Landlords in the UK are offering young women rooms free of rent in return for sex, a trend that has been growing amid record-high homelessness in Britain.
Renting rooms for sexual favors is seen as a growing risk by homeless charities and campaigners, and a consequence of a housing crisis where young people are unable to find somewhere affordable to live.
The Ministry of Justice says offering accommodation in exchange for sex is illegal and even placing an advert is breaking the law and could result in a seven year jail term.
The problem has become particularly marked in university towns, where young women are targeted by rogue landlords.
Two landlords in Bristol were filmed by hidden cameras in September offering free rent in return for sex, in a sting aimed at exposing the dangers faced by female tenants.
UK Justice Secretary David Lidington last year said such offers may breach the Sexual Offences Act, but there is frustration that more is not being done.
“Since last year, there has not been a single arrest, let alone a conviction, let alone anybody actually going to jail for it,” Peter Kyle, Labour MP for Hove, told the Guardian.
Kyle has called for landlords who offer accommodation in exchange for sex to be prosecuted.
The offending adverts typically offer free room or bed share in exchange for “intimacy”, “benefits” or “fwb” – friends with benefits.
While many appear in London, room shares in exchange for sex are advertised around the country through sites such as Craigslist. “Room available for homeless woman (North London/Essex)”, reads one of a selection from Craigslist.
Campaigners for fair housing have said the “sex for rent” ads have come about as a result of a dysfunctional housing market.
“Some people are desperate for housing. Others have the power to exploit that,” says Kate Webb, head of policy at Shelter, the homeless charity.
Homelessness in Britain has reached a record-high, with more than 170,000 families and individuals experiencing rough sleeping during Christmas, according to a study by the Crisis charity.
The charity released the results of a study on homelessness last week, showing the number of rough sleepers in the country doubled in the past five years.
Homelessness is at its highest rates in central London, with as many as one in 25 without a home in Westminster and one in 27 with nowhere to live in Newham, according to a recent analysis by Shelter.