases, it does.

But in our services, we routinely see the opposite, the very worst of the sector. On a daily basis, across the country, our frontline workers are supporting tenants who are suffering at the hands of irresponsible or even law-breaking “rogue” landlords.

At the same time, organisations like the Residential Landlord’s Association (RLA) are dealing with landlords at the other end of the scale – the many landlords who have joined an organisation to get advice and resources which help them fulfil their legal obligations and do a good job.

These polarised experiences have led to some lively policy discussions between Shelter and the RLA over the years.

And this in turn has influenced the way we’ve come to think about the PRS: landlords are either fully engaged with trends in their sector, or criminal and rogue.

But increasingly I feel that this may not be the most helpful way to think about the sector because it’s too simplistic and misses out great swathes of landlords who do not fit either description.

I’m increasingly thinking about those landlords whose behaviour and attitudes exist in the space between the RLA members and the ‘rogues’.

The ones for whom becoming a landlord was necessitated by circumstance and wasn’t a conscious decision, the ones who have no interest in finding out more about the responsibility of providing another person’s home.


These landlords may not be wilfully exploitative, but their disengagement and lack of awareness have serious consequences for their tenants and the lives being built in their properties

It is an enormous responsibility to be a landlord and it isn’t something that should be done half-heartedly.

The Residential Landlords Association has done great work over the past 20 years to educate landlords and equip them with the knowledge they need in order to ensure they are providing good homes.

My hope for the next 20 years is that we can reach more of those ‘in-between’ landlords and create a sector which is fully equipped across the board to provide the long term, stable, good quality homes that are the foundation of wellbeing for individuals, families, communities and our society.”


The essays, collated by the RLA, were provided by organisations representing tenants, landlords, enforcing bodies and think tanks and we will be focusing on one a week in the months ahead.

To read the full collection visit: www.rla.org.uk/futurePRSessays

About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Magazine and Digital Editor for the NRLA. With 20 years’ experience writing for regional and national newspapers and magazines she is responsible for editing our members' magazine 'Property', producing our articles for our news site, the weekly and monthly bulletins and editorial content for our media partners.

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