The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) this week published their latest in a series of reports comparing the English and German housing markets – with a view to highlighting lessons which English policy makers may learn from their Germanic cousins.
There is no denying that there is a lot to admire of Germany. They are renowned for ruthless efficiency, excellent engineering – and my personal favourite, the compound noun. At this time of year, just think how useful it would be to have a single word which describes a person who elects to wear gloves to throw snowballs – Handschuhschneeballwerfer
What war film would be complete without a smattering of schweinhunds, which are hardly as effective when translated to pig-dog.
And as an employee of a trade association I particularly like:
Which is, apparently, the association for subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services. Not to mention a title which makes ‘UKALA’ seem elegant in comparison.
But I digress, the question at hand must be, is the German rental market superior to our domestic one?
The report certainly seems to suggest it is, in respect of security of tenure, affordability, and stability. Tenancies typically last 11 years; significantly more than in the UK and around 10 per cent fewer households are defined as ‘overburdened’ by their rent payments (23 versus. 33 percent).
In order to improve, the IPPR makes a series of recommendations to government, which would in its view allow English tenants to enjoy the benefits of greater security of tenure experienced by their German counterparts.
- Government should let local authorities, through the planning process; require new build-to-rent schemes offer tenancies of a minimum of two years, with an appropriate break clause for tenants.
- Any private rented scheme supported by public money or land should require a proportion of homes to offer tenancies of a minimum of two years.
- Not-for-profit builders should lead by example. With housing associations and local authorities moving into direct development of market-rent housing, they should offer households a range of longer-term tenancy options in their purpose built PRS schemes. Tenancy agreements should fix any future rent rises upfront, in writing.
- Not-for-profit lettings agencies and public online lettings services should provide incentives and services discounts to private landlords offering longer-term rental contracts.
- Trade unions should work together with housing charities and TMOs in taking a more active role in supporting private tenants, helping them with legal advice, helping to dispute excessive rents, and supporting them in challenging landlords on property conditions and management issues.
- To start a tenants’ association nationally, with local branches, to mirror the German model
- Tenants’ insurance offers could be extended to cover legal fees which would provide similar opportunities for supporting tenants to challenge landlords.
It is pretty hard to argue that the English PRS is perfect; there are after all a great many areas which need improvement, leaving all parties liable to feeling hard-done-by at times. However, finding solutions is rarely as simple as looking at how somebody else is doing and copying their actions.
There are similarities between the UK and Germany, but the differences are also stark. These differences are economic, social, cultural and historically (to name just a few) leading to comparisons which rarely dig sufficiently deep for the purposes of planning public policy.
Think tanks and associations spend a great deal of time looking for overseas examples, typically Ireland and Scandinavia tends to be popular, rather than focusing on the factors which make the domestic market unique.
For the time being, perhaps the German proverb ‘Allein ist besser als mit Schlechten im Verein: mit Guten im Verein, ist besser als allein’ (the English equivalent of which is ‘better be alone than in bad company’) is apt.