The private rented sector (PRS) is “not good enough”, Shelter’s Deborah Garvie told delegates at the CIEH 13th Housing and Health Conference last week.
With one in four homes considered non-decent, the PRS is “not fit for families to live in”, said Garvie, policy manager at the charity. And she repeated calls for a national landlord register and for the end of no-fault Section 21 evictions in England.
She said: “If you want to go into the business of letting homes, a six-month [or] 12-month tenancy is not a family home by any stretch of the imagination.”
Garvie said the fear of being evicted prevented many renters from complaining of poor conditions, putting up with really “terrible living conditions” and “shocking standards of landlordism”.
This is because, she said, “they just feel that on balance, the alternative would be worse – it means your children are out of the area, long commutes to school, real difficulties in finding a suitable alternative.”
Polling carried out by Shelter, she said, found thousands of people reporting that they felt they were treated unfairly by a landlord or letting agent due to their race, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation or disability.
Garvie also highlighted problems with poor standards in temporary accommodation (TA) despite the often high price local authorities pay for them. She said that silos within local authorities were preventing departments such as homelessness teams from speaking to other parts such as standards and enforcement. And there were elements of not wanting environmental health to see where people are being housed.
Yet these are some of the most vulnerable people, and poor housing standards add to their burden. She said: “When people become homeless, they've usually gone through some sort of terrible trauma that's resulted in the homelessness, leaving a domestic abuse situation, a relationship breakdown, which obviously they're still trying to get over.
“And the children are trying to deal with often the death of one of the parents. And that's why people lose their home because of the sudden drop in income, people battling cancer and other serious illnesses, loss of a job – all very traumatic things in and of themselves, which leads to homelessness.
“So it's people in a very vulnerable state at that point in their lives, although incredibly resilient, being put in these sorts of TA placements.”
PRS reform following the Grenfell Tower fire has still not happened. She said: “Nearly four years after that fire, we need the legislation that will protect social renters.”
Shelter has proposed a separation of regulatory functions: one regulator to deal with economic regulation of housing associations; and another to deal with consumer regulation, focused on making sure these standards were met and raising awareness among consumers of their rights.
It wants to see a consumer regulator with “teeth” that can come in at short notice, “pulling random files, auditing how you're dealing with things. You know, there's nowhere to hide. It's not just self-reporting.”
Garvie thanked the EH profession for their work saying: “The key work of environmental health officers in their community, enforcing housing standards, needs to be recognised. We've had a lot of talk about key and frontline workers in this past year and [it’s] incredibly valuable work that you do.”