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PRS2018 Conference Report: Changes, challenges and collaborations

Graphic from Karly Greene's presentation

Housing Rights held its annual conference on the private rented sector on 21 November. This year’s conference was sponsored by TDS NI and focused on changes, challenges and collaborations in the sector. The day was grouped into four themes:

  • the changing state of the sector;
  • the challenging context for private renting;
  • addressing challenges in new ways; and
  • good practice in sustaining tenancies.

The Changing State of the Sector

After a welcome and overview from Housing Rights Director Janet Hunter and conference chair Professor Paddy Gray, Dr Julie Rugg discussed her recent detailed review of the sector in England The Evolving Private Rented Sector: Its Contribution and Potential. Dr Rugg’s review raised concerns that welfare reform changes are creating a slum tenure at the bottom end of the market. Declaring the PRS a robust element of the housing market, Dr Rugg rejected the idea that growth in this sector needs to be further incentivized, and instead argued that better regulation was the key to making this an attractive tenure of choice for households.

Download Dr Julie Rugg’s presentation.

Following Dr Rugg, David Polley, acting Director of Housing Supply at the Department for Communities, provided an update on the ongoing review of the private rented sector in Northern Ireland. Progress to date includes the provision of a landlord advice service, accredited training for landlords and investment in NI Co-ownership’s rent to own scheme. The Department is currently considering additional measures to improve confidence in the sector, including

  • Development of a tenant information pack
  • Possible pilot of mediation service

Mr Polley also confirmed that work is well underway to prepare councils for the transfer of functions relating to HMOs, which is scheduled to take effect on 1 April 2019.

Download David Polley’s presentation

The Challenging context for private renting

Karly Greene, NIHE’s Head of Research and Equality delivered a considered presentation on the impact of welfare reform on the private rented sector,  which looked at trends in usage and affordability in this sector.  She used the example of “Sam", a young single man renting in Belfast who faced rent shortfalls of over £470 per month due to a combination of high rents and restrictions on housing benefit support, as shown in the graphic accompanying this article.

Download Karly Greene’s presentation

Dr Lisa Wilson of the Nevin Economic Research Institute spoke about housing in Northern Ireland and its implications for living standards, pointing out that many of the problems in the private rented sector stem from problems in the social rented sector, chiefly a shortage of social housing creating areas where the only viable option is the private sector.  While Dr Wilson’s research shows that affordability on the whole is not an issue in Northern Ireland to the same extent as it is in other areas, the living standards of particular groups at the margins are impacted by housing costs. The research shows that low-income households in the PRS face particularly high housing costs burdens and that poverty amongst this groups is not compounded by other factors. Rather, for those on low incomes in the private rented sector in Northern Ireland the key negative impact on their living standards is high housing costs.

Download Dr Lisa Wilson’s presentation.

Addressing challenges in new ways

Dr Kim McKee of the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence took to the stage to discuss the frustrated housing aspirations of Generation Rent, a term commonly used to refer to those individuals who feel they will never move out of the private rented sector.  CaCHE undertook research with groups of young private tenants on low to mid incomes to understand their experiences of renting privately, and found

  • while many had aspirations of homeownership, there as recognition that this was unlikely to happen for a very long-term
  • other young people had seriously reduced their expectations of ever owning a property
  • young people feel that contributions from family will be essential in order to become homeowners, making this option harder to attain depending on family background and income
  • the financial insecurity and the precarity of renting privately lead to anxiety and an inability to feel completely comfortable in the rented home.

Download Dr Kim McKee’s presentation

Following Dr McKee’s presentation, Zhan McIntyre of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations spoke about the Scottish experience of using mid-market rent.  There was significant interest amongst delegates in this housing model, whereby housing is targeted at low to middle income households with rents set somewhere between market and social rent levels.  The presentation looked at both the benefits and risks of this tenure for tenants and landlords, and will have provided ample food for thought for social landlords wishing to diversify.

Download Zhan McIntyre’s presentation

Before breaking for lunch, there was time for two panel discussions. The first looked at expanding the options for private renters, with Jon Anderson of Maple and May and Carol McTaggart of Clanmil Housing joining Zhan McIntyre and Dr Kim McKee to discuss their respective organsiations’ developments in the private rented market.

Following this discussion, the key players involved in the recent court case surrounding letting fees discussed the background to the case, the outcome and the implications the judgment has for other private tenants.

Good practice in sustaining tenancies

Gavin Elliott, Legal Officer with Threshold discussed the difficulties association with sustaining tenancies in the Republic of Ireland, particularly in areas where rents have spiraled beyond control. The Irish Government has introduced measures to try to introduce rent control, including restricting rental increases, but there is a concern that some landlords are getting around these restrictions by ending tenancies on the grounds that the property is being sold, only to create a new tenancy with an inflated rent.

Download Gavin Elliott’s presentation.

The final presentation of the day was from John Blackwood, of the Scottish Association of Landlords, who gave an overview of the Scottish experience of letting properties. The Scottish private rented sector is much more heavily regulated than those in other parts of the UK, and John discussed his experience as a landlord operating in this market.

Download John Blackwood’s presentation

Partnership working and new initiatives

Rounding out the day was a panel discussion on partnership working which saw representatives from Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon Council, Belfast City Council, Landlord Advice and TDS NI discuss recent initiatives to further improve the experiences of tenants renting privately. 

Finally, Housing Rights showcased SmartRenter, a new online platform to assist private tenants. Anyone interested in finding out more can contact etain@housingrights.org.uk



Tagged In

Benefits, Regulation, Research, Private Tenancies, Welfare Reform, Policy, Landlord


Etain Ní Fhearghail

This article was written on 26 November 2018. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.