Thursday, 18 July 2013

Select Committee recognises the need for self-finance to enforce standards in the Private Rented Sector

The Communities and Local Government Select Committee has today published its inquiry into the Private Rented Sector. The report made a number of recommendations about how the sector can be ‘matured’; currently privately renting is the most expensive, the worst in terms of conditions and the most insecure in terms of tenancy contract.

I am incredibly pleased that the Select Committee has recognised the problem that exists with regards to the costs of enforcing housing standards. The report states:
We are concerned about reports of reductions in staff who have responsibility for enforcement and tenancy relations and who have an important role in making approaches to raising standards successful. Given the financial constraints that councils face, it is important to identify approaches to raising standards that will not use up scarce resources. One approach is to ensure that enforcement arrangements pay for themselves and help to fund wider improvement activity. Therefore, where possible, the burden of payment should be placed upon those landlords who flout their responsibilities.
Addressing this point is exactly why I introduced a Bill to the House of Commons yesterday that would open up the selective licensing system and allow local authorities to licence landlords on the basis of poor standards. The Selective Licensing (Housing Standards) Bill would create a system by which landlords could be brought into a fee-paying licensing system that would fund the policing of their industry. I am glad the Select Committee have recognised the importance that enforcement arrangement fund themselves.

Indeed the report goes further and advocates a direct method of recouping costs, which is something I would certainly support:

Neighbourhood approaches could be funded by local authorities recouping costs from landlords whose properties fail to meet minimum standards. We further recommend that the Government initiate a review of the fines imposed by the courts for letting substandard properties, to ensure they act as a sufficient deterrent.
The further recommendations and points made regarding legally enshrined standards are also interesting. According to the 2010 Private Landlords Survey 85% of landlords had not even heard of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System – no wonder there is such a proliferation of bad housing stock up for rent when an absolute majority of landlords are not aware of their responsibilities in terms of standards. The report thus recommends the Government consults on replacing the HHSRS with a simplified set of quality standards – this would raise awareness and tenants would have something to refer to with confidence when disputing the standard of their property with the landlord. I would like this to go further and the consultation to consider the actual content of the standards – there is no justifiable reason that privately rented housing should be legally bound to a lower standard than social housing.

The report does go on to advocate that electrical safety be brought up to the same regulatory level and finally put on par with gas safety. The Electrical Safety Council have been calling for this for some time – and I think many people will find it shocking that there are no laws that guarantee regular safety checks on electrical fittings.

Unfortunately we have the former Minister for Deregulation as Housing Minister in the shape of Mark Prisk. I hope that the Government will see that protecting people from living in dangerous and unfit conditions is not ‘red tape’, it is protection. I cannot think of any other thing that people spend their money on where they pay so much for so little and all within the context of a poor legal framework.