While everyone was focused on Brexit, Britain’s renters received an early Christmas present

Or ANY week! Image: Getty.

On Tuesday night, the government made some technical changes to the Tenant Fees Bill which barely anyone noticed.

But they should. Because, with these changes, the ban on tenant fees will save private renters collectively millions of pounds.

In 2016 the Chancellor announced a ban on letting fees to great fanfare.

And quite right too: Shelter research shows on average private renters in England had to pay £246 in letting agent fees, and families had to pay even more.

But since that announcement, the average renter can be excused for being a bit confused as to what happened next, when they continued finding themselves slapped with enormous fees.

In fact, politicians were still debating what should be in the deal, and it has been watered down quite considerably.

The problem was that there was a gaping loophole smack bang in the middle of the bill. Something called a “Default Fee” would have allowed landlords and agents to carry on charging private renters even after the ban had happened.

These are charges for things like losing a key or breaking part of your tenancy agreement.

The problem was there were initially no real controls on how big these charges could be. So you got people being charged £100 for “cobweb removal” and £10 to iron curtains. (These aren’t jokes: feast your eyes on the top ten.) Inevitably then, agents would exploit this loophole – and they even said so themselves.


This all meant that renters would have remained at the mercy of agents and landlords.

But this is where organisations like Shelter, Citizens Advice and Generation Rent come in. Together we raised our serious concerns about this to the government. Liberal Democrat & Labour Peers also worked tirelessly behind the scenes and in Parliamentary debates to make the case to government that default fees needed tightening.

And, lo and behold, the government listened to these concerns and acted.

On Tuesday night it stepped in by tabling amendments to the ban which now tightly define what makes a default fee.

That means the only things that can be charged as default fees are lost keys and late rent. So agents and landlords who were planning on drawing up a list of make-believe charges now simply can’t.  

In our eyes, this fully closes the default fees loophole once and for all. This is a big win and a true testament to cross-party working.

Deposits, capped

As well as doing away with the default fee loophole, the government also put forward amendments to cap security deposits at five weeks’ rent instead of six.

Seeing as we all know the astronomical cost of renting, this is a big deal and also very welcome.

Shelter research shows it is in fact the equivalent of £150 or more in over half of local authorities.

The final amendment laid yesterday introduced some additional protections for renters around holding deposits. This is the refundable deposit used to reserve a property before the tenancy agreement is signed.

Following these changes, when a tenancy isn’t going ahead, a landlord or agent will have to set out in writing their reasons for retaining some of the holding deposit within seven days of deciding not to go ahead with the tenancy. This will give clarity to renters and make it easier for them to challenge if they feel their money has been withheld unfairly.

Thanks to the recent changes, which were the result of true cross-party collaboration, the government is set to deliver a huge victory for renters. We hope this will become law by January next year and be in force later in the Spring.

There’s no doubt this bill will make renting fairer and more affordable for all renters. But it must be just the beginning.

Greg Beales is campaign director at the housing charity Shelter.

 
 
 
 

Here’s a fantasy metro network for Birmingham & the West Midlands

Birmingham New Street. Image: Getty.

Another reader writes in with their fantasy transport plans for their city. This week, we’re off to Birmingham…

I’ve read with interest CityMetric’s previous discussion on Birmingham’s poor commuter service frequency and desire for a “Crossrail” (here and here). So I thought I’d get involved, but from a different angle.

There’s a whole range of local issues to throw into the mix before getting the fantasy metro crayons out. Birmingham New Street is shooting up the passenger usage rankings, but sadly its performance isn’t, with nearly half of trains in the evening rush hour between 5pm and 8pm five minutes or more late or even cancelled. This makes connecting through New Street a hit and, mainly, miss affair, which anyone who values their commuting sanity will avoid completely. No wonder us Brummies drive everywhere.


There are seven local station reopening on the cards, which have been given a helping hand by a pro-rail mayor. But while these are super on their own, each one alone struggles to get enough traffic to justify a frequent service (which is key for commuters); or the wider investment needed elsewhere to free up more timetable slots, which is why the forgotten cousin of freight gets pushed even deeper into the night, in turn giving engineering work nowhere to go at all.

Suburban rail is the less exciting cousin of cross country rail. But at present there’s nobody to “mind the gap” between regional cross-country focussed rail strategy , and the bus/tram orientated planning of individual councils. (Incidentally, the next Midland Metro extension, from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, is expected to cost £450m for just 11km of tram. Ouch.)

So given all that, I decided to go down a less glamorous angle than a Birmingham Crossrail, and design a Birmingham  & Black Country Overground. Like the London Overground, I’ve tried to join up what we’ve already got into a more coherent service and make a distinct “line” out of it.

Click to expand. 

With our industrial heritage there are a selection of old alignments to run down, which would bring a suburban service right into the heart of the communities it needs to serve, rather than creating a whole string of “park & rides” on the periphery. Throw in another 24km of completely new line to close up the gaps and I’ve run a complete ring of railway all the way around Birmingham and the Black Country, joining up with HS2 & the airport for good measure – without too much carnage by the way of development to work around/through/over/under.

Click to expand. 

While going around with a big circle on the outside, I found a smaller circle inside the city where the tracks already exist, and by re-creating a number of old stations I managed to get within 800m of two major hospitals. The route also runs right under the Birmingham Arena (formerly the NIA), fixing the stunning late 1980s planning error of building a 16,000 capacity arena right in the heart of a city centre, over the railway line, but without a station. (It does have two big car parks instead: lovely at 10pm when a concert kicks out, gridlocks really nicely.)

From that redraw the local network map and ended up with...

Click to expand. 

Compare this with the current broadly hub-and-spoke network, and suddenly you’ve opened up a lot more local journey possibilities which you’d have otherwise have had to go through New Street to make. (Or, in reality, drive.) Yours for a mere snip at £3bn.

If you want to read more, there are detailed plans and discussion here (signup required).