In recent years, governments and local councils have sought to change the private rented sector (PRS) to make it more appealing to tenants.
Politicians of all stripes have targeted the Generation Rent vote, potentially at the expense of landlords, as the renter demographic has ballooned to a bigger size than ever before.
Recent administrations have also implemented a number of measures that could be seen to favour renters over landlords – most high-profile of all being the Tenant Fees Act.
But despite all this, recent research suggests the tactic of wooing Generation Rent isn’t attracting new voters.
Recent findings from the office of Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, revealed that private renters are less likely to be registered to vote than other demographic groups.
The analysis of the electoral roll and housing in the capital showed that boroughs with the highest numbers of private tenants have some of London’s lowest levels of voter registration.
Despite being the political heartbeat of the UK, Westminster, with 40% of households residing in the PRS, has below-average levels of voter registration at 64% of adults.
Equally, in Tower Hamlets – where 33% of households rent privately – only 77% of adults are registered to vote. By contrast, only 11% of households in Havering rent privately but 96% of adults in the borough are registered to vote.
This suggests that the strategy to appeal strongly to Generation Rent may be misplaced.
The gap between owner-occupiers and private renters is even more pronounced. In this regard, the Mayor’s office said its analysis of London mirrors national estimates from the Electoral Commission, which shows that 94% of owner-occupiers are registered to vote, compared to just 63% of private renters.
While there has been vocal support for tenants’ rights from campaign groups, housing charities and politicians, it seems this might not be paid back in the voting booth.
Will a General Election encourage more renters to vote?
Politicians might not agree on much at the moment, but one thing they do seem to be aligned on is that a General Election is inevitable at some point, most likely before the year is out.
With a hung parliament currently in place as Boris Johnson has no majority, and continuing turmoil surrounding Brexit, the main parties have been setting out their stall for an upcoming election.
And it seems as if the increased political awareness caused by Brexit, the threat of no deal, Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament and the Supreme Court ruling against the suspension are all leading to a significant rise in voter registration.
Official government figures recently revealed that almost 200,000 people applied to register to vote in just 72 hours. Even more significantly, over half of them were under 35 – a demographic far more likely to be renting than owning.
In the three days leading up to September 5, 2019, over 199,000 people registered to vote, with 118,000 of them aged between 18 and 35 – and it’s likely that these numbers have continued to grow with an election on the horizon.
While the Prime Minister has failed twice to trigger an election, the current parliamentary deadlock will need to be broken at some point and going back to the country (for the third time in under five years) seems the only feasible way of doing that.
What has party conference season told us about housing?
It’s currently party conference season for the main political parties. The Liberal Democrats, buoyed by recent election results and defections from other parties, and Labour – seemingly riven when it comes to Brexit – have already held theirs, while the Conservative Party’s annual event is kicking off in Manchester as you read this.
The parties have been in election mode with the prospect of a snap election looming, but what have we learnt about their plans for the rental industry?
During the Lib Dem conference, members voted in favour of a motion to abolish Section 21 notices. The motion also included plans to implement court reforms that draw from the Scottish model so that landlords and tenants have easier access to justice when a tenancy fails, and for greater engagement with stakeholder groups in order to develop new proposals that prioritise longer-term tenancies.
The Labour event, which finished on Wednesday, was dominated by Brexit, policy announcements on a 32-hour working week and a delegate’s vote on abolishing private schools, and reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision to rule against the Prime Minister.
Housing was a key topic, too, with motions submitted by local parties to give councils greater powers to purchase empty homes and cap rents, while other policy suggestions included a community Right to Buy and the prospect of bringing into local public ownership privately rented homes owned by big landlords, management companies and housing associations.
Additionally, ‘the worst’ privately rented properties, and unused building plots could be compulsorily purchased under proposals.
The Conservative conference, starting today, is very likely to be heavily focused on Brexit but there will be a speech by Chancellor Sajid Javid on stamp duty, while new Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick is likely to lead a session which could include a Q&A with new Housing Minister Esther McVey.
A number of measures which are already in the early stages of becoming legislation include plans to scrap Section 21, as well as the agency training and qualifications announced in the Regulation of Property Agents report released earlier this summer.
Nothing is certain in politics at present, but the rise in young people registering to vote suggests that targeting Generation Rent may not backfire after all.
*Neil Cobbold is Chief Operating Officer of PayProp UK