Crisis response to the review of barriers to institutional investment in private rented homes April 2012

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1 Crisis response to the review of barriers to institutional investment in private rented homes April 2012 Introduction Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people, warmly welcomes this review. We believe that institutional investment has the potential to increase supply of private rented homes and to drive up standards. As well as considering taxation regimes, other financial incentives for potential investors and planning issues, we believe the review offers an opportunity to consider wider market failures and the PRS market conditions which may discourage or put barriers in the way of investment. Crisis has many years experience working with the PRS and is well placed to input into this review. We work in partnership with Government and local authorities to provide advice and best practice to PRS access schemes. We have recently been awarded 10 million in funding by the DCLG to manage the Crisis PRS Access Development Programme. Over three years, this programme aims to help 8,000 single homeless people into new homes. We would be happy to meet with the review team to further discuss our experience of helping people in housing need find and sustain accommodation in the PRS and of working with landlords. More information can be found here We welcome the Government s intention in the Housing Strategy to develop a thriving private rented sector. The PRS has grown significantly over the last decade and now comprises three and a half million households across the UK. That is around 16.5% of all households. 1 The PRS is increasingly being looked to by policy makers to address rising housing demand and predictions are that if recent trends persist, the PRS will be larger than the social rented sector by 2013 and by the end of the decade one in five households could be private renters. 2 This rapid growth presents a significant opportunity for potential investors. Our vision is for a thriving PRS which works for all. We believe it should offer good quality, well located housing, with an appropriate degree of security and at an affordable price. Encouraging institutional investment could contribute towards the achievement of this goal. An increase in supply could help to make rental costs more affordable. The involvement of large companies could play a role in driving up standards and increasing professionalism. However, there are issues with the PRS which, as well as causing problems for the tenant, may act as barriers to investment, in particular the lack of security of tenure, but also around standards and quality. We know from our experience that with the right support, the PRS can work well for a wide range of groups. PRS access schemes can help with some of the concerns landlords may have around letting to vulnerable tenants or those on HB. Schemes can support tenants to live independently, offering pre-tenancy training and ongoing help. They build relationships with landlords and offer a liaison service should problems arise. Some guarantee rent deposits, removing the need for a large cash deposit whilst still assuring the landlord that their property will be maintained and looked after. 1 English Housing Survey (2011) 2 BSHF (2010) Tenure Trends in the UK Housing System 1

2 The changing profile of the private rented sector Given the increase in numbers and the changing profile of private renters, this review is very timely and will hopefully play a role in contributing to the provision of new housing that is appropriate for the different needs of all those who rent privately. The PRS has long housed a wide range of groups students, young professionals, Housing Benefit (HB) recipients and high income renters are all typical tenants. With a significant shortage of social housing and owner occupation being out of reach for many, the PRS is often the only viable, long term option for more and more people. Whereas previously the PRS was mainly used as a stop-gap by groups such as students or young professionals who may welcome the flexibility it offers, increasingly people need it to provide a long term home and want longer term security. There has been a huge rise in the proportion of PRS tenants who claim HB in recent years. The English Housing Survey shows that 25% of households in the PRS in received HB, compared with only 19.5% in However, many landlords are unwilling to let to benefit recipients and cuts to HB mean that the pool of properties available to claimants is growing smaller. The PRS is also increasingly being looked to by decision makers as a solution to housing need. In particular, the Localism Act will allow local authorities to choose to discharge their duty to homeless households into the PRS. We are likely to see an increase in vulnerable households who have been homeless living in short term PRS accommodation with potentially little stability. If the right support and safeguards are not in place this could lead to people repeatedly becoming homeless. The PRS in England is largely unregulated and faces problems around standards, security, affordability and access. Particularly at the bottom end of the market, accommodation can be of low quality. Although many landlords are good and maintain decent standards, there are others who lack awareness of their responsibilities, often because renting a property is not their main business. There are also some who are just unscrupulous, and the existing regulatory framework is not always enforced to tackle their behaviour. The result is that it is all too often vulnerable people accessing the PRS on low incomes with limited choice over where they live who end up in poor quality accommodation. Tenancies are generally short and tenants can usually be evicted with as little as two months notice. The standard tenancy offered to most new tenants is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) which has a minimum term of just six months. This offers little security to landlords and tenants alike. Affordability is also a major problem, with high rent levels and large deposits required by landlords. This can prevent people on low incomes from accessing the PRS. A shortage of housing supply has pushed up rents making parts of the PRS unaffordable for people on low incomes or those receiving benefits. For example, Shelter reports that over the last decade, private sector rents have risen at almost twice the rate of wages. 3 The PRS can sometimes be a cause of homelessness, and in ,550 households became homeless due to a PRS tenancy coming to an end a rise of 39%. 4 This may be indicative of the current problems with the PRS. 3 Shelter (2012) London Rent Watch 4 DCLG statutory homelessness statistics,

