Tag Archives: housing standards

Three-quarters of UK social housing blocks ‘potentially unsafe in a fire’ according to 2011 Government report

grenfellA report from 2011 warned that almost three-quarters of UK social housing blocks were potentially unsafe in a fire.

Carried out when Grant Shapps was Housing and Local Government Minister, the 2011 survey revealed that 75 per cent of managers responsible for maintaining social housing buildings were not certain their blocks had undergone a proper fire risk assessment.

The latest revelations on government inaction over safety standards in social housing follows additional reports that a review of building regulations covering fire safety was promised by former Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell last year but not published.

Mr Barwell, recently appointed chief of staff for Theresa May, told MPs in October that part B of the regulations would be reviewed following the investigation into the fatal 2009 Lakanal House fire in Camberwell which killed six people.

The review was never published and fire safety experts claimed the Government’s desire to cut red tape could have prevented ministers introducing new safety measures.

Mr Barwell, who was housing minister at the time, told the House Commons: “We have publicly committed ourselves to reviewing part B following the Lakanal House fire.”

Government drive to reduce regulation

Former chief fire officer Ronnie King, honorary secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety and rescue, said the regulations “badly need updating” and “three successive ministers have not done it”.

Speaking to the Press Association Mr King said: “It’s sad that we always have to go to stable-door legislation.

“Lakanal House wasn’t enough deaths to trigger off a major public inquiry. It just went to an inquest, there was no formal report on it.”

Mr King also suggested that a Government drive to cut red tape – by insisting that three regulations are removed for every new one created – should be reconsidered when it comes to fire safety.

Asked why he thought the review of building regulations had not been produced, he said: “My own thinking is there was the red tape challenge and they don’t really want to put regulation on to businesses, adding a burden.

“It’s one of those that if you bring in a new regulation, you have got to give three up to get it.”

Asked if he thought the red tape challenge was putting people at risk, he said: “I think where fire safety is concerned, it ought to be reconsidered, this ‘one in, three out’.”

“Buildings like the one today over 30 metres [Grenfell Tower], when they are new, would require fire suppression installed. But there are 4,000 older tower blocks in the UK that don’t have sprinklers.

“There are people who would argue that it’s too costly and there are other measures that could have been done but it’s a fact that people don’t die in sprinkler buildings.”

Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group, said the Government has resisted calls to install sprinkler systems in high-rise blocks.

Prior warnings

Astoundingly despite an all-parliamentary group’s recommendation that sprinklers be fitted to older buildings this appears not to have been acted on. Following the Lakanal House fire, the coroner,Judge Frances Kirkham, wrote to the government recommending that it “encourage providers of housing in high-rise residential buildings” to “consider the retrofitting of sprinkler systems”.

Mr Fitzpatrick, who was a firefighter for 20 years, told LBC: “We’ve been pressing for fire sprinkler systems in buildings where we think it’s appropriate – certainly over a height level and in places where there is vulnerability, care homes and in schools – and Government has been resisting that for some time.”

Many fire safety experts have warned that chronic under-investment in social housing over several decades has left hundreds of blocks of flats unsafe, with councils and other housing suppliers unable to afford the hundreds of millions of pounds it would take to bring them up to standard.

 

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North East councils prosecute only one landlord following 6,297 private rental complaints

Complaints_boxA campaigning letting agent has discovered that only one landlord has been successfully prosecuted by North East councils following a tenant complaint between 2014 and 2016.

The shocking statistic was discovered by Ajay Jagota, the director of the letting agency KIS using Freedom of Information requests submitted to Tyne and Wear local authorities.
Mr Jagota found that a total of 6,297 complaints about the condition of privately rented properties or the behaviour of landlords were received in the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 yet only Sunderland council has brought a successful prosecution against a landlord during the period.

Newcastle recorded the highest number of complaints which rose from 1,007 in 2014 to 1,127 in 2016 – a rise of eight per cent. Sunderland saw claims fall from 509 in 2014 to 2090 last year. Gateshead and North Tyneside both saw complaint numbers fall from 2014 to 2015 but rising again in 2016.

South Tyneside council refused to supply the information, claiming that although it holds the information it would take an officer 18 hours to retrieve it, what the authority describes as “substantial effort and disproportionate exercise of trawling”.

“To put these figures into context, every day in every local authority in Tyne and Wear at least one person complains about the condition of their rented home– yet only one rogue landlord has been convicted in three years” says Jagota, who is also founder of deposit replacement insurance product Dlighted.

“A large amount of these complaints will of course be vexatious, unreasonable or more effectively resolved informally, but nonetheless no-one can look at these figures and say the system works” he says.

