Private renters are being failed by a housing market stacked against them and it is time for a serious shift in power towards this growing group of consumers.
Unlike purchasers of high street goods or services who are generally covered by well-developed consumer rights, consumers of private sector housing lack the protections they need. They are often at the mercy of landlords and lettings agents and have little recourse to take action in the case of poor quality or rip-off housing.
A case in point are lettings fees that agents charge tenants. Registration fees, credit check fees, reference check fees, renewal fees, name change fees, admin fees, exit fees... the list goes on. Almost all of them arbitrary and disproportionate to the service provided. Yet tenants are powerless to do much about it, in a market where demand for homes relentlessly grows and options are limited.
It is time for Government intervention to address this imbalance of power and build up the consumer rights of renters. Letting agents should not be able to get away with double charging fees - imposing them on both tenants and landlords - when in fact it is only the landlord that is the client and therefore the one that should be paying. Tenants are charged fees because agents know they can get away with it.
These fees are already banned in many countries including Scotland and the US because the pro-consumer case for doing so is clear. With 18% of the population now living in the private rented sector and this figure set to grow as the Government's reforms to sell off council housing start taking effect, it is essential that protections are put in place now to stop renters being pushed into debt and taken advantage of.
I am gathering support of Parliamentarians from across the parties for my Renters' Rights Bill which will push for a step change in protections - making rented homes safer, scrapping unnecessary fees and giving tenants better access to information about rogue landlords.
There is a huge amount of support for reforming renting and banning fees, but the people who still need convincing are those on the Government benches. It is time for them to recognise the pro-consumer case for taking action, start championing renters and stop these rip-off fees once and for all.
Baroness Olly Grender is a Liberal Democrat peer