Yesterday, I spoke in the Second Reading debate of the Renters (Reform) Bill and pressed the government to follow through with their plans for reforming the private rental sector.
Our constituency has one of the highest proportions of private renters, at 38.5%, and many are students. I spoke up for both – as a constituency MP and as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Students.
I was one of a cross-party group of 60 parliamentarians who wrote recently to the Secretary of State urging him to bring forward this legislation, and so whilst I was pleased to see the Bill being introduced, I was disappointed that the key reform on ending ‘no fault’ Section 21 evictions is to be delayed once again, until there have first been further changes to the court system.
I also raised the many concerns that students have with the Bill. I recently chaired a roundtable on the issue of renters reform, where we heard from student representatives as well as key stakeholders such as Generation Rent, Unipol and the National Union of Students.
Students are concerned that the government’s plans do not take into consideration the plurality of student experiences and will not give students the required protections they need, if student rentals remain on fixed-term tenancy agreements, through the new ‘grounds for possession’ clause that the government has proposed.
Students’ renters are at risk of becoming second class citizens, as the Bill as drafted may attract unscrupulous landlords to rent their properties to students.
The Minister has agreed to meet with me with me, other APPG Officers and student representatives, and I look forward to raising these issues with her directly.
Read my full speech below, or you can also read it here.
“Almost 40% of my constituents are private renters, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to reflect their concerns. Of those, many are students—I think I have the largest number of students of any Member in the country—and I want to raise their concerns as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for students.
I was one of a cross-party group of 60 parliamentarians who wrote recently to the Secretary of State urging him to bring forward this legislation, so I am delighted that we have it. I did so primarily because of its promise to fulfil the Government’s pledge to end no-fault section 21 evictions, so it is a bitter disappointment that the Government appear to have frustrated the hopes of tenants by kicking the abolition of section 21 notices down the road to some potentially distant future, after further changes to the courts system—something that I saw that the National Residential Landlords Association has celebrated in a statement today, as a result of its “extensive lobbying”. I hope that the Government will think again, or at least give us an assurance this evening of the date when they plan to fulfil the ambition for no-fault evictions.
I hope the Government will go further in delivering the promised new deal for private renters in other areas, because I share the concern of the Renters Reform Coalition that the Bill needs amending to ensure that the proposed “landlord circumstances” grounds for eviction do not become the new section 21. The tenant should be given four months’ notice rather than two. There should be a one-year ban on re-letting after invoking the new landlord circumstances, rather than the proposed three months. We need stronger mechanisms than those proposed to stop unaffordable rent increases—of which we have heard examples already this evening—pricing tenants out and becoming the new section 21. We need to ensure that tenants can be confident in raising issues and making complaints without fear of retaliation. I hope that those issues will be considered seriously in Committee.
I want to raise the concerns of student renters. There is an exemption for purpose-built student accommodation, but many students live in the parts of the private rented sector that are covered by the Bill—around 45% of them, or 600,000 across England and Wales. Their voices have not been fully heard, which our all-party group has been trying to address. In May, we held a roundtable with student representatives from most of our major cities and many of our smaller towns. They agreed that there were many positive elements to the Bill, but raised issues that needed further clarification if it is to succeed for all renters.
I see that in his response to the Select Committee, the Secretary of State accepted the argument of landlords that “the student market is cyclical and…landlords must be able to guarantee possession each year for a new set of tenants”. He went on to state that “we will introduce a new ground for possession to facilitate this.”
I understand that case, and it was reflected in some of the student voices that we heard, but we need to take care about how we do it because there is an underlying false assumption in the discourse around the issue that all students fit a traditional stereotype: on three-year undergraduate courses, wanting a 10-month contract and leaving their university town when they finish their studies. However, students are not homogeneous.
Undergraduates and postgraduates have different requirements; there are 30-week programmes and 52-week programmes; some courses start at different times of the year and have a different cycle. There are mature and part-time students, students with families, estranged students, international students, graduate apprentices, those who stay on to study or work during vacation while their friends do not, and those who want to make their university house a permanent home.
Many students live in mixed households, with recent graduates or other non-students. It simply would not work to have people in a mixed household on a shared tenancy with different rights. A grounds for possession clause might protect the market, but a one-size-fits-all approach will not address the fact that not all students want properties that are cyclical with the standard undergraduate year.
So we need a clear definition of a student and how grounds for possession will be implemented. I would welcome some acknowledgement from the Minister, in winding up this evening, that the Government have given consideration to those complexities in their proposals in relation to students.
We also have to recognise that the student market differs greatly across the country. Large cities are different from smaller towns, and urban and rural-based universities are different again. The Higher Education Policy Institute’s study of the Scottish experience highlighted the risk in tourist areas, or in other areas with low supply and high rents, that not exempting students will encourage landlords to move out of student accommodation. Student representatives expressed concern to us about being priced out in some areas by young professionals. On the other hand, there are worries that exempting students in some areas will risk them becoming second class renters, attracting less scrupulous landlords into student accommodation because they are relatively unprotected tenants.
Student renters face many of the same issues as other renters and they deserve the same broad protections. They face specific issues, too. The raised with us the growing pressure they are under to view and sign tenancy agreements for a property earlier and earlier each year—often in this term, early in the academic session, before friendship groups are formed—leaving them locked into unwanted contracts. The Bill does not address that, but students felt that it should. There are other questions that need addressing if we are to exempt students. What happens if a renter’s student status changes during the tenancy? How will the Bill address the issue of joint tenancies?
To conclude, I simply say to the Minister that we should not rush to exempt students from the protections in the Bill relating to no-fault evictions and keep them uniquely locked into fixed-term tenancies without careful consideration of the impact on all types of students in all parts of England and Wales. Even then, we need to ensure they continue enjoy the protections in the Bill. I hope the Minister will agree to meet the all-party parliamentary group for students, and student representatives, to hear our concerns.”