Article Posted -
10 Sep 2018

A landmark review of the private rented sector in England has been published today by academics at the University of York, criticising poor policy-making and a lack of strategy from successive governments that are failing millions of landlords and tenants.

The Evolving Private Rented Sector: Its Contribution and Potential, by Dr Julie Rugg and David Rhodes, was funded by the Nationwide Foundation. The report is an independent analysis of changing demographics in the sector, how tenants’ needs are being met and the impact of Government policy interventions over the last decade.

The review is a follow-up to the authors’ 2008 report, which was the first to analyse the private rented sector in detail. Speaking on the findings of the report, Dr Rugg said:

“Since our first review was published, declining home ownership and a shortage of social rented homes have led to a surge in the number of people privately renting – particularly families with young children. Unfortunately, in its current form the private rental market isn’t providing a suitable alternative, and, in the absence of an overarching vision from any government, we’ve seen reams of policies and regulations which are not joined up or thought through. We need to see a fundamental rethink of the role that private renting plays in our housing market and a comprehensive strategy to ensure it meets the needs of every renter.”

The main findings of the landmark review include:

  • Current regulation of the sector is ‘confused and contradictory’ and ‘failing at multiple levels’. Opportunities for linkage and simplification are being missed, with tenants and landlords unsure of their rights and responsibilities
  • Poor conditions are a problem at both ends of the market – one in five homes let at the top 20% of rents are non-decent, and one in three let at the bottom 20%. Conditions get worse the longer tenants are in their property, indicating that poor property management rather than old housing stock is the root cause
  • Changes to welfare reform are creating a ‘slum tenure’ at the bottom end of the market as more tenants are unable to afford to meet their current rent levels or find accommodation without the help of statutory or third sector agencies
  • Policy interventions – such as Build to Rent – are increasingly focused on helping higher and middle-income renters priced out of ownership, with little or no help for those on low incomes
  • The review calls for the introduction of a landlord and letting agent register and suggests a new ‘Property MOT’ to bring together and simplify existing regulation and help drive up property standards in rented homes
  • The review concludes that no government has been clear on the functions and role of renting within the housing market. Perhaps most importantly, successive government interventions have been labelled piecemeal and poorly targeted.

The NLA welcomes the review and believes the sector would benefit from a more strategic approach from government. NLA CEO Richard Lambert, who will be speaking as part of the panel at the launch event later today, and who sits on the Nationwide Foundation’s PRS Partnership Board, commented:  

“Everyone calls for ‘evidence-based policy’, but too often we have policy-based evidence. This report clearly states to case for better understanding of landlords, their motivations and their business plans, recognising that neither landlords nor tenants are a homogenous group. Understanding the customer is vital to ensure that private rented sector meets the needs of tenants and it’s essential that landlords develop a stronger consumer focus.

“At the same time, it’s important to recognise that the overwhelming majority of tenancies pass successfully for both landlords and tenants, and policy interventions to address those that don’t must be strategic and targeted. The Government must reflect what we as a society want to see from the private rented sector, and we urge the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and Housing Ministers, to lead, advocate and coordinate across Government. We’ll only get that if there is some stability in the person in government who’s actually responsible – so we need a Minister who stays in post for more than a year at a time.”