Why renters could decide the result of the next election

With over 10 million of us, we could make a real difference

Hannah Williams
Wednesday 04 February 2015 18:27
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More than three million people fear they will miss their rent or mortgage payments this month as the cost of Christmas takes its toll, according to research
More than three million people fear they will miss their rent or mortgage payments this month as the cost of Christmas takes its toll, according to research

Today, in case you didn’t know, is Rent Freedom Day. This may not be a day burned into the public consciousness right now, but there are good reasons to believe it will be. In fact, it could be the most influential day you’ve never heard of.

Rent Freedom Day is a movement led by the pressure group Generation Rent to push the needs of this country’s growing army of renters - there are now over 10 million of us - to the top of the political agenda. It aims to inspire those of us who rent our home to get organised and change the face of private renting for the better. Although these are laudable aims, are they realistic or achievable? Surely if private renters genuinely were a political force, they would already have made their mark on Westminster? From where I’m sitting, the House of Commons seems pretty impervious to the needs of tenants. Wasn’t it only two short months ago that only 60 MPs bothered to show up to a Second Reading of The Tenancies (Reform) Bill? The same Bill that was talked out by two Tory MPs and therefore never went anywhere?

There are many complex issues associated with moving housing up the nation’s to-do list. The 10 million strong ready-made pressure-group of UK renters genuinely could decide the result of the next general election – provided, of course, that they register to vote and then actually make it to the Polling Station on May 7th.

This might sound trite, but the way the private rental system currently militates against tenants engenders a very particular feeling of powerlessness and that is hardly conducive to political participation and engagement. An almost total lack of security around length of tenure, the constant and very real threat of seemingly random eviction (according to Citizens Advice Bureau, the organisation saw a 20 per cent rise in evictions for tenants who were not in arrears between July and September of last year) combined with the crippling cost of renting a decent home may well be leading to the kind of malaise that makes them think “what’s the point”?

There is also the fact that housing issues largely transcend party politics. None of the main political parties have exactly covered themselves in glory when it comes to making the private rental sector fit for purpose. It’s hard to imagine any of them decisively pushing through the kind of far-reaching legislative change that would genuinely improve the living conditions of private tenants and in all the political point-scoring we’re currently seeing in the run up to Election Day. I’ve not heard very much, if at all, about policies that are designed to help renters.

The truth is that there’s unlikely to be one single magic bullet that will deliver the change we all need and deserve. That is why Rent Freedom Day is such a very canny and important initiative. It’s about galvanising renters into action, giving a platform to those who might feel that they have no voice and getting people to engage with and put pressure on politicians while acknowledging that private companies, technology start-ups and entrepreneurs may also have a part to play in disrupting a sector that is so very ripe for transformation.

Hannah Williams is Founder and CEO at rentalraters.com

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