Why are young people consistently blocked from employment opportunities and also their independence from the family home? Because of our ever toxic rental market. It is not uncommon in the South East to be expected to come up with as much as £1,500 to land yourself rented accommodation. This combined payment includes first month’s rent, a deposit (which can be as much as six weeks), as well as the dreaded agency fees that the government has been rather lazy in getting rid of.
In small, yet popular destinations, such as Brighton and Hove, many tenants, and particularly those who are starting their careers, have no choice but to sign up with agencies that are charging them amounts that they simply cannot cough up without either financial support from their relatives or by parachuting into their overdrafts, which can lead to sleepless nights and culture of debt which numbs the quality of life. It is not interventionist, or remarkably radical, to suggest that reforms and fresh ideas are vital to find resolutions to this issue. This is why it was excellent to hear that this week, Theresa May will be meeting with an array of Conservative MPs about how government can mend this broken market.
Renters’ rights in the UK are slowly improving, with regulation clamping down on revenge evictions having come into force in the last few years. However, young professionals and students are still likely to come up short due to a lack of regulations which sway in their favour. Assumptions and whispers in the property market leave landlords consistently hiking rents to unrealistic levels for the quality of the property, leaving many of those fresh into the rented world disillusioned by the levels of money that are expected to be spent on this element of living.
It is naïve to think of tenants’ reforms as a simple left/right wing dichotomy. Both the Conservatives and Labour could benefit electorally were they able to solve the problems of the aspirational middle class, who, according to the English House Survey, are currently starved of opportunities to break out of renting due to rent taking up to 40% of a tenants' income. When one adds on council taxes, and utility bills, it becomes clear that young people are having to live in personal austerity, and also having to make tough decisions on quality of property, having to debate between minimal living space and very lengthy commutes, which can add onto costs and further haemorrhage into annual income.
One way we could improve this system is by using loans. In this sense, we should look toward our continental neighbours in France, and their state aid policy of ‘loca-pass’ advance, which can be taken out by those under 30, including both workers and students. Offering amounts of up to 1,200 EUR, the French government is able to shift the headache from its millennials and also allow them the capability to leave the family home, and settle in rented accommodation without anxieties about how they will be able to afford to without consulting the consistently used bank of Mum and Dad. This suggestion is not a grab for the magic money tree, nor a clutch at the purse strings, but rather a common sense motive for generation rent to find their feet and enjoy a better quality of life.
Additionally, we need common sense regulations on property. The government, at all levels, should not simply provide lip service on wanting to do something. Rather, it is time for concrete action to allow young people mobility as opposed to anxiety. All other utilities have plenty of regulation in place to ensure that they do not become woefully unaffordable for the people that need them. In comparison, housing lacks this. Property has become a capital gain, as opposed to somewhere that provides shelter. As well as the urgent need to build more quality, affordable housing, we must work to clamp down on how landlords and estate agents exploit a market that is becoming ever more difficult to break into. It seems almost delirious to be using language such as ‘first time renter’, when renting largely means throwing away money, whether a necessity or not.
As stated by the campaign group, Generation Rent, it is time we established a landlords’ registry, which would mean landlords acquiring a license or permit with their local council, granting them permission to do so. This would allow the government to keep track of rental incomes, and also make it harder for landlords to avoid taxes, which HMRC estimates can total around £500 million in lost revenue. A levy on landlords would break the luxury of the market and allow for funds that can create affordable housing in the areas that it is needed. This would go a long way to popping the current bubble, which has caused so much feverish speculation in the UK.
No longer can the government do nothing. The market has made it increasingly challenging for everyone from students to professionals to make a living and be comfortable. It shouldn’t be viewed as Marxist or anti-business to help build the personal wealth of those who need it most, and reform in this area is absolutely the right thing for politicians of all stripes to do.