Rented homes dangerous

by Daphne Liddle

AROUND one million private rented homes in Britain are in such a poor state they are dangerous according to a survey published last week by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH).

The CIEH has warned the number of dangerously substandard privately rented homes is set to rise, citing a lack of social housing, and cuts to housing benefit and legal aid.

Councils say they are doing what they can to tackle the problem but argue clear, workable legislation is needed. But they increasingly have to direct people into the private rented sector in order to bring down waiting lists for social housing.

The Government claims that more red tape would harm tenants’ interests. Local authorities in England have said their hands are tied because proposals they thought were going to help the situation — such as a national landlords’ register — have been scrapped by the coalition government.

The CIEH said unscrupulous landlords were exploiting the lack of rented accommodation, and there were fears that cuts in housing benefit could make the situation worse and force tenants to live in unsafe buildings, often with exposed electrics, mould and damp.

Government figures show 1.5 million — nearly half of all privately rented homes in England — were substandard, with one million classified as dangerous to live in.

Meanwhile in Scotland there is landlord registration, designed to help councils monitor private landlords. And the Welsh Assembly has powers over housing through the Local Government and Housing Legislative Competence Order.

The number of people renting a home has soared by 40 per cent during the past five years as low levels of house building and the mortgage drought have prevented potential buyers from getting on to the property ladder.

About 3.4 million households were living in privately rented accommodation during 2009/10, up from 2.4 million in 2005, according to the English Housing Survey.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said: “With a chronic shortage of social housing and millions priced out of the housing market, the reality is that renting is fast becoming the only option for more and more people.

“Yet despite increasing numbers of families being forced to rent their homes, the sector continues to have the worst standards of any type of housing.

“We are extremely concerned that the huge influx of people into rented accommodation could lead to an imbalance between supply and demand for properties, with the most vulnerable tenants having no other choice but to rent from landlords with a bad reputation.”

The survey also showed that people renting social housing paid an average of £75 in rent a week, less than half the £153 paid by people in the private rented sector in 2009/2010.

The Con-Dem Coalition cut the housing budget by 50 per cent last October. And figures last month revealed the number of new homes completed in England last year was 102,570 — the lowest level since 1923 and down 13 per cent on 2009.

Stephen Battersby of the CIEH said that improving substandard private rented housing could boost public health and wellbeing and reduce the strain on the NHS.

He said: “Poor housing conditions are putting the health and wellbeing of millions of people in this country at risk. What makes this situation even more worrying is local authorities are cutting budgets leading to reduced financial assistance (grants or loans) for maintenance and repairs and low levels of enforcement action against neglectful landlords.

“This affects some of the most vulnerable people in the community, such as the old and people on low incomes: those least able to fight for a better deal. Poor housing is a major cause of ill health in the UK. This country’s statistics on excess winter deaths and falls compare poorly with many of our European partners.”