Reflecting on two years of Z2K’s Tenants Voice project

Over the last two years I have run the Tenants Voice project for Z2K, working with renters at the 'sharp end' of the Private Rented Sector (PRS) - those reliant on benefits or on very low incomes, living in tiny, cramped spaces, and often in unfit conditions, subject to exploitation, aggression, and discrimination by landlords, and with very little way of fighting back.

I’ve worked with people one-to-one, to tell their story or give their views on potential policy changes, or help them negotiate support from their local council.

It’s been hard at times to hear those experiences, particularly throughout the pandemic, which threw so many of the inequalities and unfairness of the PRS into sharp relief: spending 24 hours a day in a single room, with no family or friends near, knowing that you were among the most vulnerable to Covid, and that as soon as the ‘eviction ban’ was lifted your landlord would want you out, made for frightening and bleak months for many.

At such a time, thinking through how to bring about change in the rental sector has been hard too. What can one person do? The power imbalance in the PRS is so stark because if you are a tenant then ultimately, whatever your rights, you could be evicted at any moment.

That’s why we – with the support of the Nationwide Foundation – brought together clients of Z2K’s advice and support services to think about how to make change happen for housing.

And this is where the joy has come. I’ve been facilitating monthly Tenants Voice groups – spaces to share experience and expertise. To think about what would make a difference – from a deposit you could transfer from one landlord to the next without having to save up all over again, to greater accountability for landlords, to genuinely affordable housing that would mean you aren’t driven out of your neighbourhood and community by rising prices. What struck me most throughout has been the genuine desire – and here I use the words of one of the participants – for landlords and tenants to “work together to look after housing”.

The work of the groups has culminated in a Tenants Voice Manifesto for Renters Reform – which you can see here. It’s a careful, thought-through manifesto, intending to be realistic and to respond to commitments the Government has made, while keeping in mind the need to call for what we really want, and not always to compromise for what we think we can get. I would encourage you to read it, particularly if you, like I did, have plenty of experience of the PRS and have ever wondered how one could possibly begin to fix the myriad problems of the renting world. There are solutions, and there are ways to get there, and our Tenants Voice participants have spent real time thinking them through.

Alongside this, we’ve worked with other voices in the sector, and here a quick shout out to Bridget Young, Nationwide Foundation’s former PRS Programme Manager, who has done an amazing job developing and sustaining the Renters Reform Coalition to bring together housing campaigners across the sector to speak together about the challenges facing the PRS and push for change. The coalition is determined to ensure ministers deliver on their promise to abolish section 21 “no fault” evictions two years ago.  But we want change beyond that too.  And we will be ensuring Z2K’s clients and other tenants get a chance to speak to decision-makers directly during the White Paper consultation and the Renters Reform Bill that will follow.

After two years I’m moving on from the role.  I’m sad to go but I’m proud of the work we’ve done, and I know that Z2K, who have supported so many people throughout this difficult time, will carry it forward with others in the coalition to secure legislation  that makes a real difference for private renters across the UK.

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