3 Barriers to investment In considering investing in new private rented homes it is important to address the practicalities for investors of renting out properties and the kinds of barriers which may discourage them from doing so. If the Government wants to encourage institutional investment in the PRS it is important that there is greater certainty and stability about the future of Housing Benefit (HB) policy. People who claim HB make up a large and growing proportion of the PRS market. However, HB levels are subject to policy change which means potential investors will potentially have little guarantee over their level of rental income if they house those whom we most want to grow and expand the market to help. The Housing Benefit budget has been cut by around 2bn since the Coalition Government came to power. Changes to the way Local Housing Allowance (LHA) HB in the private rented sector is calculated will see 936,360 tenants losing an average of 12 per week (in London, the average loss is 22 per week) 5. The Welfare Reform Act brings in further reductions and creates more uncertainty over time by breaking the link between HB and local rents, uprating benefit levels by CPI rather than with reference to the local rent market, as was the case previously. Shelter and CIH report that within 10 years, one third of the country will be unaffordable for those on benefits. 6 In addition, the Treasury has recently announced that a further 10 billion of cuts to welfare will be made by The combination of these changes creates uncertainty over rental income for potential investors and may act as a deterrent to investment. The review should consider the impact of these changes on the willingness of large companies to invest in private rented homes and how the Government could address any concerns they have and offer reassurance. Compared to other OECD countries, the PRS in England has far less security of tenure. Most countries offer longer fixed terms, whilst still retaining flexibility for tenants who need it, and place restrictions on how often and by how much the landlord can increase the rent. There are still assurances for the landlord to end the tenancy in the case of breach of contract or non-payment of rent, but greater security is guaranteed. For example, in Spain tenancies are offered for a secure period of 5 years with rent increases in line with inflation, and in Germany tenancies are indefinite with landlords expected to limit rent increases to no more than 20% above the market average 8. International evidence suggests these systems which offer greater stability are better able to attract institutional investment because investors have greater guarantees over their income. The review should look to international examples and consider how the PRS works in other countries, and what lessons we may be able to learn from them. Both tenants and landlords benefit from greater security of tenure. Tenants often want to make a home and put down roots, whilst landlords want a guarantee over ongoing rental income. Potential investors in England could be put off by the comparative lack of stability in the PRS. They may be more willing to invest if there was greater security for their investments and less chance of high turnover and tenancy voids. Although the average length of a tenancy in the PRS is 19 months 9, the standard AST only guarantees as little as six months. The review should consider 5 DWP (2010) Impacts of Housing Benefit proposals: Changes to LHA to be introduced in Shelter and CIH (2011) The impact of Welfare Reform Bill measures on affordability for low income private renting families 7 HM Treasury, Budget Shelter (2011) Generation Rent: learning from different rental markets 9 ARLA members survey of the PRS, second quarter

4 how to encourage landlords to use the flexibility of all tenancy options currently available, such as assured or regulated tenancies, rather than just ASTs. There can be a problem with mortgage lenders preventing landlords from letting out properties on longer term contracts. This is because the lenders are concerned that if tenants fall into arrears the landlord may not be able to keep up their mortgage repayments, seeing the lender losing out. The review should address this issue and consider how best to encourage mortgage lenders to allow longer term contracts in light of the greater stability this would bring to the sector as a whole. Some potential investors may be deterred by the management involved in letting a high volume of properties. They are unlikely to have experience of managing properties and may not have management experience themselves. The review should explore different models of management in order to reassure investors. There could for example be potential for housing associations and local authorities to manage more PRS properties, even if others provide the finance. This would also allow local authorities access to a broad pool of good quality PRS properties with which to meet housing need in their area. Another option to consider is local lettings agencies, non profit agencies which provide a letting and management service. These organisations are well placed to build up relationships with local landlords and support more vulnerable tenants into their properties. This can include pre-tenancy assessment and training for the tenant and providing a liaison service for the landlord to help deal with any disputes that may arise. Such models can reassure landlords that tenants are being properly supported, so reducing the chance of the tenancy ending early with the associated costs to the landlord. Crisis has produced a guide to local lettings agencies, available here Larger institutional investors may have more at stake than small landlords and so may place more importance on their reputation. This means that they are likely to want to be more thorough in managing their stock and ensuring that they are offering their tenants high quality accommodation. However, they will be operating in a market with some landlords who have lower standards and so lower management costs and there is a risk that they may be forced into a race to the bottom. This could make it difficult for them to compete. The review should consider what further steps should be taken to ensure the existing regulatory framework is properly enforced and explore whether it potentially needs strengthening. Very poor landlords and substandard accommodation have attracted a lot of negative media coverage lately, such as Channel 4 s recent Dispatches programme Landlords From Hell. These landlords are damaging to the reputation of the sector as a whole and might contribute to deterring potential investors. Central and local government must therefore work with the sector to address the issues raised. There is currently little regulation governing letting agent practices, yet both tenant and landlord organisations have long reported problems with private sector letting agents. These include the charging of exorbitant fees, failure to enforce basic health and safety standards in properties and inadequate client money protection provisions. Indeed, the situation is such that the largest professional body for lettings agents in the UK (ARLA the Association of Residential Lettings Agents), which itself has been at the forefront of self-regulation, is strongly in favour of statutory regulation to tackle problems in the industry 10. The behaviour and lack of regulation of lettings agents could be seen as a risk factor for investors considering the private rental 10 Lettings agents let off the hook by government BBC

