To mark 100 days of the first Conservative government in nearly 20 years, HuffPost UK is running 100 Days of Dave, a special series of blog posts from grassroots campaigners to government ministers, single parents to first-year students, reflecting on what's worked and what hasn't, whilst looking for solutions to the problems we still face.
The run up to the General Election this year witnessed the emergence of the housing crisis as a key vote-catching issue. The need for more houses to be built, the lack of affordable housing, ever-increasing house prices, and the growth of the private rental sector all identified as contributing to the dire state of housing. Promises were made and policies laid out to address the situation. For private renters, this was a hopeful period with most parties outlining policies which seemed designed to go some way towards alleviating the difficulties inherent in this sector. I say 'most parties' because the Conservatives didn't appear to focus on the Private Rental Sector (PRS) in the same way at all and in the 100 days since taking power, there appears to have been little change on this front.
The Conservatives themselves would dispute this. They would point to policies aimed to increase numbers of homeowners through Help To Buy, First Time Buyer ISAs, special discounts on new builds for First Time Buyers aged under 40, to evidence their support of those in the PRS. However, these policies help relatively few people currently not owner-occupiers to take their first step onto the housing ladder. They fail to help those private renters unable to take advantage of these opportunities due to insufficient income, age, family size or a whole host of other reasons. For these renters, the PRS remains as insecure and treacherous as ever and to date the government appears slow to address this.
Maybe this is a case of a simple misunderstanding. Based on the majority of Tory initiated housing policies to date, we might be forgiven for assuming that in their minds, private renters are a homogenous group of middle class, young professionals who just can't quite scrape together the requisite deposit for their own home. Possibly. In reality of course, we are a varied bunch falling into 'subsets' including but not limited to the group outlined above. Like the families who would need much more financial help or discount than is currently on offer to give them a foot up into the ranks of the homeowners. That support not being forthcoming they are trapped in the PRS looking to government to secure them longer tenancies, more security, greater legal protections and limits on rent rises (even the recently announced restriction of tax relief on Buy To Let mortgages is expected to lead to rent rises for tenants).
Then there are those tenants in the PRS on lower incomes and/or in receipt of benefits, whose numbers have increased as social and council housing provision has been decimated. These PRS tenants, having less power and choice than some other renters, are at risk of being forced from their communities and falling prey to 'rogue' landlords and their unscrupulous practices. In these first 100 days, this government has instigated policies which will only serve to swell the numbers in this particular group. Policies such as, the extension of Right To Buy to social housing tenants expected to result in fewer social housing properties being available; the reduction in rents paid by tenants of social housing by 1% each year for four years predicted to have a dire effect on finances available for the building of houses in this sector; and the welfare cap and limit on the amount claimed for housing benefit further restricting the properties those in receipt of such benefits can access. These private tenants are completely reliant upon government intervention and policy to make their living conditions more decent and more acceptable. And somewhat surprisingly, last week a raft of measures were announced which might just go some way towards achieving this.
This could be because the middle-class professional private renter appears to have been joined by a second subset of private renters registering on the government's radar: illegal immigrants. As a result, some of the issues around landlords may end up being addressed through a package of measures focusing on tackling rogue landlords. Welcome though those proposals may be, the cynic in me sees them more as a governmental tool for controlling immigration than a support for me as a tenant. Indeed there are signs that the plans to require landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants or face fines or imprisonment, will have significant negative knock-on effects on those seeking private rentals. However, the bottom line is that an increased level of regulation of landlords has to be an improvement on the alternative for the majority of private tenants.
In summary then, after 100 days of Cameron in terms of private renting it seems there are two types of tenant recognised and acknowledged by the government, one of whom ticks the Tory boxes of 'worthy' of support and the other who must be eradicated at all costs. All the others may be affected by policies geared towards these two 'government sanctioned' tenant groups but otherwise had better get used to being left to fend for themselves because they, apparently, are pretty much invisible.
Fiona blogs at www.fielsted.wordpress.com