A public call for evidence has been launched to establish the scale of ‘sex for rent’ in the UK and ask if existing laws protect victims.

A new law is being considered to crack down on predatory landlords exploiting vulnerable people for sex in return for free or discounted rent, the Home Secretary has announced.

The government is seeking views of victims, police and charities as part of a call for evidence launching today (21 April) to better understand the scale and nature of the abhorrent ‘sex for rent’ exchange in the UK.

‘Sex for rent’ is an arrangement where landlords exchange accommodation for free or at a discount in return for sexual relations with their tenants.  This is already illegal under the Sexual Offences Act, and landlords can already be prosecuted for attempting to engage in sex for rent.

The call for evidence will look at whether these laws go far enough, or if new measures are needed to tackle the issue and better protect vulnerable people from harm.

Home Secretary, Suella Braverman said:

It’s wholly unacceptable that vulnerable people, and particularly young women, are being exploited in ‘sex for rent’ arrangements. This is an abuse of power which puts people in desperate situations and has no place in our country.

The launch of this public call for evidence brings us closer to ending this deeply harmful trend and better protecting victims.

And it is another example of how this government will not stop in our efforts to bring more sexual and domestic abusers to justice.

According to research by polling company YouGov, carried out on behalf of the housing charity Shelter, nearly 1 in 50 women in England have been propositioned for ‘sex for rent’ in the last five years.

The call for evidence, which will last for 10 weeks, seeks to gain the views of those who have been directly engaged in a ‘sex for rent’ arrangement, whether they were deceived, coerced, or compelled into it.

Among the charities expected to provide their views is National Ugly Mugs (NUM), an organisation which works to end all violence towards sex workers.

They work with numerous victims of ‘sex for rent’ abuse such as Alina*.

Case study

Alina* was struggling financially during the pandemic and was approached online by her landlord. He suggested a rental arrangement where she would provide sex and intimate photos in exchange for a reduction in her rent and utility bills.

At the time Alina wasn’t making enough money to find an alternative place to live, so she agreed. Her exploitative landlord often arrives at the property drunk and unannounced, expecting to have sex with her. He often refuses to leave and she is under constant threat of eviction and homelessness if she does not comply with his requests whenever he wants.

*This modified case study is based on a sex worker’s lived experiences as reported to the NUM research team. Personal details have been changed.

Safeguarding Minister, Sarah Dines said:

While advances in technology have brought us closer to family and friends, they can also make it easier for perpetrators to prey on vulnerable individuals, including through so-called ‘sex for rent’ arrangements.

Our pioneering Online Safety Bill will ensure social media companies take greater action in order to protect their users – but we must continue to expand our understanding of these harmful practices and what more can be done to protect those who need it.

Dr Raven Bowen, CEO of NUM said:

We welcome the ‘sex for rent’ call for evidence. As an organisation dedicated to supporting sex workers we have seen first hand the damage that this exploitative behaviour can have, especially on young women and mothers.

We support action that will clamp down on predatory landlords and we hope that this is accompanied by wider action to combat the fundamental issue of poverty and unaffordable housing that make people vulnerable to this abuse.

Deputy Chief Constable Dan Vajzovic, National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Prostitution and Sex Working, said:

This call for evidence is a welcome opportunity to hear from victims and stakeholders on the reality facing women. With many struggling to pay rent, they become vulnerable to predatory landlords, and it is vital we put an end to this.

Violence against women and girls in all its forms is abhorrent. Policing is going after the violent and abusive men who commit these crimes. This call for evidence offers a first step towards helping vulnerable victims of this behaviour, please come forward.

If you are ever in danger, please call 999, you will be listened to and taken seriously.

Dan Wilson Craw, Deputy Director of Generation Rent said:

This call for evidence is vital. Research conducted by Generation Rent and Mumsnet estimates that over 200,000 women could be victims of ‘Sex for Rent’ in the United Kingdom. Four per cent of all respondents indicated that they had been offered free or discounted rent in return for sexual favours, with this rising to a shocking 1 in 10 respondents with a household income below £20,000.

We know the vast majority of landlords abide by the law: seeking permission to enter and respecting their tenants’ privacy. However, given the unparalleled access landlords have to tenants’ personal spaces and lives, and the scale of the issue, this consultation is necessary in ensuring that everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us, has access to a safe and secure home, free from harassment and exploitation.

Tackling sexual exploitation and violence against women and girls is a government priority.

In July 2021 we published our new cross-government Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy to help ensure that women and girls are safe everywhere – at home, online, at work and on the streets.

The world-leading Online Safety Bill means that social media platforms will have to proactively tackle illegal content such as use of their sites to coerce and control women for sex. If they fail in these duties, they will be made to pay huge fines up to billions of pounds.

The Home Office is also working closely with Women’s Aid to provide £300,000 for one-off payments of £250 to victims of domestic abuse, rising to £500 where a victim is pregnant or has children.

The funding has been granted to support victims to leave abusive relationships, and will help victims to pay for essentials such as groceries, nappies, sanitary products and rent on their previous property whilst they are in a refuge, or it could be put towards a deposit on new accommodation when they leave a refuge.

Published 21 April 2023