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When everyone has a home

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Private renting – looking forward

Just like in Northern Ireland, the private rented sector in Scotland has grown in size over the last number of years. This is down to a number of factors including the reduction in the amount of social housing and financial difficulties faced by potential homeowners. The private rented sector is increasingly becoming the main housing option, willingly or not, for many people looking for a home.

At a recent conference organised by Shelter Scotland, we heard about the great strides have been made in Scotland to improve the sector, including banning letting fees. However, it is recognised that more improvements are needed to genuinely make it the sector of first choice.

Making Renting Right – Shelter Scotland Conference

At the Making Renting Right conference,  we heard from a number of speakers on a range of topics relevant not only to Scotland, but could also be applied to the private rented sector in NI.

Prevent excessive rent increases

Margaret Burgess MSP and Minister for Housing and Welfare, explained the Scottish Government’s thinking behind their proposals for more predictability in private rents. Whilst they do not advocate rent control, they are keen to prevent excessive increases as this can they affect a tenant’s ability to afford private rented accommodation. They believe that tenants should be able to budget properly and be prepared for any increases in rent and know exactly what those increases will be. This is very relevant to private tenants throughout the UK, especially in light of recent research by the National Housing Federation which showed that private renters in the UK pay double the European average rent. The Minister addressed the Scottish proposals for the regulation of letting agents. The Scottish Government believe that letting agents are central to the housing sector, but that standards need to be improved to enhance consumer confident. They have identified a need for training for agents and a code of practice.

Longer or unlimited tenancy agreements

Barbara Steenbergen from the International Union of Tenants spoke about the tenant experience in Europe and areas of good practice which we can learn from. It was interesting to note that from their experience, the countries with the highest levels of security of tenure also have the biggest share of private rented housing. In fact, most European countries have unlimited security in their private rented contracts. This would seem to indicate that having longer or unlimited tenancy agreements terms can have a positive effect not only for tenants but also on the private rental market.

A decent home can be life changing

Susan Aktemel from Homes for Good, a social enterprise letting agency, gave her views on how the provision of decent housing can have a substantially positive effect on a person’s physical and mental health. In her words, “a decent home can be life changing”. The DSD will also be considering a review of the fitness standards for private rented housing in the coming year. Again, this presents a great opportunity to update the fitness standard to ensure that it meets the housing needs of people in 2015 and beyond.

Tenant engagement

The conference also held a number of workshops. Housing Rights and the Private Tenants’ Forum were delighted to be involved in the workshop on tenant engagement in the private rented sector. We briefed participants on the reasons for establishing the Forum and the journey that it has taken so far in giving private tenants a voice. Tracey McKeating and Serge Tagro gave their thoughts on why they joined the Forum, what had gone well and less well and what they hoped to achieve in the future; in particular, contributing to the upcoming review of the private rented sector.

The upcoming review of the NI private rented sector

Many of the topics addressed at the conference could well be included in the upcoming review of the private rented sector in NI, such as licensing of letting agents, increasing security of tenure. It was, therefore, encouraging to hear about proposals and developments in Scotland.

With the upcoming review in mind, Housing Rights is organising a conference for the 17 November 2015. Further information and early booking discounts will be available soon. Sign up for our newsletter for further details as they become available.
 

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Private Tenants Forum, Private Tenancies, Policy