Rental Health: our summary of a powerful series on BBC radio (2/2)
For our 2023-24 housing campaign on behalf of clients we listened to a powerful series* of programmes the BBC aired in March. The aim was to investigate the state of renting in the UK. We will draw on the ideas they raised in the year ahead.
Presenters travelled far and wide in search of solutions. Here is our take and conclusions on what we heard.
In Singapore most people buy and live in their own state subsidised affordable homes. Pretty much the opposite of how we do things here. Yet Toby Lloyd, ex-Shelter and government adviser, claims “sustainable, beautiful and affordable houses” could be available to all; it’s really a matter of political will and choice of economic philosophy. Paradoxically he says most free-market economies (like the UK) exercise control over housing (unlike the UK). If you let the housing market rip “it will swallow your economy”.
This is no doubt controversial, but without such ideas Rental Health would have been less successful in airing a huge and growing social issue.
Here 60% of citizens rent their home. This works because strict regulation ensures affordability and security of tenure even coping changes to the tenant’s circumstances. We hear the aim of housing policy is social sustainability. An example is that in developments with more than 100 units two thirds must be social homes; and competing for the right to develop means evidence that new housing will be: inclusive, ecologically sustainable and high quality.
Unfortunately there’s wide agreement that a lot of new housing here in the UK is mediocre in quality. Vienna is in a different country, with different background, and has a different philosophy. Hopefully however we can share their belief that a decent home is a human right.
Hunt for a Home – Leeds and Grimsby
In these towns the private rental market is beyond tough. Queueing to view and astonishingly bidding wars between competing potential tenants. One cause is the English market has lost 500k rental homes since 2018. Why are landlords withdrawing? A mix of factors: tighter (more costly) regulation, higher interest rates, worry about a government commitment to stop ‘no-fault’ evictions which would affect a landlord’s right in future to repossess her property. “That’s open-market economics”, a chartered surveyor says. Hope to buy? Prices can now be 9x average salary. Try for a social home? Nationwide a million households sit on waiting lists.
The consequence reported here (and by Local Citizens Advice everywhere) is many sad stories and damage to families, health and individual self-worth. The government’s very welcome Rent Reform Bill is due in parliament soon. But the overall impression was reform in one sector, while essential, may not be enough to solve the market problems.
Scotland – All work and No Home
Renting in the Highlands presents special problems. Tourism, short-term lets, individual lives on hold. However the message of this RH segment was no different: “People can’t find anywhere to live”. Scottish can-do is working on imaginative new efforts to fill the gap. But shortage of homes is leading to shortage of staff and putting businesses at risk.
The conclusion was self-help can make a difference but the state of the market means only leadership and policy reform can deliver big enough solutions.
* Rental Health – An in-depth look at rental housing in the UK. All available programmes here.