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Miliband plans a major intervention in the rental market

Labour are pledging to limit rent rises from private landlords. Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire/Press Association Images

If you pay rent to a private landlord, you may be interested in what the Labour leader will announce this morning.

Ed Miliband thinks it's time England went back to rent control.

Of sorts.

Labour has been looking for a policy to match the well received one on energy prices last year, and the party thinks it has found it in the form of reforms to the private rented housing market.

Mr Miliband will pledge new laws to make three year tenancies - rather than six month ones - the standard in the sector, to limit in the amount rents can rise each year, and to ban high charges for signing a tenancy agreement.

It amounts to a significant planned intervention from the state in the private rental market but it is not, Labour insists, a return to rent control.

Ed Miliband is promising a major shake-up of the private rented sector. Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Rent control dates back to World War I.

There were mass rent strikes in Glasgow in 1915 at a time of major housing shortages and soaring rents in the face of huge demand for accommodation.

And that may resonate with some in the housing market today, a century later, where many can't afford the deposit to buy a house but find they are paying more for rent per month than those with a mortgage.

Rent controls remained in Britain in some form until 1989 when rents were deregulated.

So what would be the consequences of Ed Miliband's plans?

Free market thinkers reckon it'll lead to the private rented decline going into decline. They warn of a slump in investment from developers, that many landlords will walk away. And the by-to-let market will shrink.

But some Labour MPs have argued rent controls could help cut the soaring bill for housing benefit (rather than capping the benefit itself as the coalition has done).

Of course the only real solution when demand outstrips supply is the (not uncontroversial) construction of hundreds of thousands of new homes every year.