Do you ever think you’re paying a lot for not very much? If you live in the private rented sector, that’s probably not an uncommon feeling. In the last decade, rents charged by private landlords have risen at twice the rate of wages, and average rents for a two bedroom house in more than half of English local authorities now exceed a third of average local take home pay. So it’s not surprising that a recent survey found that over a quarter of private tenants have had to borrow money to pay their rent at some point in the past year.
It might not be so bad if we were getting high quality homes for these sky-high rents. But the government’s own figures show that private tenants are getting a much worse deal than people who live in other types of housing. A third of private rented homes are ‘indecent’, failing to meet the Decent Homes standard – almost double that of social rented homes – and almost a fifth fail basic health and safety standards. Private tenants are also most likely to live in cold and damp homes. And overcrowding is on the rise – figures show that there has been a 23 per cent increase in overcrowded private rented homes in the last year alone.
Yet landlords aren’t increasing rents because they need to – with interest rates remaining at record low levels, a recent survey shows that only 4 per cent have been doing so because of higher mortgage costs. Instead, they have put the rent up because they could, with a fifth saying they did so because their letting agent encouraged them to. Yet the government’s response to rip-off rents is to blame those on the lowest incomes – Housing Benefit is being cut with no regard for the consequences. Children are having their education disrupted as families are forced to leave the communities they have settled in, with massive swathes of London set to become areas where only the richest can live.
Enough is enough. Starting this week, private tenants and others who are concerned about high rents, cuts to Housing Benefit and poor quality, insecure housing in the private rented sector will be taking action for a better housing. Watch this space!