5 market. The review could consider looking at the behaviour of lettings agents, the role this might play in deterring potential investors and what regulation might be necessary to overcome this barrier. Opportunities for investment The extension of the Shared Accommodation Rate of Housing Benefit to all single people aged under 35 will lead to 67,000 people currently in one bedroom properties seeking shared accommodation to move into 11, in addition to the existing claimants. Independent research carried out on behalf of Crisis has highlighted that there is a real shortage of shared accommodation, particularly within benefit rates, and that many people will struggle to find anywhere appropriate to live 12. This is likely to get worse as the number of claimants competing for a small pool of properties increases. There will therefore be greater demand for affordable, but good quality, shared accommodation. This might be a potential opportunity for investors, and the review could consider looking to encourage and enable institutional investment in purposebuilt shared accommodation, with appropriate support built in, perhaps similar to student accommodation, to relieve some of the pressure on the rental market this cut will create. Given the comparatively low shared accommodation housing benefit rates, there may be a need for some form of additional subsidy to make such a system attractive to investors. In the Housing Benefit sector, a model which could lend itself to institutional investment in private rented homes is the Housing Benefit subsidy for people living in temporary or leased accommodation provided for the purpose of preventing or resolving homelessness. This allows landlords to receive 90% of LHA rates from January 2011 (before various cuts to LHA came into play) plus a top-up management fee of 40 or 60. This acknowledges the costs involved in managing such accommodation and providing support for tenants and ensures that benefit levels are stable and not subject to cuts. It goes some way to ensuring benefits cover the actual cost of the rent so that landlords are less likely to lose income through rent arrears. The DWP is currently considering ways to reform this system to integrate it with Universal Credit, but Crisis strongly recommends that the current model is extended beyond This model could work for a wide range of vulnerable tenants who may need support to sustain tenancies. The review should consider how this model could work on a larger scale. The review should also look to learn from existing models of institutional investment in private rented homes, such as Broadway s Property Fund. Conclusion It is clear that in order to encourage institutional investment in the PRS the review will need to consider a wide range of issues. In particular, it should address the state of the current private rented market as well as how the problems that currently exist might discourage investors. These include issues around security of tenure and Housing Benefit levels which may mean investors are uncertain as to their future income; the poor property standards found at the lower end of the PRS which can give the sector a bad reputation; and the issues involved in managing a large number of properties. 11 DWP (2011) Housing Benefit equality impact assessment Increasing the Shared Accommodation Rate age threshold to University of York (2011) Unfair Shares: A report on the impact of extending the Shared Accommodation Rate of Housing Benefit, Crisis 5

6 The PRS is growing at a rapid rate and becoming the only real option for a long term home for more and more people. This may provide new opportunities for investment so the review is very timely. Crisis believes that if the various barriers to investment can be overcome, and Government recognises that it has a very real role to play through the HB regime and potentially providing additional or alternative revenue, greater institutional investment in the PRS has the potential to both increase supply and contribute to reforming the sector as a whole. 6

7 Crisis and the PRS Crisis involvement with the PRS dates back to 1997, when Crisis launched Crisis SmartMove, a rent deposit and advice scheme model which helped over 14,000 single homeless people into a new home. Following the closure of the National Rent Deposit Forum in 2006 Crisis took over delivery of a national advisory service for local authorities and others setting up and running schemes across the UK and since 2009 Crisis has been working in partnership with the DCLG to prevent homelessness amongst single people. Most recently Crisis was awarded 10 million in funding by the DCLG to manage the Crisis PRS Access Development Programme. Over three years, this programme will help 8,000 single homeless people into new homes. More information is available at About Crisis Crisis is the national charity for single homeless people. We are dedicated to ending homelessness by delivering life-changing services and campaigning for change. Our innovative education, employment, housing and well-being services address individual needs and help people to transform their lives. As well as delivering services, we are determined campaigners, working to prevent people from becoming homeless and advocating solutions informed by research and our direct experience. Crisis has ambitious plans for the future and we are committed to help more people in more places across the UK. We know we won t end homelessness overnight or on our own but we take a lead, collaborate with others and, together, make change happen. Company Number: Charity Numbers: England and Wales , Scotland SC For further information, please contact: Sarah MacFadyen Policy and Parliamentary Officer Crisis 66 Commercial Street London E1 6LT Tel:

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