We are seeing lots of government activity around housing, reflecting the activism of the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove MP. The picture is complex, however, and the future is shrouded in uncertainty.
This blog highlights key aspects of this activity for EHPs, including developments around the Renters (Reform) Bill, the Decent Homes Standard review and the HHSRS review, and reflects on our work across these areas.
Renters (Reform) Bill
The Renters (Reform) Bill was published in May. We welcomed in principle the proposal for a ban on no-fault evictions and, having long campaigned for a national register of landlords, the proposal for a new Property Portal, but need much more information about how these proposals will be delivered in practice.
An important omission from the Bill is the proposal in last year’s private rented sector white paper to extend the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector (PRS). We understand, however, that the Government still intends to introduce an amendment to the Bill that will give it the power to implement this proposal.
At present the Bill has been delayed and we do not have a date for its second reading in the commons. There is only a brief opportunity left for the second reading to happen before the end of the current parliamentary session. The Government still appears to be committed to the Bill, but a worry remains that it could be allowed to drift until time runs out before the next general election. We will be keeping a close eye on the situation in conjunction with our partners in the Renters Reform Coalition.
Decent Homes Standard review
The Decent Homes Standard review is a long-running review of a standard that has been in place for around 17 years in the social rented sector. Following a consultation last year on applying it to the PRS, the review team at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has recently been engaging with stakeholders in both the social rented sector and the PRS. It seems that the conclusion of the review will initially affect only the social rented sector but will then be applied to the PRS. A consultation on the new proposals will be launched this Autumn. We look forward to responding to it.
In the meantime, we have managed to get the review team at DLUHC to hold a special sounding board meeting on the standard with members of our Housing Advisory Panel. Following this, we held our own panel meeting to develop our comments on the pre-consultation proposals from the review team (which are not currently in the public domain and are not currently government policy).
We have reiterated our view that the various standards should be consolidated to provide clarity for landlords, tenants and local authorities. We think there is a strong case for bringing them together within a single standard. We are concerned that adding more requirements to the legislation affecting the PRS may cause more confusion. We are also concerned about the creation of an additional layer of enforcement obligations for which local authorities do not have enough overall resources or enough EHPs, and we believe that DLUHC should at least set out a strategic vision for the enforcement framework that can inform reviews of individual standards.
We believe that, if there is going to be a Decent Homes Standard, it should refer to the risk-based Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). We also oppose the creation of a new standalone damp and mould standard because it would involve duplication of existing standards and produce additional confusion for tenants.
DLUHC has now published a summary report from the HHSRS review. Key changes referred to in the report include reducing the total number of hazards assessed from 29 to 21 and producing a simpler means of banding the results of assessments. Indicative baselines will be published to make it easier for landlords and tenants to understand the system. The report is short on detail, however. For that, we will have to wait for the new operating guidance and new worked examples.
With regard to the timescale for implementation, we should bear in mind that the conclusions of the HHSRS review need to be brought into force by regulations that require parliamentary approval. These regulations will not be introduced until after the conclusion of the Decent Homes Standard review. Given that the consultation on the new proposals for the Decent Homes Standard is not being launched until this Autumn, it seems very unlikely that implementation of the HHSRS review will take place before April 2024.
A lot could happen in the meantime. The Government could decide it wants to make further changes – although this would require more consultation with stakeholders – and, of course, we could have a change of Government. Although Labour brought in the HHSRS, the future of the system might not be a top political priority for an incoming Labour government. So, overall, we probably need to get used to carrying on with the HHSRS as it is for the moment.
Asylum seeker accommodation
We have authorised Zena Lynch, a member of our Housing Advisory Panel who is also an Honorary Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Risk Management at the University of Birmingham, to provide witness evidence on our behalf in a judicial review of draft regulations exempting accommodation for asylum seekers from HMO licensing requirements. This is a claim being pursued by lawyers who were involved in the recent successful challenge to the Government’s Rwanda policy.
We are very concerned about the regulations and have a unique perspective as the body representing the people responsible for HMO licensing enforcement. So, it is important for us to make our voice heard on this issue.
New damp and mould guidance
We have welcomed the publication by the Government of new damp and mould guidance with environmental health input. The guidance has been developed in response to the Coroner’s Prevention of Future Deaths report following the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak. A member of our Housing Advisory Panel, Ian Sanders, served as our nominee on a key government advisory group that provided expert input into the development of this guidance. Ian has been a Principal EHO specialising in housing for twenty years.
Ian has provided outstanding input into the development of this guidance. We are delighted that he was able to utilise his on-the-ground experience and to reflect the perspective of EHPs in this important work. He was able to serve on the group in virtue of his membership of a CIEH advisory panel. This illustrates the crucial role of these panels in providing opportunities for our members to have real influence in government.