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GRL Talk: Vicky Spratt

If you’ve been keeping up with the news this week, you would have heard about changes to The Tenants Fees Bill that will save renters on average £272 and help prevent egregious letting agent fees. The woman behind the campaign, that’s been three years in the making, is the enigmatic Victoria Spratt. Vicky is, as she would say, an Allbrow Journalist; the Editor-at-large for Grazia and soon to be author of TENANTS (a book about the housing crisis). Basically, she’s a ray of light in the mainstream media and the voice of ‘Generation Rent’.

Hi Vicky, tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to start #MakeRentingFair? 

Hey! I’m a 30-year-old journalist who started out in this industry with absolutely no contacts, unable to do unpaid internships. I quickly realised that issues like the renting crisis in Britain had never really been covered because, sadly, media hasn’t always been great on diversity and a lot of people who decided what stories got told owned their own homes. For instance, if you look closely at the BBC’s diversity report from 2018 you’ll see that it’s not just race and gender that influence how much you get paid there, but also whether or not you went to a private school.

#MakeRentingFair came about when I started working at a new online women’s news and lifestyle brand called The Debrief. It had just moved and paid over £500 on letting agency fees and we knew it was an issue that really affected our audience – young women in their 20s – so it went from there. It quickly went viral and caught the attention of politicians and other media outlets.

Back in 2016, what were your main objectives for the campaign? 

Honestly, I didn’t think we would win. I just wanted to draw attention to the injustices of the housing crisis and the private rental sector in particular. I thought if we made enough noise to generate a proper debate that would be enough. When I got a call from someone in Westminster, the night before the Autumn Statement in 2016, to tell me a ban on letting fees for tenants was going to be announced in the Chancellor’s speech in Parliament the next day I was genuinely shocked.

“As a journalist, the one thing you always hope to be able to do is to tell stories which uncover problems people face every day”

So, The Tenant Fee Bill passed this week!! How are you feeling? 

Over the moon to be honest. As a journalist, the one thing you always hope to be able to do is to tell stories which uncover problems people face every day which, perhaps, aren’t getting enough attention. If you can do that and change the law…then…that’s pretty amazing. Sometimes I forget about it, then I remember it and I feel incredibly proud to have been able to help so many people. 

Can you break down the bill for us, and what it means for tenants? 

Yes – absolutely! It should get Royal Assent in the summer and become law in June. It is:

– A ban on all of the upfront fees letting agents currently charge you before you rent a property. These range from so-called ‘administrative fees’, ‘credit check fees’, ‘tenancy renewal fees’ or mysteriously costly ‘referencing costs’. Under the new legislation, the only fees renters can be charged are: the rent, a refundable security deposit and a refundable holding deposit. 

– It also introduces a cap on deposits and states that landlords and letting agents will only be allowed to charge a maximum of five weeks’ rent for security deposits, and one week’s rent for holding deposits.

I wrote a piece about it which you can read HERE if you want to know more.

What would you like to be next for tenant’s rights?

I would like a complete overhaul of the private rental sector which brings about more protections for tenants. More and more people are being forced to rent in this country because they can’t afford the buy so we need to address it urgently. My book, which is coming out early next year, will call for more changes including, but not limited to, rent caps. 

Did you face much backlash whilst campaigning? 

Yep! I got physical hate mail from a few letting agents. They sent letters to my work address. I also got the usual trolling in my DMs from people who didn’t like what I was doing. I try not to think about that stuff too much to be honest; it’s designed to make you doubt yourself, to make you smaller and quieter.

“Trust yourself, follow your instincts and don’t be cowed into silence by anyone.”

What advice would you give other young women who want to use their voice but aren’t confident they know how?

For a long time, I fitted that description. At school, I would sometimes pretend I had lost my voice to avoid speaking in lessons. I wish I had known that that fear – of being judged, of being wrong, of not being liked – is something that is instilled in girls from such a young age to stop us fulfilling our potential. I only realised this later when It dawned on me that some of the people who talk the loudest, know the least. Trust yourself, follow your instincts and don’t be cowed into silence by anyone. 

Now for the question we ask everyone on GRL Talk, what would you go back and tell 16-year-old you? 

Where to begin. I mean confidence is the main issue but we’ve already covered that so let’s talk about the really important stuff: stop plucking your eyebrows right now, do not chase people who don’t text you back, focus on loving yourself and don’t get into any relationships until you’ve nailed that, worry about the things you can control, not the things you can’t and, most importantly of all, have fun whenever you possibly can even though you feel like you don’t deserve it.

Follow Vicky HERE

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