Adequate Housing and Fair Rents in Wales
In early June, Welsh Government published its housing green paper on securing a path to adequate housing, fair rents and affordability. The consultation seeks views and evidence on issues around rents, affordability, landlord and tenant behaviour in the private sector and how to improve the supply and adequacy of housing over time. Research published concurrently with the green paper includes a briefing paper produced by CaCHE on rent control in a Welsh context looking at different national approaches to rent control and a report from Alma Economics on data mapping and visualisation about the private rented sector. All these documents are available here.
Following publication of the green paper Welsh Government is now embarking on a series of stakeholder events across Wales. There have already been stakeholder advisory group meetings, and efforts are being made to seek views from tenants directly through an independent ongoing omnibus survey. The consultation process closes on 15 September 2023, and the expectation is a white paper in the summer of 2024, in line with the provisions of the Co-operation Agreement between the Welsh Labour Government and Plaid Cymru.
Regarding housing adequacy, the green paper cites the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, highlighting the seven criteria used by the UN. These are:
- Security of tenure
- Availability of services
- Cultural identity
Housing organisations in Wales have been campaigning for around five years for a right to a good home, and the “Back the Bill Coalition” (Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru, Tai Pawb and Shelter Cymru) has broadly welcomed the green paper. However, they have clarified that legislation is how to incorporate such a right into Welsh law. However, whilst there is an expectation of a housing white paper next year, there is very little prospect for further housing legislation in the current Senedd term (2021-2026). Regarding the balance of coverage of the green paper, some may feel that the focus of the consultation is more on fair rents rather than the broader issue of a right to adequate housing and that the two are uneasy bedfellows. This raises questions as to whether there is an overarching strategy for housing in Wales and, if so, what role private renting might play.
Much of the green paper focuses on the issue of the current affordability of rents in Wales, how “fair rents” might be defined, different models and experiences of rent control and examining some of the current gaps in the data which need to be addressed to inform these debates. Since the publication of the green paper, the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has published a report on the State of the Welsh Private Rented Sector, arguing that the Welsh Government should establish a Welsh Housing Survey or collect and regularly publish the equivalent data for Wales as that found in the English Housing Survey. Whilst predictably, the NRLA has opposed rent control, they have argued that given the lack of comprehensive data on the private rented sector in Wales, there should be no commitment to introducing “fair rents” until there has been a comprehensive assessment of the sector. There are also concerns that the Renting Homes Wales Act 2016, which was finally implemented in December 2022, has significant implications for landlords and tenants in Wales. The full impact of these legislative changes is yet to be seen.
In her foreword to the green paper, the Welsh Government Minister, Julie James, makes it clear there is a commitment to maintaining a viable private rented sector in Wales and will put in place a robust and long-term solution to ensure a sustainable rental sector in Wales. She also argues in favour of the importance of evidence in understanding these issues in different parts of Wales and considering the implications of different policy options.
Whilst there is considerable data on the private rented sector in Wales (e.g., from the 2021 Census, Welsh Government, the Rent Officer service, ONS, and market sources such as Zoopla and Rightmove), there are apparent significant gaps in the evidence base. Since the establishment of Rent Smart Wales (RSW) as the body responsible for the registration and licensing of private landlords and managing agents across Wales, there is also substantial administrative data collected, although this is not always publicly accessible or fully analysed. However, the lack of robust data at a local scale and the inability to compare data over time remain significant problems in the Welsh context. Coherent and robust statistics are key to understanding the private rented sector in Wales (and how it is changing), and there is much to do to build on what evidence already exists to inform debates around potential policy change.
Many of the issues identified in the Wales green paper are, of course, not unique to Wales (housing affordability is a widespread problem, and not only in the private rented sector). There is also a need to see these issues in the context of the wider housing system; the links between affordability, security and quality (all aspects of adequate housing), the relationships between different tenures, broader issues of housing supply and demand and developments in the wider economy. The social, economic, and political consequences of a lack of adequate and affordable housing (and a wider cost of living crisis), particularly for lower-income households, have profound implications. The Welsh Government’s green paper acknowledges that any policy proposals must be evidence-based and well thought through, not least to ensure they do not have unintended and potentially damaging consequences. Debates in Wales over these issues in the coming weeks and months will have relevance for other parts of the UK. In response to the green paper consultation, it will be interesting to see how the housing narrative in Wales evolves, what policy proposals may eventually emerge and how radical any housing reforms might be.
Date: July 12, 2023 10:02 am
Author(s): Bob Smith
Categorised in: Governance