Baroness Grender: The sooner the Tenant Fees Bill becomes law, the sooner renters get a fairer deal
The double dip with both landlord and tenant being charged these extortionate admin fees will soon be a thing of the past. This change in the law cannot come soon enough, says Baroness Grender.
In the next few weeks, a Bill which slashes admin fees for tenants should clear Parliament and become law.
A small silver lining to this terrible Brexit storm is that the Conservative Government, knowing that any changes to the Bill must go through the turbulent House of Commons, have agreed to many of the amendments the Liberal Democrats have been pushing for in the Lords. This Bill is a Tory manifesto commitment and therefore they wanted to avoid potentially jeopardising their Tenant Fees Bill entirely. So, this is why at such a late stage they have agreed to remove major loopholes which the worst lettings agencies and landlords could have exploited.
It has been a long journey to get to this point. When I first proposed this change in 2016 through a Private Member’s Bill, it was a flat “no” from the Conservative Government. However, they could not keep ignoring the overwhelming evidence that people on low incomes or benefits who were renting privately were being ripped off with shocking admin fees.
The worst part is that families who are evicted or cannot afford a rent rise are pushed into homelessness by the astronomical up-front admin fees. The option to move is not feasible, as even when they try to move to a cheaper home, agents were charging both landlord and tenant these up-front fees. With homelessness continuing to rise, and the leading cause being the end of a private rented sector tenancy, it is clear reform is needed – and fast. This is why this Bill is so vitally important. The double dip with both landlord and tenant being charged these extortionate fees will soon be a thing of the past and this change in the law cannot come soon enough.
Often the argument from the industry was that this was an unworkable model but there are many lettings agencies who have already banned admin fees and got ahead of the law. Their success suggests that it is possible to scrap fees and run a sustainable letting agency. After all, it is the landlords who are the customer, who can shop around and find the best deal, not the tenant who is desperate to find somewhere decent to live, near work and schools with a decent landlord.
There will be also be other fundamental changes brought in by this Bill. Deposit for rent is now 5 weeks instead of 6 a significant difference of on average £150 – peanuts to your renting Russian Oligarch, but the difference between food on the plates or nothing for those on low incomes.
One thing I was keen to amend the bill on, which the Government accepted, was the need for greater levels of transparency when a holding deposit is not returned. People deserve to know what went wrong and in writing or they will keep putting down deposits with no explanation as to why their tenancy has been rejected.
With nearly a quarter of households now renting in the UK there is still a long list of changes needed to ensure renters get fair treatment. An open register of landlords, particularly rogue landlords is now crucial, but we must not stop there. If every place you eat can get a hygiene rating from your local authority, why not the same open and accessible system for where you live? Reform is also desperately needed in how credit is assessed. If you rent, your credit rating is much worse than if you have a mortgage, even if you have always paid in full and on time. Legislation against revenge evictions equally needs to be tightened and will continue to be a threat whilst contracts are so short – 6 or 12 months. We should study Scotland’s change to open ended contracts a year ago and make changes there too.
Now that this Bill has been made much better in the Lords it must go through final stages as quickly as possible. The sooner it becomes law, the sooner renters get a fairer deal. Something to look forward to in 2019 – thank goodness!
Baroness Grender is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.