“The government should regard it as part of the solution”: What residential landlords want from this year’s election

Yay. Image: Getty.

A fifth of all households now live in private rented housing – a figure set to grow to around a quarter in the years ahead. At the election, all the parties need to offer policies that will ensure there is enough supply to meet this demand.

Ultimately, it is the lack of sufficient numbers of homes which drives up rent and reduces choice for tenants. The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) has published its manifesto for the rental market, at the heart of which is a need to boost the supply of homes to rent.

Parties of all colours have considered the solution is to encourage a greater role for institutional investment. However welcome this is, history shows that it has failed to provide the homes to rent speedily enough or in the required quantity. The next government needs to provide equal support for those individuals and small companies making up the vast majority of the country’s landlords, and who supply by far the largest bulk of rented accommodation.

To help develop new homes, the government should sell-off small plots of unused public sector land. These often become eyesores and magnets for anti-social behaviour: they are too small to be of interest to corporate developers but ideal for landlords to develop.

Research for the RLA has found that 46 per cent of landlords would be interested in developing on small brownfield sites. As the Local Government Information Unit and the Federation of Master Builders have noted, “we will not build the homes we need in the UK on large sites alone”

But it is not just quantity that matters; quality too is key. From next year new regulations come into force requiring private rented homes to meet certain energy efficiency standards – and our members have said that they are ambitious to ensure their homes are as energy efficient as possible for their tenants.

The problem they face is that around a third of private rented homes were built before 1919, making them some of the hardest to treat properties. Following the collapse of the Green Deal scheme there is now no framework to support the delivery of the new targets.

The next government should look to Scotland which has recently introduced new interest free loans for landlords and homeowners to make energy improvements to their properties. We propose that any work a landlord carries out on their property which is recommended on an Energy Performance Certificate be classed as tax deductible.

For many tenants, the biggest upfront cost associated with renting is the deposit. Every time a tenant moves from one rental property to another they have to raise new funds for a second deposit, because of the time lag in retrieving their old one.

The next government should commit to working with the industry to develop a new deposit trust. This would allow tenants to seamlessly transfer deposits between tenancies. It is a simple idea, but one which for tenants would make a substantial difference when moving.

For those in receipt of benefits, more needs to be done to help them secure a rental home. Whitehall should stop believing that it knows best, and enable tenants to decide, where they feel it is best for them, to have the housing element of Universal Credit paid directly to their landlord. This right was taken away following the introduction of the Local Housing Allowance system despite being very popular with tenants and backed by Shelter.

We are also calling too for the next government to look urgently at the lending practices of many buy-to-let mortgage providers. Figures produced for the RLA have found that two thirds of the major lenders do not permit landlords to rent property to benefit claimants.

For too long the private rented sector has been viewed as part of the housing problem. The next government should instead work with the sector and regard it as part of the solution.

Alan Ward is Chairman of the Residential Landlords Association. It tweets @RLA_News. Its manifesto for the private rented sector is available on its website.


Mayor Marvin Rees' hope for Bristol: A more equitable city that can 'live with difference'

“I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city," Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees says. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

When the statue of 18th century slave trader Edward Colston was torn from its plinth and dumped in Bristol’s harbour during the city’s Black Lives Matter protests on 7 June, mayor Marvin Rees was thrust into the spotlight. 

Refraining from direct support of the statue’s removal, the city’s first black mayor shared a different perspective on what UK home secretary Priti Patel called “sheer vandalism”:

“It is important to listen to those who found the statue to represent an affront to humanity,” he said in a statement at the time. “I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city and wherever we see it.”

48 year-old Rees, who grew up in the city, has since expanded on his approach to the issue in an interview with CityMetric, saying “wherever you stand on that spectrum, the city needs to be a home for all of those people with all of those perspectives, even if you disagree with them.”

“We need to have the ability to live with difference, and that is the ethnic difference, racial difference, gender difference, but also different political perspectives,” he added. “I have been making that point repeatedly – and I hope that by making it, it becomes real.” 

What making that point means, in practice, for Rees is perhaps best illustrated by his approach to city governance.

Weeks after the toppling of Colston’s statue, a new installation was erected at the same spot featuring Jen Reid, a protester of Black Lives Matter. However, the installation was removed, as “it was the work and decision of a London-based artist, and it was not requested and permission was not given for it to be installed”, Rees said in a statement.

Bristol may appear a prosperous city, logging the highest employment rate among the UK’s “core cities” in the second quarter of 2019. But it is still home to many areas that suffer from social and economic problems: over 70,000 people, about 15 percent of Bristol’s population, live in what are considered the top 10 percent most disadvantaged areas in England. 

In an attempt to combat this inequality, Rees has been involved in a number of projects. He has established Bristol Works, where more than 3,000 young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are given work experience opportunities. And is now setting up a commission on social mobility. “Launching a Bristol commission on social mobility is not only about social justice; it [should not be] possible for a modern city to leave millions of pounds worth of talent on the shelf, just because the talent was born into poverty,” he says.

The mayor is also a strong supporter of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), explaining that SDGs offer a way to talk about sustainability within a framework of many issues, ranging from climate change and biodiversity to women’s issues, domestic violence, poverty and hunger.

“What we want to achieve as a city cannot be done as a city working alone,” he insists. “We don’t want to benefit only people inside Bristol, we want to benefit the planet, and the SDGs offer a framework for a global conversation,” suggesting that a vehicle should be launched that allows cities to work together, ideally with organisations such as the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund involved. 

Greater collaboration between cities would be “beneficial in terms of economies of scale,” he argues, “as cities could get more competitive prices when buying materials for building houses or ordering buses, rather than each city acquiring a few of them at a higher price.”

In an attempt to focus on the long term, Rees launched One City Plan in January 2019, setting out a number of goals for Bristol to achieve by 2050.

Investing in green infrastructure to meet 2030 carbon emission targets spelled out in the SDGs is a key area here, with the mayor noting that transport, mass transit and energy are important sectors looking for further investment and government funding: “The sooner we meet our targets, the sooner we will benefit from them, and invest in sectors that will provide people with jobs.”

Jobs, especially following the outbreak of Covid-19, are of paramount importance to Rees. Bristol’s council wants to ensure that any government money given to the city will be quickly passed on to businesses to help prevent redundancies, he says, though given that mass job losses seem inevitable, reskilling options are also being looked into, such as through a zero-carbon smart energy project called City Leap.

Another important area for investment in Bristol is affordable housing, with 9,000 homes already built under Rees’s term of office. “People could build a base for life with affordable housing, [and this would mean] their mental health would be better because they have a safe place,” he explains. “Children in families that have a home that is affordable are more likely to able to eat and to heat, [and they are more likely to enjoy a] better education.”

Taken in the round, Rees’s agenda for Bristol is its own blueprint for shaping history. The Colston statue now lies in safe storage, with a local museum likely to play host to the controversial monument. But the Black Lives Matters protestors were fighting for a fairer, more equal future, and it is here where Rees is determined to deliver.

Sofia Karadima is a senior editor at NS Media Group.