Poor quality privately rented homes cost the NHS £340m each year, according to a new report by the National Audit Office.
The wide-ranging study found that renters often face hazardous conditions and have few ways to assert their rights. It concluded by calling on central and local governments to come up with a clear strategic vision for the private rented sector and to improve dispute resolution mechanisms – including compulsory landlord redress schemes, to give tenants more power to get issues resolved.
Inconsistent enforcement by local councils has created a “postcode lottery” for tenants and allowed rogue landlords’ infractions to go unchecked, noted the NAO. The report also points a finger at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities for adopting piecemeal regulation without an overall vision for the future of the sector, and for failing to collect enough high-quality data to inform good policy.
Privately rented homes are consistently more hazardous than any other type of tenure. According to the latest English Housing Survey released this month, 12% of private rentals contain at least one Category 1 hazard (a serious and immediate risk to a person’s health or safety), compared to 10% of owner-occupied homes and 5% of social rented homes. Over a fifth, 21%, failed to meet the government’s Decent Homes Standard.
Industry, local government and activist groups welcomed the report – although for different reasons. The National Residential Landlords Association called for better enforcement of existing regulation, and for local authorities to focus on rooting out rogues rather than inspecting and licensing compliant landlords. Contrary to that, the Local Government Association has said that councils should receive greater powers to set up tougher local licensing schemes, as well as more money to provide social housing.
The DLUHC has said that it will set out proposals for reform in an upcoming white paper due early next year, and promised stronger regulations to improve conditions and keep tenants safe. And in fact, the sector has already made good progress on improving housing stock. While 12% of privately rented homes now contain a Category 1 hazard, that share is less than half of what it was 10 years ago. If agents, landlords and regulators work together constructively, the sector can reduce it further still – providing higher-quality homes for tenants and saving the NHS some money at the same time.
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