Dark Money Investigations: News

A quarter of Tory MPs are private landlords

Exclusive: ‘Clear conflict of interests’ as 115 MPs earn thousands of pounds by renting out property

Martin Williams
22 July 2021, 2.40pm
Boris Johnson is one of 90 Tory MPs earning thousands by renting out property
Reuters / Alamy Stock Photo

A quarter of all Conservative MPs are landlords making money from private property.

Analysis by openDemocracy has revealed that 90 Tory MPs boost their income by at least £10,000 a year thanks to rental properties.

The landlords include Boris Johnson, who started renting out his Grade II-listed cottage in Oxfordshire last month, having reportedly advertised it at £4,250 a month.

The prime minister also part-owns houses in London and Somerset, which he also rents out.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, earns rental income from a farmhouse, land and other buildings in Somerset, as well as from a residential property in London.

Other landlords include Sajid Javid, the new health secretary, defence secretary Ben Wallace, and the government’s chief whip, Mark Spencer.

In total, 115 (18%) MPs across all parties have declared earning money from rent, with Tories making up the vast majority. This compares to around 3% of the UK’s adult population, meaning MPs are roughly six times more likely to be landlords.

The percentage of landlords rises to 27% among MPs appointed as ministers or whips – including seven of the 25 MPs who attend Cabinet.

It’s no surprise the government has done so little to help private renters when a quarter of its MPs are landlords

Responding to the analysis, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said earning money as a landlord was a “clear conflict of interest” for MPs. She pointed to rules that mean a similar situation “wouldn't be acceptable in local government”.

Local government regulations state that councillors must not “participate in any discussion or vote… and must not remain in the room” if an issue directly relates to their financial interests. But in Parliament, MPs are allowed to vote on housing legislation provided they declare any rental income worth more than £10,000 in a year.

“It’s no surprise that the government has done so little to help private renters when a quarter of their MPs are private landlords,” Lucas said.

"Pledges to end no-fault evictions have not been kept and local housing allowances fail to keep up with soaring rents. Private renters have never had a fair deal from Tory governments, and now we know why."

Last week, the Conservative Party was accused of having a “worrying dependence” on financial donations from property tycoons.

Transparency International said the property sector was responsible for 20% of all donations taken by the party between January 2010 and March 2020, with several big spenders handing out millions. Its report warned that this created a risk of “aggregative corruption”.

Tory MP Lucy Frazer, who is solicitor general for England and Wales, last month defended the government’s decision to remove protections for residential tenants during the pandemic.

Frazer, a landlord who has earned thousands of pounds from her own rental property in London, told BBC Question Time that tenants had been “protected for a long period of time”, adding “it is important that landlords can take control where necessary”.

Private renters have never had a fair deal from Tory governments, and now we know why

“There are more landlords in Parliament than there have been at any time in living memory,” said David Renton, a campaigner and barrister specialising in housing. “They won't accept the case for change, even when the arguments are overwhelming.

"COVID showed us that millions of families are insecure in their homes: benefits changes mean they can't afford the rent, while landlords can evict tenants at will. During lockdown, it felt as if all of society agreed, we had to change the law. The only people who resisted were ministers. Now we know why.”

Other ministers earning money from private property include the secretary of state for Scotland, Alister Jack. He owns two cottages, a salmon fishery and agricultural land in Dumfries and Galloway – all of which he rents out.

Environment minister Rebecca Pow rents out agricultural land which she part-owns – and which generates additional income from a telecom mast. She also owns two houses in Somerset, one of which she joint-owns with her sister, as well as having a stake in a commercial building in the area.

Eighteen Labour MPs have also declared rental income from private property, according to the Register of Interests, along with four MPs from the SNP.

This includes Labour’s shadow housing secretary, Lucy Powell, who rents out a room in her London flat. The Register of Interests says that Powell earns at least £10,000 a year from this, suggesting she charges at least £833 a month for rent.

There is a conspicuously high concentration of property interests in UK politics

“There is a conspicuously high concentration of property interests in UK politics,” said Transparency International’s senior research manager Steve Goodrich.

“Whether it is our politicians themselves or their party’s donors, there is a sizable proportion of those who have a financial stake in the housing market.

“This unhealthy reliance on a single sector risks the perception, and indeed possibly the reality, that their personal interests will influence their approach to this important area of public policy.”

Labour MP Clive Lewis told openDemocracy: “The over-representation of landlords in government is just the latest example of how our failing democracy doesn’t represent the huge diversity of the UK. It’s yet another reason why we need a ‘levelling-up’ of democratic power in our country.

“The government’s vested interests clearly affect their policy decisions and priorities, and this has real-life consequences for the public. Take, for example, the recent lifting of the eviction ban, which has left many of those in rent arrears now fearing eviction and homelessness. This is a policy designed to benefit landlords, not tenants.

“It’s clear that a political system which over-represents the interests of a small number of people doesn’t deliver on the interests of the public at large.”

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