PRS reform – three key tests for its success in 2023

Isobel Thomson

2022 was a stop-start year for politics. As we enter a period of potential stability, hopefully we can get back to focusing on policymaking and outcomes.

In the private rented sector, we know change is coming. DLUHC has confirmed the Renters Reform Bill will be brought forward in 2023, and it was welcome to see Michael Gove reinforce his previous commitment to drive up rental standards.

But what shape will reform take? What shape should it take? For me, success can be measured against three key things that we should all be looking out for this year.

1/ Consistency

As landmark legislation takes shape, we need to see consistency across policymaking and in different parts of the housing market.

Take the new Decent Homes Standard planned for the PRS. In principle, this is a positive move that should make housing better. But the current proposals don’t account for some recent updates to building safety legislation and also suggest stricter enforcement measures than in social housing. This disparity needs to be addressed or we risk creating a two tier system of housing standards and confusion for tenants.

Meanwhile a new property portal is set to make the existing rogue landlord and letting agent database public, helping renters choose from the vast majority who do their job properly. This database needs to paint a complete picture. Currently, not belonging to an approved CMP scheme isn’t listed as an offence. This has been a legal obligation for agents since 2019 and is a vital layer of protection for consumers.

If new regulations don’t align with existing legal frameworks, how can we expect agents and landlords to know their responsibilities, and tenants their rights?

That’s just the PRS – there is also a need for cohesion across the wider sector. From leasehold reform to the Social Housing Regulation Bill, other areas of the residential market may be legislated on next year too.

It’s vital that policymaking is approached holistically, so that standards are consistent and people can be confident of living in a good home regardless of whether they are renting or homeowners. A consumer-focused approach will go a long way and help us all remain clear about what really matters.

2/ Collaboration

Successful reform will see everyone buy into it; conversely, it will fail if landlords, tenants, agents and local authorities keep pulling in different directions. Without a clear consensus, I fear that efforts to improve standards could end up being counter-productive.

The Renting Home (Wales) Act is a live example. While already law, its true implications will become clearer in 2023. Landlords’ compliance responsibilities have changed overnight, with many new processes to adopt. It’s vital that these changes don’t alienate landlords, so clear direction is needed from Government and regulators.

Our sector also has a big role to play in interpreting and applying new laws. That’s why we’ve already made sure our letting qualifications and CPD content for agents operating in Wales incorporates the legislative changes.

Policymakers in Westminster will be watching closely to see how Wales’ new model works in practice, in particular when it comes to security of tenure for tenants. Measures such as the removal of Section 21 evictions will need to be balanced with some flexibility for landlords. Otherwise, we risk a major exodus of small independent landlords from the market which isn’t going to help anyone.

Collaboration will allow us to find the right balance between different interests, shape deliverable policy and mean we can all contribute to something we’re confident in.

3/ Communication

When times are tough, simple solutions and polemics can be appealing – but we need to resist the temptation to become tribal.  This is especially important with the cost of living crisis being the backdrop to all policy and politics in 2023.

Landlords are already under pressure amid legislative changes and everyone is feeling the financial pinch, so we must adopt the empathy and collective spirit evident during the pandemic. Honesty and transparency will help us plan for and mitigate economic hardship.

Take the drive in improving energy efficiency standards – already a major focus in the PRS and even more so in the current energy crisis. It’s good to see Government funding starting to filter through for local authorities to help drive awareness of this. We need to keep talking and making sure tenants and landlords know what help is available and how their actions can help drive improvements too. Agents are playing a key part in encouraging that.

Now we have greater clarity on legislative plans, this is the year for the whole sector to come to the table and shape how it will work in practice. Let’s be grown up, pragmatic and positive.

My three tests – consistency, collaboration and communication – aren’t just for policymakers, they’re for all of us to focus on if we’re going to steer a sensible direction of travel in 2023.

Isobel Thomson is safeagent’s chief executive 

 

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5 Comments

  1. MrManyUnits

    Every Landlord mostly 60 boomers are downsizing, so the Government is going to make another clanger !

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  2. Will2

    Abolition of S21 is already having a significant impact with a significant number of landlords selling.  What no one seems to be predicting is that the Governments hapless policies are driving the property market back towards the days of boom and bust.  Think it will never happen?  that is what they thought about interest rates rising! Those who truly understand the markets and history of housing will probably understand why I make this assertion.

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  3. Woodentop

    And here lies the problem ….. consistency, collaboration and communication – aren’t just for policymakers

     

    Never, ever have civil servants done this. The agenda is set by policy, the lip service given to those to air their views are in the main just that, lip service and the powers that be with all the power will go their way. Until we have power nothing will change and find me  a government policy maker who is going to agree to that.

     

    Abolishing Sec 21 is a prime example of policy making at its worst. They know that landlords have been leaving in droves and hope that many more private landlords don’t find out until its too late to do anything due to the lack of communication in that part of the sector. At least Wales retained Sec 21.

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    1. Diogenes

      Wales cannot retain s21 as the 1988 Housing Act no longer applies. Yes, it’s a so called no fault eviction, but the notice period is such a 6 month occupancy agreement cannot be ended for a year!

      S173 is a new notice which cannot be served in the first 6 months (or 4 months for a converted contract) and provides 6 months notice.

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  4. northernlandlord

    The real test of the reforms will be if the PRS expands to fulfil the need raised by unaffordable housing and the current trend for landlords to sell up is reversed. Maybe the PRS reforms will be just another nail in the coffin for the PRS. From where I sit as a Landlord this certainly seems to be the case, time will tell. The Government has always had a down on the PRS. It might be some sort of jealousy as the PRS is doing a job the Government can’t i.e. providing homes. However, the paper “The Evolving Private Rented Sector: Its Contribution and Potential” paper produced by Rugg and Davies at the University of York Centre for Housing Policy outlines another reason stating;-
     ” For well over a decade a stated goal for the PRS by successive English governments has been to encourage large- scale institutional investment [by Party donors?]  in new properties built specifically for the rental market” So is it policy to squeeze the little Landlords who make up most of the PRS out, as they are standing in the way of this “progress”?
    Unfortunately these properties being “built specifically for the rental market ”are not for poorer tenants as:-
     ” BTR often aims to create a ‘new style’ of rental offer, focussing on longer tenancies with a defined process for rent review, transparent access fees, and a level of on-site amenity depending on the scale of the development. Utilities – including broadband – are often included in the rent. There is an intention for developments to look towards community creation, and there is generally an aspirational element to the market”
    Doesn’t sound very affordable does it? Is a housing crisis looming or is it already here?

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