The UK government is running a public consultation on “sex for rent” arrangements. The consultation closes on 30 June 2023. We have now responded to the consultation and are publishing our response here. If you haven’t already responded to this consultation, we would like to encourage you to do so. You are welcome to take inspiration – or to copy and paste directly – from our response.
Note: The question numbering differs in the online form compared to the downloadable document. Below, we have used the latter numbering. However, the order of the questions is the same.
The questions are in bold. Our responses are in normal typeface.
Q1. Sex-for-rent is defined as landlords offering or providing accommodation for reduced rent in exchange for sexual services. Do you think that this description reflects sex-for-rent?
Please briefly explain your answer
Sex is not a “service”.
Sexuality is a core part of a human being – it is intrinsic to our humanity, dignity and sense of self. When our sexual integrity and autonomy is violated, our dignity and sense of self are violated. This is why rape is understood to be a serious crime and why sex is understood to be intrinsically different from other activities.
Sex is an act of mutual intimacy that requires each participant to be fully autonomous – i.e. to freely consent. Any restriction on a participant’s autonomy and ability to refuse any or all of the activity is unequivocal evidence that the activity is not fully consensual.
When a landlord offers or demands sexual activity in return for all or part of the tenant’s rent, the tenant’s options are grim – either she complies or she risks losing the roof over her head along with the possibility that the landlord will become aggressive and violent. In other words, the landlord is buying her sexual consent, just as the “sex buyer” buys the prostituted woman’s consent in prostitution.
Using the term “sexual services” for this arrangement fundamentally confuses its reality, trivialising it and making it appear benign, and obfuscating the inherent power imbalance. For this to be done in official documentation and/or legislation would send out a confused and confusing message about sexual consent. This would be highly inappropriate at any time, but particularly now that male violence against women and girls is recognised to be at epidemic levels and the criminal justice system is failing to respond adequately.
An acceptable alternative wording would be “sexual activity” or “sexual access to the person” – so the definition would become: “landlords offering or providing accommodation for reduced rent in exchange for sexual activity” or “landlords offering or providing accommodation for reduced rent in exchange for sexual access to the person”.
Q2. Which of the following scenarios do you think would be a crime? Presume that the person providing sexual relations is not otherwise engaged in sex work.
A person offering accommodation concealingly advertises a shared one-bedroom flat on a website and then an individual accepts the advert, without realising they are expected to share a room.
Please briefly explain your answer.
It is not clear whether this question is asking if this *should* be a crime or whether it is actually a crime under current legislation.
Presumably this would fall foul of the current Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations. However, this situation is not comparable to buying a faulty product.
Someone seeking cheap accommodation is likely to be vulnerable in multiple ways, including through poverty/low income. They are likely to have invested money in moving to the property only to arrive and find that they are required to sleep with and have sex with the landlord. They may have no practical alternative other than to sleep rough. This is coercion such that it would invalidate any notion of free consent – meaning that the sexual activity could only be seen as the landlord sexually assaulting or raping the tenant.
The last couple of decades have seen the culture becoming ever-more hyper-sexualised and pornified, which has normalised and legitimised non-consensual sexual practices and has fed men’s sense of entitlement. At the same time we have witnessed growing and extreme inequality in Britain. Together these factors make it more or less inevitable that “sex for rent” arrangements will continue to proliferate unless the government creates a new “sex for rent” offence that sends out a clear and unambiguous signal that these types of arrangements have no place in a modern democratic society that values equality.
To be effective, this would need to be done alongside measures to address the housing crisis by, for example, increasing the supply of affordable accommodation and implementing effective rent controls, and measures to reduce poverty and inequality by, for example, increasing the minimum wage; scrapping the lower minimum wage bands for young people aged 18-22 so that the same minimum wage applies to everyone over 18; addressing the gender pay gap; scrapping benefit sanctions and the two-child limit benefit rule; scrapping the no recourse to public funds rule for migrants in precarious situations; and increasing the support for families with minor children, particularly single parents, etc.
So yes, we believe that this scenario should be a crime (for the landlord but not the tenant).
A landlord advertises a room for reduced rent and an individual is then persuaded to provide sexual services for no rent.
Please briefly explain your answer.
