Phelim MacCafferty: Benefit caps and rising rents fuelling housing crisis

Councillor MacCafferty, convener of the Green Group on Brighton and Hove City Council
Councillor MacCafferty, convener of the Green Group on Brighton and Hove City Council

Although my recent experience of renting in the private rented sector has been a good one, for too many renting still means poor conditions, insecurity and rising rents.

From the landlords who’ve refused to install smoke alarms to the estate agents overcharging tenants for renewing their contracts. One resident had pigeons roosting in their doorway for two years before I finally got their landlord to act.

These shocking experiences sadly aren’t isolated: figures from the city council show that almost nine in ten properties rented to house-sharers ‘require improvements to ensure they are fit and safe for occupation’. And while many welcomed the government’s rogue landlords database it sits completely empty six months after it was launched. When it’s not the condition of some rented homes it’s the sheer cost. The National Housing Federation Truths Survey revealed that average monthly rents are now £1,292 – local people spend more than half of their income on rent.

A quarter of housing benefit recipients are in work, yet unable to even afford their rent. The roll-out of the punitive new welfare reform ‘Universal Credit’ has meant one in two claimants in the city are now in rent arrears. Despite this we have had the chilling scenes of letting agents refusing to rent to people on benefits.

Given that more than half of households here earn below £30,000, Greens have consistently campaigned for truly affordable housing. We support the Living Rent campaign for homes that are affordable to those on the living wage, rather than market rates. We are arguing for rent caps and longer tenancies.

The double whammy of benefit caps and rising rents is fuelling the housing crisis as more people on low incomes struggle to make ends meet. It’s a form of social cleansing that threatens to turn Brighton & Hove into little more than an overpriced suburb of London.

We must ask the question – without better government regulation of the private rented sector, exactly who, other than the privileged few, will be able to call Brighton and Hove ‘home’ in the future?