Action needed against “sex for rent” landlords. Dawn Bowden AM 

This evening (30th January) the S4C series “Ein Byd” will carry a feature on the alarming practice and exploitation involved in the so called “sex for rent” arrangements. The programme will I believe expose the true nature of this exploitation which is happening right here in our own communities in Wales.

I first became aware of this form of exploitation in early 2017 and after my initial research I proposed to the National Assembly for Wales in May of last year that we seek to amend the existing Housing legislation so as to outlaw this practice in Wales.

At that time the content of adverts on sites like Craiglist and Gumtree were a concern and I said “These landlords are looking to exploit vulnerable people who are being hit by benefit cuts and cannot afford high rent, by enticing them into these ‘sex for rent deals’. It seems some landlords try to justify this practice by arguing the tenants voluntarily enter these arrangements but when people are facing being homeless the element of choice is taken away and they are open to, this vile exploitation. It is tantamount to a form of modern day slavery”.

It was suggested to me that the problem was becoming more prevalent because of reforms to the welfare system especially for younger people who would become ever more vulnerable to predatory landlords. I have no doubt that it also relates to the shortage of affordable homes to rent in our communities especially for people on low and modest incomes.

At that time Carl Sargeant was the Minister and he undertook to look at a number of issues including the “fit and proper” person test of landlords under existing Welsh legislation.

Yet at its most basic level this form of sexploitation reflects the very unfair balance of power that exists in the housing sector across the UK. Yes the Welsh Government are delivering 20,000 affordable homes this Assembly term but the backlog of housing need is such that too many people remain vulnerable, and for too many rents are unaffordable.

What has happened since?

Subsequent to that initial debate in the Assembly I had a useful meeting with Gumtree UK who explained the action they were taking to try and clamp down on this type of problematic advert.

Then in July 2017 the UK Justice Secretary David Lidington MP said that such “sex for rent” offers may breach the Sexual Offences Act and be a criminal offence in England and Wales. The Justice Secretary said “Taken together, these [provisions] essentially mean that an offence is committed when a person offers accommodation in return for sex, as they are inciting/causing another person to have sex with them in return for payment”. This was a welcome statement on the law and reflected work undertaken on this issue by the MP for Hove Peter Kyle.

Has the balance of power changed?

Well as this TV programme will show, nowhere near enough. The attempted exploitation of young people continues. For those young people setting out to build stable lives the housing market remains a major obstacle as the shortage of homes drives up rents and, for those who suffer in-work poverty, house prices are beyond reach.

What next?  

All of us, including Assembly Members with devolved responsibility for so many housing issues, must now commit afresh to deliver further improvements and better conditions.

If the law of the land makes “sex for rent” illegal then the law enforcement agencies must act.

The time has come to:

  1. Refresh the call to enforce the available legislation, also
  2. To provide the extra resources in Wales that can monitor this shady market and act against the potential abusers.
  3. Step up our call for more action on housing – the voice of the housing sector must be a fundamental building block in all of our wellbeing policies.
  4. Consider amending the existing laws, this includes ending “no fault” evictions to provide greater security for tenants.
  5. Deliver the social, economic, environmental and wellbeing benefits that arise from a having a safe and warm home in a good quality of environment.

The “Sexploitation” shown by the “sex for rent” story on the programme “Ein Byd” reflects a deeper sickness at the heart of society’s whole approach to housing. While the funding and delivery of 20,000 affordable homes this Assembly term (2016-2021) by our Welsh Government is a very welcome step on the journey the time has now arrived for us to step up our call so we can help to remove the conditions that underpin the “sex for rent” climate from our communities.

We owe a responsibility to everyone, especially the young and vulnerable, to keep them safe in the housing choices that they make, to ensure they have sufficient opportunities for a home and we must all play our part in ending exploitation and sexploiation.