'We will not go back to rent control', says minister

Questions have been raised in Parliament about the private rented sector, with strong concerns raised about rent levels and the revelation that most of the new affordable homes to be built by April 2015 will be for rent.

The question of regulating letting agents was also raised – and, unusually, the issue was not rejected out of hand.

The exchanges in the Lords were sparked by Labour peer Lord Kennedy of Southwark, who asked what action the Government was taking to deal with the shortage of homes for rent.

Baroness Hanham, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at Communities and Local Government, replied: “The Government are committed to the provision of affordable housing and are investing nearly £4.5bn to help deliver up to 170,000 new affordable homes, mainly for rent, by April 2015 in England.”

Lord Kennedy said that there was a “lamentable failure of the Government on new homes for rent”.

He said that a family of two adults and two children living in the London borough of Newham needs an income of £48,000 a year to afford a home without claiming benefit.

He added: “Does the noble Baroness understand that, because of the lack of joined-up thinking across government and failed policies, hard-working families are paying the price?”

Lib Dem peer Lord Shipley pursued the matter, saying: “My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that the reason for the shortage of homes for rent is the failure of the previous Government, over 13 years, to build council houses?”

He asked: “Given the pressure on the private rented sector, and the fact that 40% of homes in that sector do not meet the decent homes standard, what consideration is being given to further regulation of the sector?

“Will the Minister consider the advice of the British Property Federation, the National Landlords Association and the Association of Residential Letting Agents that there should be a system of compulsory regulation of letting agents to ensure that professional and ethical standards are applied to private sector lettings?”

Hanham replied: “Grant Shapps has said that he is looking to see whether there is any requirement for letting agents to be registered. He is keeping that under review, but there is no plan to do so at the moment.”

Labour’s Baroness Turner of Camden also expressed concerns about rising rents. She said: “In my area of London a two-bedroom flat will cost £500 a week to rent. That is right out of the range of ordinary working people.

“Is the minister aware that after the last war there was rent regulation that enabled at least some people to get into affordable homes? Some regulation is needed in this area at present.”

Hanham replied: “I do not think that anybody wants to go back to rent control. It was not helpful, did not leave properties in good condition and was not fair.”