AT first glance, it looks like a brilliant get-rich-quick wheeze – buy up seven properties in one go, rent them out, then keep hiking up the rent and watch the profits roll in.

“That’s rich” declared yesterday’s Daily Mirror as it reported on the business manoeuvres of the Chancellor, just two days ahead of his Autumn Statement in the House of Commons. A carefully worded strapline announced this “Tory Hunt Exclusive”.

The Mirror has worked with activist group Led By Donkeys to find out how much rent Jeremy Hunt – or at least, the limited company he co-owns with his wife – has been charging for properties at a luxury development in Southampton.

The headline finding is that rent for one of them soared by 18% over the summer, more than twice the rate of inflation. However, the detail of the story is even worse.

Mare Pond Properties Limited didn’t simply put up the rent from £1700 to more than £2000 per month – although this would have been jarring enough at a time when Hunt was demanding “sacrifices from everyone” following the economic havoc wreaked by Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng.

No, what happened was a bidding war that pitted prospective tenants against each other to pump up the rent as high as possible.

As the UK’s housing crisis has worsened, bidding wars for rental properties have become common.

A survey by Generation Rent of its supporters found evidence of a dramatic rise in the practice, with 21% of those who moved home in 2023 being invited to bid, up from 16% in 2022 and compared to just 3% of those who moved in 2018 or earlier.

The experience of trying to find a rented home is now not just demoralising but also frequently degrading, too.

An Edinburgh-based woman interviewed by STV last year told of a group flat viewing which concluded with seven viewers being ushered outside and into a semi-circle around the landlord and invited to bid against each other.

“I said out loud, ‘This is so uncomfortable’ and walked away,” she told Scotland Tonight. “Having a house should be treated as a human right, not as something we have to bid or beg for.”

Presumably Hunt isn’t concerned about the dignity of those seeking to rent properties like the ones he owns. Or at least, he is less concerned about that than raking in as much as possible in rent. Is that because he is greedy, or because he is philanthropic?

The Chancellor’s spokesman has insisted all profits from Mare Pond Properties are donated to charity, but was less forthcoming about the size of those profits or specific charities that have benefited to date.

Led By Donkeys presented an interesting conundrum in the video it released to coincide with the Mirror’s exclusive story.

Having rightly highlighted the contradiction between the Chancellor’s apparent earnings from his flats and his calls for British workers to just suck up low pay and high prices, it asked: “What kind of pay rise has the Chancellor awarded himself?”

While the headline figures might lead someone watching the first few minutes to conclude that Hunt and his wife were personally pocketing £150,000 a year, the video’s closing comments suppose the profits really are being donated.

Noting the properties were bought with nearly £4 million in loans, it states that “after interest payments, service charges and other costs it’s unclear how much – if any – might be left over that ends up going to charity”.

If these costs might eat up much of the profit that could potentially be given away, they could equally eat into any profits Hunt might be keeping for himself.

It’s far too simplistic to conclude that the rent paid to any landlord – even one who owns his properties outright – represents pure profit, although a too-simple calculation of “rent minus mortgage equals profit” is doubtless made by some who aspire to be property magnates.

The question then is why, if we take his claims at face value, the Chancellor would see fit to take on such a large amount of debt but not keep any of the profits from his investments. Potential answers to that are more disturbing than the non-shocking front-page news that a member of a Tory government is a) greedy and b) a raging hypocrite.

Hunt is surely playing the long game, banking on these properties representing a good investment over time. He might be raking in sky-high rents just now, but what if the current housing crisis was to be eased over the next few years, with major measures taken to ensure supply meets demand?

Isn’t it clear that Hunt is banking on his own government – or indeed, the Labour one that replaces it – failing to bring about a housing revolution that ensures everyone who needs a home to rent can afford one, without grovelling to a landlord or letting agent or having to pay whatever it takes?

No wonder he has stonewalled attempts to gain further information about what exactly he’s up to. Whatever the truth of the matter, you can guarantee the man who is supposed to be managing the UK’s finances will always prioritise looking after his own.