Again, it is not clear whether this question is asking if this *should* be a crime or whether it is actually a crime under current legislation.
Section 74 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 defines consent as “a person consents if he agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.”
The CPS guidance instructs prosecutors to consider this in two stages:
(a) “Whether a complainant had the capacity (i.e. the age and understanding) to make a choice about whether or not to take part in the sexual activity at the time in question.” and
(b) “Whether he or she was in a position to make that choice freely, and was not constrained in any way.”
In this scenario, the tenant (or lodger) would be constrained by the imbalance of power in the situation. The landlord holds all the cards and the tenant few or none. The exact circumstances of the tenant may vary but it is likely that she is hard up and lacks funds and resources – meaning her ability to secure other accommodation is severely constrained. This alone would mean that the case fails the second stage of the test, meaning that consent is not valid.
We don’t know what form the landlord’s “persuasion” took. But it is likely that it included elements of coercion and threat that made the tenant fear that if she refused, he would become aggressive, make her life miserable in some way, or even evict her.
The landlord might well claim that he reasonably believed that she had freely consented so that even if the CPS went ahead with a prosecution for sexual assault or rape, this might be grounds for acquittal.
The current low rate of prosecution for rape and sexual crimes and the difficult and arduous process involved, deters many victims from reporting and makes many feel hopeless and betrayed.
This is why we believe that there needs to be a new criminal “sex for rent” offence that applies to landlords (but not tenants) to send out a clear and unambiguous message that this behaviour is unacceptable in a modern democratic society. And that everyone is entitled to safe accommodation where they are not required, “persuaded” or coerced to engage in unwanted sexual activity.
As mentioned in our response to the previous point, there also need to be measures to address the housing crisis and improve inequality.
A landlord openly offers a situation of sexual services being exchanged for accommodation, and a tenant accepts.
Please briefly explain your answer.
According to the CPS Guidance, this would be covered by Section 52 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The guidance goes on to explain that it is not the placing of the advert that is the offence but rather the incitement or attempted incitement of a named victim into prostitution. Gaining a conviction is therefore fraught with difficulties. It would also suggest that the advertising platform is not committing an offence – meaning there is no disincentive for hosting such adverts.
Such adverts normalise and legitimise the commodification of sexual activity and the use of (mainly) women and young people for other people’s (mainly men’s) sexual gratification – in violation of principles of equality and human dignity on which a modern democratic society is founded.
Allowing the hosting of such adverts runs counter to Article 6 of CEDAW, under which the UK as a ratifying state has an obligation to take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress the “exploitation of prostitution of women” – i.e. profiting from a woman’s prostitution.
We would therefore like to see new legislation that outlaws the hosting of “sex for rent” adverts as well as the placing of such adverts.
However, while there is an extreme shortage of affordable housing and entrenched poverty and inequality, there will always be numerous desperate people who can be coerced into accepting such arrangements for a lack of alternatives. So such legislation needs to be accompanied by real and effective measures to address the housing crisis by, for example, increasing the supply of affordable accommodation and implementing effective rent controls, and measures to reduce poverty and inequality by, for example, increasing the minimum wage; scrapping the lower minimum wage bands for young people aged 18-22 so that the same minimum wage applies to everyone over 18; addressing the gender pay gap; scrapping benefit sanctions and the two-child limit benefit rule; scrapping the no recourse to public funds rule for migrants in precarious situations; and increasing the support for families with minor children, particularly single parents, etc.
A tenancy agreement is already in place, but a change of circumstances causes the tenant to offer alternative arrangements, including sexual relations which the landlord accepts.
Please briefly explain your answer.
Offering yourself up for unwanted sex with your landlord in lieu of rent is an act of a desperate person and/or someone who has been groomed by our toxic culture to consider their sexuality to be a form of currency. People should not be criminalised for the poverty, misfortune and inequality they endure.
We believe that everyone should have better options and that safe affordable accommodation and a basic income are human rights. We would therefore like to see this situation addressed by:
(a) Real and effective measures to address the housing crisis by, for example, increasing the supply of affordable accommodation and implementing effective rent controls, and measures to reduce poverty and inequality by, for example, increasing the minimum wage; scrapping the lower minimum wage bands for young people aged 18-22 so that the same minimum wage applies to everyone over 18; addressing the gender pay gap; scrapping benefit sanctions and the two-child limit benefit rule; scrapping the no recourse to public funds rule for migrants in precarious situations; and increasing the support for families with minor children, particularly single parents, etc.
