A leading lettings sector commentator believes today’s local elections may not directly change the private rental sector but could have a major influence on aspects like rent controls, licensing and the speed of reform.
Some 4,000 seats in 146 councils - including every single one in London, Wales and Scotland - are up for grabs, while seven mayoral elections will also be held in areas including the South Yorkshire Combined Authority, Croydon and Watford. In addition, 1,000 parish councils will be electing about 10,000 councillors.
The scale of today’s elections makes this a good indicator of the national mood, especially as seen by the share of the vote won by the major parties.
“As local authorities are in a position to make direct decisions on the private rental sector, the outcome of these votes will impact landlords, agents and tenants” says Neil Cobbold, managing director of PropTech automated payment platform PayProp UK.
"Whether it be deciding the future of landlord licensing, planning applications, council tax or housing and regeneration, local authorities have a big impact in the PRS" he claims.
The progress of widespread rental reform could hinge on the results of the local elections. While sitting governments tend to perform badly in local elections, as voters express their frustrations and turn to opposition parties, in 2022 the Conservative Party is facing more of an uphill battle than usual due to a deepening cost of living crisis and a string of high-profile scandals.
As a result, forecasts suggest the Conservatives could struggle today as well as in the upcoming by-election in Wakefield which is expected to be held in June or July. According to the London Evening Standard Labour has a 27-point lead in the capital, while the Liberal Democrats are trying to inch back control of some councils in the South West.
Cobbold says that lettings professionals will be keeping a close eye on the direction of travel with the possibility of a short-term Conservative leadership contest leading to further delays to an already disrupted parliamentary agenda.
“Rental reform has been a key part of this government’s agenda. However, the White Paper on Rental Reform is already late and a change in leadership because of a possible bad performance could result in further setbacks” he says.
Equally, a poor performance at the local elections could encourage the government to press ahead with new legislation to take back control of the agenda. Politicians have already floated the idea of extending Right to Buy to housing association properties.
Opposition parties who may do well today, especially Labour, have been keener than the Conservatives on licensing and regulating the private rented sector.
Labour wins could lead to the rollout of more selective licensing schemes, while the prospect of rent controls has also been mooted by high-profile Labour figures such as London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees.
“There’s a pretty strong consensus that rent controls won’t work for tenants, but the issue clearly isn’t going away, and its supporters could be emboldened by a strong showing in the local elections” concludes Cobbold.