Home » What are the political parties’ policies on private renting?

What are the political parties’ policies on private renting?

polling station for a general election for a brick building, where the policies for private renting will be voted on

Rishi Sunak said on 4 January 2024 that his “working assumption” is that a General Election will be held in the second half of 2024. This isn’t a suprise. The last possible date for the election is 28 January 2025, but canvassing for voters in January or December was always going to be unlikely. Given where the Conservatives are in the polls at the moment, it’s no surprise that they’re going to be reluctant to hold it in May. One thing is sure, however, housing policy in general, and private renting in particular are going to be hot topics during the next General Election.

This blog post sets out where the four main political parties in England stand on key issues for the private rented sector (PRS). It’s a bit tricky, as the Labour Party still hasn’t published its policy on the private rented sector, which was expected for November 2024. I’ve therefore relied on recent press releases, speeches and interviews to flesh out Labour’s policies for the private renting.

In this post, I start by explaining the context of private renting in England, and track what we know about the policies for the regulation of landlords rights for renters, where there’s consensus, and where the parties differ. I conclude with three key areas that all four political parties need to address to help alleviate the housing crisis.

I’ll update the blog post once the review is published, and keep it updated as the General Election approaches.

Last updated: 1 March 2024

Why reform of private renting will be important at the General Election

parliament in westminster will determing the new policies for private renting

Housing policies affect the lives of renters and landlords alike. Here are some statistics which show the numbers of renters and landlords, and their respective influence.

How many renters are in England?

Government figures estimate that renters comprise almost one fifth (4.6 million) of households in England. There isn’t an exact number of individual renters, but estimates range from 9 million (The Times) to 11 million (Shelter).

At around 10 million people, taking the mid-point, renters comprise a sizeable proportion of the 41 million voters in England.

Why the “Rent Wall” will be key in the General Election

MRP polling carried out out by Stack Data Strategy on behalf of Shelter in September 2022 identified what Shelter terms a “Rent Wall” (as opposed to a “Red Wall”). These are 38 constituencies in “the Conservative heartlands” where private renters are “set to be decisive at the ballot box”. They have a higher density of private renters than the average, and have linked their voting intentions to housing policy. These constituencies are mostly in London and the South. Examples include Milton Keynes North, Hastings and Rye, Harrow East, Reading West and Gloucester.

38 Degrees refers to renters having “the potential to be kingmakers” in the next general election.

Progress on the Renters Reform Bill is consequently important to the Conservative party’s prospects at the 2024 General Election. We’re currently waiting for the date of the Report Stage and Third Reading to be announced.

How many landlords are there in England?

As well as the Rent Wall, there are around 3 million landlords in England. HMRC statistics published in October 2022 said 2.7 million sole trader landlords declared at least £1,000 income from renting property in 2020-2021. The HMRC figure doesn’t include those landlords who rent property through a limited company, estimated to number 300,000. It’s also a little out of date, and won’t include those landlords who have sold up since April 2021. This is how I reach estimated total number of landlords in England of around 3 million.

Over 90% of these private landlords will be subject to the punitive tax regime (Section 24) brought in by George Osborne in 2015. Section 24 restricts the ability of individual landlords to set off their financing costs against income tax purposes.

>> Related Post: What landlords need to know about Section 24 and the taxation of mortgage interest

How many MPs are landlords in England?

According to research from 38 Degrees, 87 MPs declared at least £10,000 in rental income in England in the last year. This includes almost one in five Conservative MPs and five members of the cabinet.

Of the 87 MPs who are landlords in England, 68 are Conservatives, 16 are Labour, 2 are Liberal Democrats and one is a member of the SNP.

What are renters’ key concerns about renting in 2024?

percentage of unsafe properties in the private rented sector in the English Housing Survey

Times are hard for renters in 2024, with poor supply, above inflation increases in rent, declining social housing and frozen housing benefits.