(b) Measures to address the legitimisation and normalisation of all forms of prostitution including “sex for rent” arrangements through the implementation of a Nordic Model approach to prostitution and new straightforward offences against advertising “sex for rent” arrangements or inducing, manipulating or coercing someone in to them.
If a landlord threatens eviction unless sexual services are provided.
Please briefly explain your answer.
This situation would almost certainly constitute sexual assault or rape because the tenant would have little or no choice – which would undermine the validity of any purported consent.
However, if the tenant reports the crime to the police, she is likely to lose her housing anyway – meaning that it is unlikely that she would report the crime. This is why we support the introduction of new straight-forward offences against “sex for rent” arrangements.
Q3. What do you know about the characteristics and/or circumstances of tenants that are typically subject to sex-for-rent arrangements? (e.g., employment status, family status, immigration status, financial circumstances)?
People who are at risk of accepting “sex for rent” arrangements are typically people who lack alternative options through poverty or youth and/or who are marginalised in various ways – for example, by disability, insecure immigration status, “no recourse to public funds”, being care-experienced, needing to escape domestic or family violence, lacking family support, lacking secure well-paid employment, or struggling with unmanageable debt. The so-called “cost of living” crisis is making all of this worse.
Women are at particular risk for a variety of reasons. Women are at higher risk of poverty than men. Sleeping rough is a more dangerous option for women than men (because of the “constant high risk of trauma, violence and abuse, and severe, complex health needs”) and so fewer women than men see it as a viable option. Women are more likely than men to be single parents. And not least because “sex for rent” arrangements are most commonly offered by male landlords to female tenants.
Students are at particular risk and there is evidence that landlords particularly target students. The cost of student accommodation is spiralling and now on average costs about three quarters of the maximum maintenance loan. Many UK students don’t get the maximum loan because their parents’ incomes are above the threshold and are expected to make up the difference. However, many parents are unwilling or unable to do this, throwing their student children into financial difficulty. Overseas students from families with modest incomes are also at particular risk.
Another group who are particularly vulnerable to these arrangements are female asylum seekers. There have been reports in the press of men harassing and abusing women asylum seekers for sex in both private accommodation and public law accommodation facilities.
Q4. What do you know about the characteristics and/or circumstances of people providing accommodation that are typically involved in exchanging sexual relations for accommodation? (e.g., relationship status, financial status)
The majority of people offering “sex for rent” arrangements are male and mostly older. Like other sex buyers, they are likely to believe themselves to be superior and entitled to sexual access to women – attitudes associated with male violence against women.
Research has shown that sex buyers are more likely than other men to be sexually aggressive and likely to rape. Men who buy sex score higher on measures of impersonal sex and hostile masculinity. There is no reason to expect men who offer “sex for rent” arrangements to be any different.
Q5. What do you know about the circumstances in which exchanging sexual relations for accommodation takes place?
The circumstances always involve an imbalance of power, which is often extreme.
The landlord has control of the accommodation, is usually in a much stronger financial situation than the tenant, and is usually male and so, on average, is physically considerably larger and stronger than the typical female tenant.
The tenant is usually female, younger, and desperate to keep a roof over her head. If she has alternatives, such as parents who can accommodate her at least temporarily, she might be able to simply walk out. But the reality for many women is that they do not have a realistic alternative and are terrified of being street homeless.
This imbalance of power is such that in the vast majority of cases, it would invalidate any notion of consent to the sexual acts – because as explained in the CPS guidelines on consent, she would not be “in a position to make that choice freely, and was not constrained in any way”. However, just as she may feel she has no option but to go along with it, she is likely to feel there is little point reporting it to the police or other authorities. This means that the perpetrator has virtual impunity.
a) Do you think these factors have changed recently? (Yes/No/Unsure) Yes
b) If so, how?
1. More than a decade of austerity policies that have disproportionately impacted women, along with the more recent “cost of living” crisis, have profoundly increased the levels of inequality in this country and the numbers of people in deep poverty.
