Majority of public in favour of rent controls for private housing

Exclusive: 60% of Britons want some form of government intervention

Ben Chu
Friday 02 January 2015 02:09

A clear majority of the British public support some form of government control of private-sector rents, according to the results of a new survey.

The findings will throw the political spotlight on the rising cost of renting and could boost Labour, which pledged last year to cap private-sector rent increases if the party wins the general election in May.

Some 60 per cent of people questioned in the poll, commissioned by the Generation Rent pressure group, said they favoured government curbs on the pace at which landlords can raise private-sector rents; just 6 per cent opposed the idea. Roughly a third said they were undecided on the issue.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), private rents have been rising more slowly than consumer price inflation (CPI) since 2006, implying rents have become more affordable in real terms. But the ONS figures are experimental and other indices of private-sector rents paint a picture of more rapidly climbing asking prices. HomeLet found average rental values for new tenancies in the three months to November 2014 were up 7.9 per cent on a year earlier, well above the 1 per cent increase in CPI in that period.

Some 60 per cent of the polled sample were home owners, suggesting concern about rising rents is spreading to those who are not in the rental market. Support for government rent control was highest, at 68 per cent, among those aged 18 to 34, the group most likely to be renting privately. But a clear majority of older people, who are more likely to be home owners, were also in favour of controls, with 58 per cent supporting the proposition.

There was even majority support for rent controls among those planning to vote Conservative in May, with 54 per cent in favour. Among Labour and Ukip voters, the proportions in favour were 69 per cent and 57 per cent, respectively.

“This poll shows the country overwhelmingly supports rent controls. It’s unclear why any mainstream party thinks Britain’s nine million renters should vote for them while they support their continued exploitation,” said Alex Hilton of Generation Rent.

Last May, Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said he planned to limit rent rises, based on average market growth rates. He also promised to ban one-off tenancy arrangement charges of up to £500, imposed by some estate agents. His proposals were fiercely criticised by the estate-agent industry, and the Tories said any form of rent controls would backfire, leading to higher rents.

Data from the 2011 census shows that rented homes in England and Wales numbered 8.3 million, or 36 per cent of the total, the highest proportion since 1981. The new survey also found that the proportion of households renting privately has risen to 18 per cent, overtaking the proportion renting from housing associations and local councils for the first time since the 1970s.

The Civitas think-tank calls today for a new regulatory regime to govern the private-rented sector, curbing rent growth and improving security for tenants. It points to the ONS’s 2012-13 English Housing Survey, which showed that private renters spend, on average, 40 per cent of their incomes on rent, whereas owner-occupiers spend just 20 per cent of their incomes on their mortgage.

Survation polled 1,009 people on 18 and 19 December.

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