Despite a lot of regulation (including the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 and the Housing Health and Safety Rating System), the English Housing Survey published in July 2023 estimated that 14% of private rented properties in 2021 (615,000 properties) had at least one Category 1 hazard.  This means properties which pose an imminent risk to health.

Dissatisfaction among renters about the state of repair of their rented properties is fairly widespread, according to the 2023 Renters’ Pulse Q3 Survey by Marks Out Of Tenancy. 37% of the renters surveyed reported that the quality of repairs and maintenance had deteriorated in the last 3 months.

The survey shows that almost half are increasing concerns over their security of tenure, underlining the importance to renters of the abolition of Section 21. Rising rents are another key area of concern.

>> Related Post: Guide for Renters

>> Related Post: What the English Housing Survey tells us about the PRS

What are landlords’ concerns in 2024?

The quarterly NRLA Landlord Confidence Index published on 9 September showed landlord confidence to be at an all time low of 31.3%, down from 49.8% in Q3 2021. It’s even lower than the 31.6% recorded in Q1 2022, at the start of the Covid pandemic. 43% of the landlords surveyed were planning to sell, with only 10% planning to buy.

Key areas of concern for landlords include punitive taxation (Section 24), worries over the investments needed for energy efficiency improvements and high interest rates. There’s also alarm at the prospect of recovering possession after the abolition of Section 21 via the slow court system.

>> Related Post: Is Buy-to-Let still worth it in 2024?

Overview of key policies for private renting of the main political parties

Here’s an overview of the key policies for the private rented sector of each of the 4 main political parties in England:

PolicyConservativeLabourLib DemsGreen
Abolish Section 21YesYesYesYes
Rent controlsNoNoYes: base rateYes: 35% local net pay
EPC C?NoYesC in 5 yrs; B in 10Yes
Default tenancyPeriodic?3 yr fixed termPeriodic
Compulsory licensingNo: PRS DatabaseLandlord registerYesYes
More social housing??Yes150k paYes
Policies for private renting of the four key political parties in England at a glance
(based on information available on 4 January 2024)

The policies of the 4 main political parties for private renters

Conservative Party’s policies for private renting

The Conservative Party hasn’t yet published its manifesto for the next election. However, the manifesto for the last election contained their blueprint for the rental reform:

“We will bring in a Better Deal for Renters, including abolishing ‘no fault’ evictions and only requiring one ‘lifetime’ deposit which moves with the tenant. This will create a fairer rental market: if you’re a tenant, you will be protected from revenge evictions and rogue landlords, and if you’re one of the many good landlords, we will strengthen your rights of possession.”

Although Michael Gove originally promised the Renters Reform Bill would be on the statute book by Christmas 2023, it’s still languishing in the House of Commons, let along make the House of Lords. Despite the fanfare of the publication of the White Paper A Fairer Private Rented Sector in June 2022, and the Renters Reform Bill in May 2023, no progress has been made since the Committee Stage completed on 28 November. In the meantime, the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill has gone from its First Reading in the House of Commons on 27 November, and it reached the House of Lords on 28 February.

There’s been deep concern that the courts won’t be ready in time for the abolition of Section 21, and that without a minimum term, the private rented sector could turn into “Airbnb light” because tenants will be able to give two months’ notice as soon as they move in, as the Bill currently stands.

There’s also been a lot of speculation in the press that the Bill will be “watered down”. If the Bill doesn’t make progress soon, it won’t make the statute book by the election.

>> Related Post: The 10 key changes in the Renters Reform Bill

>> Related Post: The latest news on the Renters Reform Bill

What are Labour Party’s policies for the private rented sector in 2024?

The Labour Party hasn’t yet published its policy for the private rented sector. Stephen Cowan, leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, carried out a review of the PRS in 2023, but results weren’t published when expected in November 2023.

Renting barely gets a mention in Labour’s Missions for Britain, although Labour’s “turbo-charged housing pland on offer after the next General Election” from February 2024 refers to “a fair deal on renting […] – renters protected by abolishing no fault evictions immediately”.

Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves and Deputy Leader & Housing Secretary, Angela Rayner, both referred to renters in their main speeches to the Labour Party conference in October 2023.

Rachel Reeves said “a house should be a home not an asset”. Angela Rayner highlighted on the lack of progress by the government on rental reform by saying “Labour will achieve rental reform where the Tories have failed for four and a half years. Finishing the job by banning ‘no fault’ evictions”.

Although Labour don’t yet have a published policy, the most fulsome description of their approach came in June 2023 from Lisa Nandy, the then Shadow Housing Secretary.

“Labour will never treat renters as second-class citizens. We will make renting fairer, more secure and more affordable with our Renters’ Charter.

We will scrap no-fault evictions, introduce a four-month notice period for landlords, a national register of landlords, and a suite of new rights for tenants – including the right to make alterations to your home, the right to request speedy repairs, and the right to have pets.”
Lisa Nandy, June 2023

Some of the “suite of new rights for tenants” are already in the Renters Reform Bill, although the landlord notice period would be doubled under Labour. The right to make alterations and request speedy repairs are not in the Bill. (Wearing my lawyer’s hat, I can only imagine the difficulty of defining what is a “speedy repair”, without relying on our friend “reasonableness”.)

Lisa Nandy ruled out rent controls in a speech to the Housing 2023 conference in June 2023. “And when housebuilding is falling off a cliff and buy to let landlords are leaving the market, rent controls that cut rents for some, will almost certainly leave others homeless.”

Angela Rayner hasn’t signalled whether she will adopt the same stance on rent controls, but she said in an interview with Vicky Spratt of the i newspaper in November 2023 that she would abolish Section 21 on Labour’s first day in power. She is also looking to prioritise enforcement and building social housing.

Liberal Democrats’ policies for the private rented sector

The Liberal Democrats’ policies for private renting are contained in their Policy Paper for the 2023 Conference: Tackling the Housing Crisis. It’s considerably more “renter friendly” than the Renters Reform Bill, and even the Labour Party.

The Lib Dems deem the PRS to be “fundamentally unfair and under-regulated”. Here are their principal policies about the PRS:

  • National licensing system for landlords and holiday lets.
  • Minimum standards system under which landlords would need to demonstrate “they can deliver a good service”. It would be extended to property management companies and agents. Existing landlords would be given 3 years to meet the standards. New landlords would have to meet them before they could start. There’s no detail in the policy paper on how landlords would be able to show they deliver a good service. Key performance indicators? Our friend “reasonableness” again?
  • Improve security of tenure by increasing the default tenancy from 1 to 3 years.
  • Rent controls, which they call “rent smoothing”. Landlords would only be able to increase rent by the Bank of England Base Rate during the contract period. They consider this to be more relevant to landlords’ costs than inflation. (Historically the Base Rate has always been lower).
  • Empowerment of Councils. They would give councils additional powers and resources, and “ensure that councils have the expertise and resources to prevent bad landlords and tenants”.
  • Social housing. The Lib Dems would build 150,000 social homes each year, and give councils the power to borrow to build. They would also build 10 garden cities to increase supply of housing, and reform the Land Compensation Act “so that councils can acquire land at fair values”.

Green Party’s policies for renters and landlords

man installing loft insulation

The Green Party’s policies for the private rented sector are contained in its Housing Policy. The document is a little light on detail, but these are their key policies for tenants and landlords:

  • Security of tenure. In common with the Renters Reform Bill, they would “phase out” assured shorthold tenancies, which would become periodic, with tenants being able to terminate them with two months’ notice. They too would abolish Section 21. The landlord would only be able to end the tenancy in order to sell the property (with proof of purchase), to move in or where there’s been a “serious breach of the contract”.
  • Rent controls. The Green Party would introduce a “Living Rent”, whereby median local rents would take up no more than 35% of the local median take-home pay. They believe these controls would “strike a balance between affordability and predictability for tenants, and the landlords’ need to invest in their homes and make a reasonable profit”. According to the English Housing Survey, on average, private renters spend 33% of their gross income on rent.
  • Housing standards. The Greens would “toughen up” the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), ensure councils dedicate “adequate resources to proactively enforce it”.
  • National landlord licensing scheme. Local authorities would enforce a national licensing scheme with “punitive penalties for landlords who fail to gain a license or meet the HHSRS requirements”.
  • Renters’ unions. The Green Party would support the development of a “Tenants’ Movement to provide a voice for tenants at a local and national level”. They would also with promote and fund the formation and development of “renters’ unions” (undefined).
  • Social housing is important to the Green Party. They would abolish policies for the “large-scale sell-off of social housing”, and abolish discounts for tenants. All receipts from the sale of housing would be retained by councils, and they would be “encouraged” to reinvest the money in the improvement of local housing provision.

3 key issues for the PRS all political parties need to address

Here are three broad areas where most renters and responsible landlords would like political parties to address in detail in order to bring positive change to the PRS:

1. Better enforcement against bad landlords

There are still too many private rented properties with at least one Category 1 Hazard in the PRS (estimated to be 14% or 615,000 properties). Having clarity on what the Decent Homes Standard means for the PRS would be helpful, and this is apparently expected soon. However, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, which incorporates the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, already requires properties to be fit for human habitation.

Local authorities must take action against landlords if they identify Category 1 hazards (which pose an imminent risk to health). They also have the ability to take action regarding Category 2 hazards. These are serious hazards which are unlikely to cause direct harm in the near future. However, there is no standardised approach to enforcement across the country.

The NRLA published the English PRS Enforcement Index in March 2023, using data compiled from Freedom of Information requests of local authorities. The FOI questions included the number of environmental health officers (EHOs) dedicated to enforcing standards in the PRS, whether they inspect properties before issuing a mandatory HMO licence, and the year they last carried out a Stock Condition Survey. Each council was indexed according to the answers to the questions.

The council with the highest score (90) was Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council in Kent. The lowest was the London Borough of Haringey with 2 points. This research revealed a wide disparity in local authority enforcement practice and staffing levels. Many councils did not maximise opportunities from civil penalties to raise funds to employ enforcement staff.

The NRLA recommend that DLUHC identify high-performing local authorities and “facilitate sharing of best practice between authorities to improve outcomes across England”. In order to tackle the shortage of Environmental Health and Technical Officers (EHOs), the NRLA advocate that the DLUHC provide a training fund, and target training on underutilised enforcement tools such as civil penalties and improvement notices.

Ben Yarrow, founder of Marks Out Of Tenancy, a tenant review platform, agrees that the funding and training of EHOs are needed to “combat the very worst landlords who often prey upon the most vulnerable in society”.

The political parties should focus on improving enforcement in the PRS, rather than just piling on more laws which criminal landlords ignore.

2. Increase social housing

construction site in england to provide more social housing for renters
More social housing needs to be built

There’s a shortage of in rental housing, both social and private, leading to above inflation rent increases in the PRS. Part of the reason for this increase in demand is the reduction in the amount of social housing. This reduction is even worse in real terms, when you take into account that the population of England has increased from 46.7 million in 1980 to 56.5 million in 2021. (Source: ONS).

Shelter estimate that the current waiting list for social housing to be over one million.

Addressing the shortage of social housing is a key priority in the private rented sector, as the shortage of social housing puts pressure on the PRS. It’s something that the NRLA, Shelter and Angela Rayner all agree on (see episode 21 of the Listen Up Landlords podcast in August 2022). According to a YouGov Poll commissioned by the National Housing Federation in June 2023, the majority (52%) of Conservative voters in Britain believe not enough social housing is being built.

Why has the amount of social housing reduced in England?

In 1980, 31% of households in England lived in social housing and 11.9% in the private rented sector. By 2021-22, social housing had reduced to 16.6%, and private renting has risen to 19.1%. (Source: English Housing Survey).

