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DCLG: Review of Property Conditions in the Private-Rented Sector

ACE and Friends of the Earth have long been concerned about the poor standards of energy efficiency (and high concentrations of fuel poor and vulnerable households) in the private rented sector (PRS). The PRS is a rapidly growing part of the housing market. Of the 22.8m households in England in 2011, 4 million were privately rented (17.5% of the housing stock). This was an increase of 1.6m in only six years – and is the highest level since the early 1990s. The Department for Communities and Local Government has issued a review of property conditions in the PRS, and invited stakeholder responses; ACE and Friends of the Earth have provided theirs together.

Compared with the other housing sectors, the PRS has the highest proportion (11%) of the most energy inefficient homes (those in Energy Performance Certificate Bands F and G). By comparison, less than 2% of social housing is F and G rated. This inefficient housing contributes directly to very high levels of fuel poverty – in 2011 nearly half the households living in privately rented F & G homes were in fuel poverty.

Along with Citizens Advice, in 2010/11 ACE and Friends of the Earth led the campaign for the introduction of a minimum energy efficiency standard in the PRS. We were pleased that as a result of our campaigning the Energy Act 2011 placed a duty on the Secretary of State to introduce a minimum standard for private rented housing from April 2018 at the latest. A consultation on the secondary legislation is expected shortly – and there are some key issues that must be addressed and clarified in regulation if the minimum standard is to be both robust and enforceable. By far the most important of these is the need to specify that the minimum standard will be EPC Band E in all cases. Although the discussion document omits to refer to the minimum standard, if introduced properly it has, without doubt, huge potential to transform the living conditions of our most vulnerable citizens. We would therefore urge DCLG to lend their full support to our detailed proposals.

Many of our other concerns about the energy efficiency of the PRS lie firmly within the scope of the discussion document and can be summarised as follows:

  • We are disappointed that the document pays such little heed to the poor energy performance of the PRS, confining itself to one throwaway mention: “The quality of privately rented housing has improved rapidly over the last decade…”. As already noted, the PRS has the highest proportion of the very worst maintained homes and contains large numbers of vulnerable households and those living in fuel poverty. If this backdrop had been properly established in the discussion document, then it would surely have gone on to give much more serious consideration to the problem of retaliatory eviction, the desirability of a landlords’ register and the need to make much better use of the Housing Health & Safety Rating System.
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    We are surprised and disappointed that the idea of a landlords’ register is dismissed so summarily in the document. We have long advocated the establishment of a national or local register of landlords. Reputable landlords would have nothing to fear from such a register – indeed it would constitute an effective means of distributing information to them, not just about their duties, but also the financial mechanisms that are available to help them improve their properties.

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    The Government should urgently amend the Housing Act 1988 to give tenants protection from retaliatory eviction in circumstances where they make requests for (a) repairs or improvements and (b) after 1 April 2016, “reasonable energy efficiency improvements” pursuant to Section 46 of the Energy Act 2011.

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    According to DCLG, “Many Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) are old and highly inefficient in terms of energy use.” It is estimated that there are around 1 million individual HMO units in England – and housing market failure and welfare reform are among the factors pushing more and more vulnerable people into this kind of shared living. We therefore propose a series of legislative changes to help improve the energy performance of HMOs. These are described in detail below.

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    The Housing Health & Safety Rating System (HHSRS) has a potentially significant role to play in improving the energy performance of the PRS housing stock in advance of the introduction of the minimum standard. However, as is well documented, local authorities have not used their HHSRS powers as proactively as they might. In addition to a lack of resource, this has in part been due to a lack of guidance from central Government as to how to assess for the Category 1 hazard of “excess cold” – a problem that has been further exacerbated by inconsistent and confusing rulings by Residential Property Tribunals. As a matter of urgency therefore, we believe that DCLG should issue statutory guidance to local authorities defining F and G properties as automatically constituting a Category 1 hazard.

     

 

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