The forthcoming ban on letting agent fees charged to tenants has been cited as “an important step” by the housing minister in the Commons.
During a debate on homelessness, MPs expressed concerns at the costs of rental deposits.
Housing minister Gavin Barwell – who called homelessness a “moral stain” – said the Government is attempting to “deal with the up-front cost of accessing the private rented sector”.
He went on: “In terms of dealing with statutory homelessness, access to the private rented sector is key. That is why the Chancellor’s announcement in the Autumn Statement about letting agent fees – I am sure the Opposition welcome that announcement – is an important step.”
In only September this year, he rejected the idea of a ban, calling it a bad idea: “Landlords would pass costs to tenants via rent. We’re looking at other ways to cut upfront costs and raise standards,” he said on September 19.
This week’s debate was moved by shadow secretary of state for housing John Healey, who was the last housing minister under Labour.
He said there was a record number of homeless people now sleeping rough, and that over 10,000 children will spend Christmas Day in temporary accommodation.
He said there was a lack of action to help private renters, “while eviction or default from a private tenancy is now the biggest single cause of homelessness”.
During the debate the private rented sector was repeatedly mentioned.
Conservative MP Will Quince (Colchester) said the private rented sector was part of the problem.
He said: “We know that the largest cause of homelessness is the ending of a tenancy, largely via a Section 21 notice.
“The system whereby an individual comes to their council for assistance at the earliest possible opportunity when they get into trouble, and the council turns them away and says, ‘Come back when the bailiffs are knocking on your door’ – at which point the person has arrears and a county court judgment against their name, and will never again be able to rent in the private rented sector – is failing those individuals, and it has to stop.”
Quince said that in the same way there are Help to Buy schemes, there should be a Help to Rent scheme.
Former shadow housing minister Jack Dromey spoke of a “rapidly growing private rented sector, characterised by soaring rents, with the average tenant paying £2,000 more over the past five years; insecurity; and often poor accommodation”.
Tory MP Bob Blackman called for a national scheme where prospective tenants could get deposits.
Andy Slaughter, shadow housing minister, said the Government had a “responsibility” to legislate for longer tenancies and rent controls.
The full debate is here