On Tuesday 21st March 2023, we took part in one of the largest coordinated political actions taken by private renters in UK history. One fifth of the UK population is in privately rented housing.

Twelve GMTU members and staff boarded a coach along with members of Acorn Manchester, and travelled to Parliament to join renters from all over the country for the Renters Day of Action. Organised by the Renters Reform Coalition (RRC), it was an opportunity to pressure the Government to bring forward the Renters Reform Bill without further delay.

Private renting has never been less affordable and less secure, due to a severe lack of decent, affordable housing, the cost of living crisis and the Government's failure to end Section 21 'no fault' evictions despite promising to do so four years ago.

Our members wanted to meet with their MPs, tell them about their experiences of private renting in Greater Manchester and explain why it was so important to them that legislation is put in place as soon as possible to address the imbalance of power between tenants and landlords.

The trip down

On the coach we spoke to our members to find out why they had signed up for the trip.

Arriving in London

On arrival in Westminster at 12.30, we were directed to the Church House conference centre, where we registered, confirmed the times that our MPs would be available and tucked into the sandwiches and cakes that had been provided for us.

The MPs we wanted to speak to were:

  • Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour MP for Salford & Eccles
  • Afzal Khan, Labour MP for Gorton
  • Lucy Powell, Labour MP for Manchester Central
  • Navendu Mishra, Labour MP for Stockport
  • Chris Clarkson, Conservative MP for Middleton & Heywood
  • Jeff Smith, Labour MP for Withington

At the specified times our members were escorted to the Great Hall, where we were told our respective MPs would come and meet with us. Unfortunately only two of them turned up - the others were unavailable or simply failed to appear at the designated time!

Iman, from Salford, was pleased to report back that Rebecca Long-Bailey was eager to talk about all of the issues raised, and said she would be more than happy to be sent more detailed information about specific areas the bill would need amending. They discussed in particular the need to unfreeze LHA rates and align them with market rates to stop arrears and discrimination against tenants in receipt of welfare.

Four of our members joined around six Acorn members to go and meet with Jeff Smith. He spent about half an hour with us and listened patiently while we each highlighted a different example - mostly from personal experience - of the dire problems tenants are facing and asked him to put pressure on the government to close the loopholes and bring the bill forward. He pointed out that as Labour is not in government there was a limit to what his party could do. However some of our stories of bad practices shocked him and he asked for more information to be emailed to him.

One of the shocking practices mentioned to Jeff was the way in which tenants in search of a new home are increasingly expected to 'bid' over the advertised rent in order to secure a property. The other one was the way in which companies are making a business out of AirBnB, buying up homes in residential areas and using them exclusively for short-term lettings. We gave him a copy of our report into Short Term Rentals which shows how this lucrative type of letting is on the rise and removing much needed housing stock from the sector.

Another of our members, Ayo, told him about an action against Thornley Groves that she participated in last year - a persistently bad letting agency who have caused problems for many of our members:

Staff member Ben Clay visited Downing Street with representatives from other coalition organisations to hand in a petition demanding immediate action to address the situation for renters and ensure safe, secure and affordable homes for all.

Q&A with the Housing Minister

The final event of the day was a Q&A with Rachael Maclean, MP for Redditch and the 15th Housing Minister since the Tories came to power and the sixth to hold the post in the past 12 months. This event was chaired by Vicky Spratt, a housing journalist, campaigner and documentary maker.

Around 200 tenants from the different RRC organisations attended to hear what the minister had to say and put forward their questions and concerns regarding the Renters Reform Bill.

Rachael Maclean started out saying that she was aware of the problems renters face because she had teenage sons who were renting. She said her department was committed to redressing the imbalance of power between tenants and landlords and that the bill would be brought forward in this parliament.

There was a general rumble of distrust among the audience while she was saying all this. It is hard to have faith in this government when they have promised for years to bring the bill forward while thousands have been made homeless through Section 21 or continue to live in dreadful conditions at the hands of incompetent money grubbing landlords and housing management companies.

Many questions were asked, such as: “When you end Section 21, what is to stop landlords getting rid of tenants by other means, such as a rent hike?” She replied that tenants will be able to challenge unfair rent hikes and that landlords will not be able to raise rents more than once a year. Unfortunately we know from bitter experience that challenging a landlord through the legal route can take a long time, needs expensive legal representation because legal aid has been hollowed out, and a long battle like this can take its toll on the mental health of tenants who are already stressed out.

She said landlords will be able to take possession of homes if they want to sell the property or they want to move a family member in. We don't see how they can prevent landlords simply lying about this and renting out to someone else after the current tenant has been removed. With affordable property so scarce, where is the provision for rehousing a tenant in this unfortunate situation?

The minister also spoke about the government's plans for a Decent Homes Standard for the private rented sector, which will ensure privately rented homes are safe and decent. We think that without a massive cash injection into local councils from Westminster, most will struggle to enforce this.

Homeward bound

At 5.30 we got back on the coach to Manchester. Despite many of our MPs not being available, we were told that we could come and speak to them in their constituencies instead.

It had been a long day, but although we didn't get any firm promises from any of the MPs every one of our members said they had enjoyed the day and thought it was well worth going. The feelings of solidarity, not just between our members, but with the other organisations and to be part of such a large group with the same problems, boosted everyone's spirits.

There are more battles ahead, but we are building a strong movement and we demand to be heard.