“With a General Election under way, all the main political parties are making a pitch to voters who rent but despite my own affiliations I have a sense that the proposed policies are just tinkering around the edges when more profound reform is needed.

“It’s critical for all good operators in the private rented sector that the rogues are brought to task and the only way that can happen is that the local authority execute the powers invested in them and ensure they take action when complaints are made.”

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Average of only one rogue landlord per council is prosecuted each year according to Parliament figures.

Eviction Notice

An average of only one rogue landlord per council is prosecuted each year according to Parliament figures.

Speaking in a debate about the Housing and Planning Bill, the Labour MP Karen Buck claimed that over the last eight years only 2,000 landlords have been prosecuted for housing disrepair across the whole of the UK. The low number of landlord prosecutions stands in sharp contrast with the estimated 700,000 privately rented properties which have a category one hazard which include faulty electrics, damp and broken boilers.

The figures were presented in a debate about standards in the Private Rented Sector in February. During the session, Ms Buck asked the Government’s Planning Minister, Brandon Lewis, whether the low number of landlord prosecutions provided irrefutable evidence that local authorities lack the resources to investigate cases of housing disrepair.

Mr Lewis was also asked whether laws should be passed to allow tenants to take civil action against rogue landlords when their properties are unfit for human habitation. In response Mr Lewis claimed that the proposed Housing and Planning Bill would give councils extra resources to improve housing conditions. It was also stated that councils would be permitted to issue civil penalties against landlords of up to £30,000 and issue rent payment orders for up to 12 months’ rent.

Also participating in the debate was the Labour MP Tulip Siddiq who asserted that many of her constituents who rent privately have reported being the victim of revenge evictions. This comes despite the practice being made illegal for rental agreements signed since 1st October 2015.

Revenge evictions still a problem

Revenge or retaliatory eviction is where a landlord threatens to evict a tenant for requesting repairs or complaining about conditions in their home. It often this affects private tenants with assured shorthold tenancy (AST) agreements since they are the easiest to evict. ASTs are currently the most common type of tenancy agreement in the UK and is usually the default contract type for private sector renters.

Despite the new revenge eviction laws, many private tenants are worried that if they complain too much they will be evicted. Furthermore, figures gathered by Radio 1 Newsbeat through Freedom of Information requests show that more than half of local councils across England have not used their new powers under the revenge eviction law. Tightening of council budgets is also claimed to be a further impediment to investigating housing complaints. The Housing Law Practitioners Association is also concerned that the way the law is designed is too complicated.

The extent of the housing crisis comes as data show that private sector rented housing is the most expensive and has the lowest standards of any housing type.  According to Parliament reports, private renters now spend an average of 49% of their income on rent despite nearly one-in-three privately rented houses failing to meet minimum government housing standards.

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Nine out of Ten Private Renters In London Have Experienced Serious Problems While Renting

for_saleNine out of 10 of London’s private renters have experienced at least four serious problems during their tenancy, including electrical faults, incomplete repairs and lost deposits. The survey commissioned by the Green Party London Assembly Member Sian Berry, asked 1,530 Londoners about their experiences, with nearly 70% of respondents writing in to share their stories. 

The results corroborate previous reports conducted by the Housing Charity Shelter which in 2014 found 61% of renters had experienced damp, mould, a leaking roof or window, electrical hazards, animal infestation or a gas leak in the previous twelve months.

Private renters often tolerate poor conditions due to the fear of retaliatory (also known as revenge) eviction. Many renters for example fear possible rent increases if they move or do not wish to provide their landlord with a justification for increasing the rent. In high-demand areas, landlords are able to evict tenants without reason and with just two months’ notice.

The recent law banning of revenge evictions  for tenancies starting after 1st October 2015 was hoped to give renters additional protection from eviction. However, many tenants are unaware of their rights. Moreover, the current revenge eviction legislation heavily depends on the tenant to negotiate with their landlord about disrepair before informing the council.

Very often cases are not investigated by local authorities due to lack of council funds and resources.  A recent study conducted by London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon found that the ratio of environmental health inspections to number of private rented sector homes was as high as one in ten in Greenwich, but only one in 689 in Lewisham.

Figures gathered by Radio 1 Newsbeat through Freedom of Information requests show that more than half of local councils across England haven’t used their powers to investigate revenge evictions.

The magnitude of the problems facing the private rented sector were further corroborated by the Living Home Standard report produced by the housing charity Shelter. The report which asked 1,691 adults about their homes, assessed the affordability, neighbourhood, stability and living conditions of private renters.

