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Brighton and Hove Liberal Democrats

Shelter keynote speech highlights housing crisis

November 30, 2017 5:09 PM
By Carrie Hynds, Lib Dem Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Hove

Yesterday (Wed 29th Nov) I attended the first seminar hosted by RentSmart, which has been set up by Brighton & Hove City Council as a one-stop hub of advice and support for renters in our city.

The keynote speech was delivered by Poppy Terry from homelessness charity Shelter. She gave a thorough and excellent presentation which gave an overview of the current housing crisis, challenges and potential solutions.

To set her talk in context, Poppy started with the changes in the private rental sector (PRS) in the UK within the past 22 years. There's been a rise from 4 million PRS homes in 1995 to over 12 million now. There are more middle-aged and older renters, more families with children, more would-be social tenants from low-income households (with councils turning to the PRS to fill social housing gaps) and more would-be home owners from middle-income households (who can't save enough money to move out of the PRS).

Key issues faced in the PRS include: 1) poor conditions, with 28% failing the Decent Homes Standard - this equates to 1,350,000 households in 2015; 2) insecurity of tenure, particularly because under UK law "eviction without grounds" can be used after 6 months (compared with 5+ years in most other European countries); 3) risk of homelessness: the leading cause of homelessness in the UK is short-term PRS tenancies coming to an end and no access to an affordable home to move on to, particularly given that many landlords will only let to tenants who can put down high deposits and/or have wealthy guarantors.

Potential solutions include: 1) a Stable Rental Contract giving landlords and tenants the option to agree at the outset a stable five-year contract with predicatble changes in rent; 2) guarantor schemes for rental deposits, as set up in Bristol between Shelter and the Bristol Credit Union; 3) providing alternatives to the PRS, such as Lewisham council's pop-up temporary accommodation.

Poppy stressed that the need for solutions is stronger than ever, as the freeze in Local Housing Allowance is set to stay in place until 2020 and the change to Universal Credit is likely to see more households fall into rent arrears this winter and become homeless.

The RentSmart website is at http://rentsmartbrightonhove.org/ and the council says they are open to suggestions for solutions and/or future activities.