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A look at housing policy under Labour

Emma Reynolds MP, Shadow Minister for Housing

Emma Reynolds MP, Shadow Minister for Housing

FOR MILLIONS OF families across the country, the cost of buying or renting a home is at the heart of the cost-of-living crisis. And for many of those who used to dream of owning their own home, their hopes are fading fast as house prices rise and their wages stagnate. Recent figures show that for the first time in decades, if you’re in your late twenties or early thirties, you’re more likely to be renting privately than buying a home with a mortgage.

The cause of this is simple – there is a chronic shortage of affordable homes in many parts of Britain.

The housing shortage did not begin with this Government. But under David Cameron it is getting much worse. The number of homes built across the country in the past four years is lower than at any time in peacetime since the 1920s.

We support help for first time buyers which is why we support ‘Help to Buy’. But rising demand for housing must be matched with rising supply, otherwise there is a real risk that soaring house prices will push home ownership out of the reach of the very first-time buyers that the scheme should
be helping.

The housing shortage did not begin with this Government. But under David Cameron it is getting much worse.”

That’s why we need to boost housing supply to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. Where David Cameron has failed, the next Labour Government will act. Ed Miliband has made a firm promise: under the next Labour Government, we will be building at least 200,000 decent homes a year by 2020, double what we are building today. We will tackle the shortage of homes and stand up for first-time buyers.

Boosting supply is not the only thing that Labour will do. We will clamp down on the blight of empty homes and take steps to improve standards in the private rented sector.

There are now nine million people renting from landlords across England. There are many good landlords, but at present there are too many bad landlords who prey on vulnerable tenants. Some 35 per cent of properties in the private rented sector are rated as non-decent. We need serious action to prevent the exploitation of tenants and root out these poor living conditions.

That’s why a Labour Government will introduce a national register of landlords and give local authorities greater powers and flexibility to introduce licensing schemes. Some Labour local authorities like Oxford and Newham in London have already introduced such schemes. Others, like Islington and Liverpool, are looking at taking similar steps.

We also need better regulation of lettings and management agents. As the number of people renting from private landlords has almost doubled over past decade, the role of lettings agents has increased.

While many letting and management agents provide an important service and act responsibly, too many unscrupulous agents rip-off tenants and landlords alike. This means that tenants and landlords don’t get a fair deal and the many responsible agents are undercut and their reputation undermined.

It is clear that good letting agents play a valuable role in managing the relationship between landlords and tenants. However, an increasing number of agents are increasing their fees and ripping tenants off by overcharging for simple services. The worst lettings agents charge both landlords and tenants and fail to provide value for money for either. Labour would ensure full transparency on fees by making it a requirement for agents to present landlord and tenant fees on their websites, in adverts and in all paperwork in a way that is easily comparable across agents. We are also assessing the level and extent of activities that can be charged for.

Labour has also called for the mandatory regulation of the residential lettings and management agent market. We will work in partnership to develop this with the sector, and are considering measures including a code of code of conduct and compulsory business and consumer protection measures. This includes extending consumer protection measures governing estate agents to letting agents, giving the regulatory body powers to ban agents who act improperly.

Labour wants to ensure that the private rented sector is one of choice, which is why we have set out a series of reforms to make that happen. But we are clear that our priority is to build more homes. The housing shortage is central to the cost-of-living crisis, and neither will be solved until our country has a government that is willing to act. A One Nation Labour government would show that determination so that we can meet the aspirations of people across the UK.

April 8, 2014

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