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The Government's Ban On Letting Fees Shows That Private Renters Are Becoming A Force To Be Reckoned With

21/06/2017 16:43
PA Wire/PA Images

After years of campaigning, lobbying, and activism, and in a significant win for private renters, this week's Queen's Speech confirmed that the government intends to take forward a ban on letting fees and a cap on tenancy deposits.

The announcement is important both in terms of how it will improve renting, but also in what it says about our politics and the changing nature of housing in this country.

Anyone who has rented in recent years through an agent will know about the rip-off fees that have become standard in the industry.

Renters have been charged hundreds of pounds in 'admin', 'moving-in', and 'reference' fees - just to name a few - where the cost has so clearly been disproportionate to the service, though it often wasn't clear what the fee was for anyway.

Renters weren't able to shop around and avoid these fees - using their consumer power - because the agent comes with the property, and if you want to move in, you have to go with that agent.

This points to another unfair aspect of the fees system; letting agents actually work for landlords, not tenants, and should therefore be securing their revenue through them. Double charging in other industries, such as recruitment, has been banned for years.

Landlords are able to shop around for an agent they like, ensuring that fees charged to them are fair and proportionate, and thus able to drive the worst offenders out of the market.

We also know that while being ripped off and hit in the pocket is extremely irritating, the fees system also had profoundly negative consequences for those renters on low incomes.

We've heard too many stories about tenants staying put in unsuitable or unsafe properties because they couldn't afford the levels of fees and tenancy deposits to move, or getting into serious debt just to access a new home.

So the ban is an overall positive step and - barring any loopholes or exemptions - will help millions of renters across the country.

But the ban is also an indication that politicians are waking up to the electoral power of renters and young people, and trying to respond.

In a Queen's Speech where so much domestic legislation was dropped, and Brexit featured heavily, there were fears that a fees ban would also go missing, despite a commitment in the Conservative manifesto.

But in a context where more private renters turned out to vote, and where we registered many thousands in key constituencies that changed hands, it's clear that their demands can no longer be ignored.

We have twelve million private renters in the UK, including close to two million families, and people from all walks of life, varying incomes and distributed more widely than might be expected across the country.

A number of seats that are Conservative but became marginal in the 2017 election - including Reading West, the constituency of the new Housing Minister - have significant private rented sector populations that could decide the direction of the seat at the next election.

As renters become more active and organised, the political class will have to pay increasing attention.

Issues around affordability, security, and conditions are not going away, and whenever we have another general election, all parties will have to think long and hard about their housing offer if they have hopes of securing a majority.

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