1980 coincides with the enactment of Housing Act 1980, Margaret Thatcher’s vote-winning Right to Buy policy. This policy gave most council tenants the right to buy the property they lived in at a discount. As a result, more than 2.8 million council and social rented properties were sold to tenants between 1980 and 2015. (Source: Alan Muir, Right to buy?).

However receipts from the discounted sale of these properties were not reinvested in social housing. Consequently, the stock of social housing dwindled from 5.4 million households in 1980, to 4 million in 2021-22. Over the same period, total households in England have increased from 17 million to 24.2 million.

This reduction in social housing has put pressure on the PRS.

How much social housing is being built in England?

According to the National Housing Federation, only 6,554 social homes were built in 2022 in England. This is is 81% fewer than in 2010.

How much new social housing is needed in England?

Research undertaken by Professor Glen Bramley for the National Housing Federation and Crisis in 2018 estimated that an additional 90,000 social rented homes are needed every year every year to meet demand.

3. Encourage investment in the private rented sector

The impact of the punitive tax regime for individual landlords that George Osborne introduced in 2015 continues. Adding this to rising interest rates and fears about the cost of energy efficiency upgrades, it’s no wonder landlords have been selling up.

As landlords usually obtain a better price with vacant possession, many tenants are being served section 21 notices. This is putting further pressure on the PRS, fuelling demand.

Although being seen to give tax breaks to landlords might not be popular with voters, it’s probably the one thing that will reduce the number of landlords selling up. George Osborne introduced it to “level the playing field” with owner occupiers. However, the policy fails to recognise that private landlords run a business. If they don’t get a fair return on their investment, they will sell up.

Responsible landlords recognise the importance of improving the energy efficiency of the homes they provide to renters. However, the costs involved in increasing an EPC E rating to a C is uneconomic for properties in large parts of the country. Although Rishi Sunak scrapped plans to require landlords to upgrade their rental properties to an EPC C, other parties wish to reinstate it.

If the obligation for landlords to upgrade their properties to EPC C is reinstated without support, more will decide to sell up. The opposition parties need to recognise this in their plans to increase energy efficiency in the PRS.

Final thoughts

The Renters Reform Bill increases rights for renters, the all-important “Red Wall”, and rolls back some of the rights landlords gained from the Housing Act 1988. The Bill contains many provisions that the other political parties support. For instance, the abolition of Section 21, a new Decent Homes Standard for the PRS, and a PRS database.

However, the Bill is still hasn’t finished its journey through. theHouse of Commons, and Royal Assent is unlikely to take place before this coming summer. The Bill certainly won’t be implemented in time for the General Election. This is because the first implementation date is a minimum of six months from Royal Assent (see Renters Reform Timetable). Section 21, hated by Renters and beloved by landlords, won’t take effect until at least 18 months after Royal Assent.

The delays in the passing of the Renters Reform Bill mean that, even if it does reach the statute books before the election, renters won’t have seen any benefits by then. The Conservatives would only be able to claim on points that they delivered their manifesto commitment to renters.

Unless Stephen Cowan pulls something radical out of the hat when the Labour policy review is eventually published, there’s little difference in the approach of the Labour Party and that of the Conservatives.

The policies of the Lib Dems and the Green Party, on the other hand, differ significantly from those of Conservatives and Labour. They both advocate rent controls, and along with Labour, support having EPC C as a minimum for private rented properties. Both the Greens and the Liberal Democrats propose improving enforcement and social housing. Neither specifically discuss encouraging investment in the PRS.

If there’s a Labour coalition government with either the Lib Dems or the Green Party, it’s possible their policies for the PRS will influence Labour policy.

I hope you found this useful. Let me know what you think in the comments (but don’t shoot the messenger!)

Watch this space. I update this post regularly.

Last updated: 1 March 2024

sign of a polling station and text saying what the political parties say about rental reform and policies for private renting

4 thoughts on “What are the political parties’ policies on private renting?”

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