2. The proliferation and accessibility of hardcore porn and the normalisation of the sex industry – and indeed “sex for rent” arrangements – have created an increasingly hostile environment for women in which sexual harassment and misconduct have proliferated. This has increased men’s collective sense of entitlement to the sexual use of women.
Q6. The Crown Prosecution Service’s legal guidance states that the provision of accommodation in return for sex may be captured by the following legislation – section 52 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (causing or inciting prostitution for gain) and section 53 of the Sexual Offences Act (controlling prostitution for gain). In certain circumstances, the placing of an advert seeking to attract someone into a sex-for-rent arrangement may also be an offence under section 52.
a) What, if any, changes to the criminal legislation do you think are needed to tackle exchanging sexual relations for accommodation?
Prosecution of “sex for rent” under section 52 and 53 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is complicated – as evidenced by the fact that, to our knowledge, there has only been one successful prosecution. This means that this is unlikely to make a significant dent in the practice, given its prevalence (research by Shelter suggests that 30,000 women were propositioned with such arrangements in the nine months from March 2020).
We therefore recommend new offences of (a) advertising or offering such arrangements and (b) coercing someone, including an existing tenant or lodger, into one. The aim should be that they are easy to understand, are not framed around the tenant being or becoming a prostitute, and are simple to prosecute and gain convictions. If accompanied by an effective public information campaign, this would go a considerable way towards changing cultural acceptance of the practice.
As mentioned in our answers to previous questions, there also need to be effective measures to address the lack of affordable safe homes and the poverty and inequality, which make people vulnerable to such arrangements.
c) What concerns, if any, do you have about possible changes to the criminal law in this area?
While we are pleased that the government is taking the proliferation of “sex for rent” arrangements seriously as a form of violence and exploitation of (mainly) women, we are baffled why the government is not taking prostitution as seriously – when all the evidence suggests that prostitution is also increasing and is also a form of violence and exploitation against (mainly) women.
Both “sex for rent” arrangements and prostitution are symptoms of persisting inequality between women and men and they both also contribute to that inequality.
We would therefore argue that alongside changes to clarify the law on “sex for rent”, the government should introduce the Nordic Model approach to prostitution, which decriminalises selling sex and makes paying for sexual activity a crime in order to send out a clear and unambiguous message that prostitution is not acceptable in a modern democratic society and with the aim of reducing the amount of prostitution that happens.
Many women are entering “sex for rent” arrangements and prostitution out of extreme poverty, inequality and a lack of alternatives. So any change in the criminal law that would reduce these options might lead to women being thrown into even worse poverty and even destitution. Such changes to the law must therefore be accompanied by measures to reduce poverty and inequality and to address the housing crisis.
Q7. Section 54 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 defines a ‘prostitute’ as a person (A) who, on at least one occasion and whether or not compelled to do so, offers or provides sexual services to another person in return for payment or a promise of payment to A or a third person; and ‘prostitution’ is to be interpreted accordingly. In subsection (2) and section 53A, ‘payment’ means any financial advantage, including the discharge of an obligation to pay or the provision of goods or services (including sexual services) gratuitously or at a discount.
Do you think there is a need to change this aspect of the criminal law? If so, please provide details on how.
We do not think that these definitions need to change in relation to prostitution. However, we would like to see new criminal offences of advertising/offering “sex for rent” arrangements and coercing someone into one that do not rely on these definitions.
Q8. What, if any, additional protective or preventative measures do you think are necessary to prevent the exploitation and harm associated with the exchange of sexual relations for accommodation?
Creating two new specific offences (of advertising “sex for rent” arrangements and coercing, manipulating or inducing someone into a “sex for rent” arrangement) along with a public information campaign about them, would go a long way to making it clear that these arrangements have no place in a modern democratic society that values and strives for equality.
This would tip the balance of power within the situation somewhat in the renter’s favour. It would also make it clear to renters that if this happens it is a crime committed against them – whereas at the moment, it is easy to somehow feel oneself is to blame.
This would also make it clear to commissioners and providers of services – such as victim support services, and violence against women services – that these are crimes and that victims should be eligible for emergency accommodation, just as victims of domestic violence are.
Q9. To what extent do you agree with the following statement?
The level of support available for people who have exchanged sexual relations for accommodation is adequate.