MP Julian Huppert has raised in Parliament the concerns of tenants renting from private landlords highlighting the importance of Cambridge’s HMOs and the problems faced by those on benefit.
Julian, who tabled a Private Member’s Bill calling for a fairer deal for tenants, claimed that there have been some shocking cases of people being refused the chance to rent because they are paying with the Local Housing Allowance benefit.
“That simply should not be tolerated,” he said. “We should not let landlords exclude a large number of people who need to find housing.”
He told how the LHA, introduced by the Labour government, had caused real problems for Cambridge because the benefit was set on an average rent calculated across a wide area including places like Littleport and Haverhill where rents are cheaper.
“It became impossible for anyone to find anything to rent in Cambridge on the LHA amount, he said. “The message that the Labour Government sent to people in Cambridge on benefits was, ‘You can’t afford to live in Cambridge. Go somewhere else.’
Julian told how his predecessor, David Howarth fought strongly against it and, even though the problem was highlighted by the government’s Work and Pensions Committee, Labour did nothing.
“It was a poor scheme,” he added, “and I am pleased that the Government has finally, after much effort, launched an independent review of the adequacy of LHA levels and increased the levels in Cambridge by four per cent – well above inflation. That is a start.”
Julian also told Parliament how houses in multiple occupation – HMOs -are an essential part of the housing mix in Cambridge.
“We rely on them to house people, and they do a good job,” he said. “Yet Labour councillors have proposed to cap the number of HMOs and change the definition to any house with three people from two unrelated groups. Driving younger people out of HMOs would simply slash the supply and make it even harder to house people in my constituency.”
Julian told how he hoped greater agreement could be reached between landlords and tenants to make it easier for people to have longer tenancies so they could “turn their houses into homes”.
“Another aspect that concerns me is the status of guarantors,” he said. “When they rent, many people are told to find a guarantor who will apparently underwrite the cost of their rent.
“I am aware of cases in Cambridge where people whose parents live in Scotland have been told, rather bizarrely, that a guarantee from somebody in Scotland is not acceptable because it may not be legally binding. There are a number of students from Scotland who should certainly be able to rent places in Cambridge.”
And Julian told how letting agents should be banned from charging exorbitant fees to tenants. He cited a report from Shelter that said the fees were out of proportion for many of the nine million people who rent.
“There is such an imbalance in power between the tenant and the landlord,” he said.