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An MP is calling for landlords who offer accommodation in exchange for sex to be prosecuted after the justice secretary told him such arrangements were already a criminal offence.

A BBC investigation found that some landlords were targeting vulnerable young people with "sex-for-rent" deals.

They argued there was no compulsion on people to respond to such adverts.

But Justice Secretary David Lidington has revealed that such offers may breach the Sexual Offences Act.

Landlords that BBC South East spoke to in April said they did not believe they were breaking the law, with one describing the deals as a "sex with benefits" arrangement.

'Incredibly significant'

But Hove MP Peter Kyle pledged to force website operators to ban "exploitative" adverts.

He took the case to the Ministry of Justice and has now been told by Mr Lidington that "such acts/arrangements are already a criminal offence in England and Wales by virtue of the Sexual Offences Act 2003".

Mr Lidington said in a letter: "Taken together, these [provisions] essentially mean that an offence is committed when a person offers accommodation in return for sex, as they are inciting/causing another person to have sex with them in return for 'payment'."

Adverts seen by BBC South East included one posted by a Maidstone man asking for a woman to move in and pretend to be his girlfriend, another publicising a double room available in Rochester in exchange for "services" and one in Brighton targeting younger men.

Tenants said they feared they would lose their accommodation if they did not comply with requests for sex.

But Mr Lidington's letter suggests police already have the weapons to take action against landlords imposing such demands on tenants and says the offence carries a prison sentence of up to seven years.

Labour MP Mr Kyle said: "This is an incredibly significant moment, and it's going to protect vulnerable people enormously.

"Right now there are people out there advertising accommodation in return for sex. I want to see them prosecuted; I want to see them go through the courts process; I want to see them convicted, and I want to see them go to jail."

Balbir Chatrik, director of policy at Centrepoint homeless charity, added: "These landlords need to know this is not acceptable and they need to feel the full force of the law if they resort to these kind of adverts."

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