It concluded affordability to be the biggest issue, saying people should “thrive” in homes, not just “get by”. It also found 24% of people were unable to save after paying their rent or mortgage each month. A further 23% would struggle if their rent or mortgage costs rose. 18% said they had to regularly cut back on food or heating to meet escalating housing costs, with 20% having to sacrifice social activities to meet the bills.

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Nearly 30 per cent of Privately Rented Properties in Britain Fail to Meet Minimum government Housing Standards

poor housing renters alliance

Nearly thirty per cent of privately rented properties in the United Kingdom fail to meet the  British Government’s minimum property standards. Perhaps more alarmingly a research paper published last year by the House of Commons research department admitted that since 2006 there has effectively been no minimum property standards for private rented housing in England.

Although there are rules which govern the actions of private landlords in the UK which include repairing obligations, these are virtually impossible to police by local government housing officers. Currently the enforcement of housing standards in England and Wales is carried out using a risk-assessment based regulatory model which replaced the Housing Fitness Standard in 2006.

According to the British Parliament research report, the private rented sector has the worst standards of any rental property type. Twenty-nine per cent of privately rented properties would fail to meet minimum standards compared with fourteen per cent of social housing. Furthermore, the report states that since the abolition of the Housing Fitness Standard “there have effectively been no minimum property standards for rented housing in England.”

Since the 1980s proportion of the UK population who are homeowners has declined steeply as new house building has failed to keep pace with population increases.  At the same time,  Britain’s private rented property sector has been largely deregulated in a process begun under the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Prior to this UK local government authorities maintained large numbers of properties which were let to the public on long-term letting contracts.  The government’s holdings of this housing stock has been reduced greatly as many properties have sold to the public leaving the property rental sector increasingly dominated by private landlords.

The seriousness of the housing crisis in the UK is often the subject of debate in the British Parliament. In February the London MP Karen Buck claimed that nearly 750,000 properties in London have a category one hazard which includes excess cold, fire hazards, asbestos and carbon monoxide among other risks. Ms Buck also added that despite the severity of poor and dangerous housing standards in the British capital, only 250 landlords had been prosecuted for poor housing per year over the last eight years across the UK.

There have been several attempts to introduce minimum housing regulations in Parliament. In late 2015 Ms Buck proposed a “Fitness for Human Habitation Bill” to require that residential rented accommodation be provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation. This proposal however failed to progress past the second reading stage and was dropped from Parliament’s schedule.

In addition to the effective lack of private rental housing standards, council authorities in the UK are also struggling to deal with complaints about poor housing. Last year in the House of Lords the Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Bakewell, revealed that in 2012-13 little over half of housing complaints resulted in a council inspection. Of the 62,818 complaints received over the time period, only 31,634 inspections were carried out. This resulted in only 1,645 improvement notices being served, 2.6% of the total number of complaints. The most common categories of hazards and faults identified in inspections were: damp and mould, excess cold, overcrowding, falling hazards and fire.

Besides having the lowest property standards, privately rented properties are the most expensive housing type in the UK. Private renters now spend an average of 47% of their income on rent compared with 23% of the income of people with a mortgage and 32% for those in the social rented sector. These findings come as 11 million people now rent privately in the UK, a figure which has almost doubled in the last decade and is set to increase to around 22 million by 2030.

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Private Rental Sector has Lowest Property Standards

Private rental sector has highest percentage of home unfit for human habitation

The private rental sector in England has the highest proportion of poor property standards of any tenure type according to a research  published in Parliament.  This finding follows the 2014/15 English Housing Survey which found that 29% of private rented properties would fail the Government’s decent homes standard for social housing, compared to 14% of social housing.

Despite numerous regulations in the private letting sector which govern repairs and maintenance requirements such as the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, a risk-assessment based regulatory model introduced in 2006, there are effectively no minimum property standards for rented housing in England.

The parliamentary report on the state of housing in England follows recent failed attempts to establish minimum housing criteria such as a Private Member’s Bill proposed by Karen Buck, the member of Parliament for Westminster North.

The proposed Fitness for Human Habitation Bill  sought to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to require that residential rented accommodation be provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation, was adjourned on its second reading debate on 16th October 2015.

 

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Government Considers Letting Agent Regulation Adequate

government-considers-letting-agent-regulation-unnecessary

The Government considers current regulation of private sector letting and managing agents adequate according to a recently published House of Commons Research note.

According to the briefing there is “no overarching statutory regulation of private sector letting or managing agents in England or any legal requirement for them to belong to a trade association, although many letting and managing agents submit to voluntary regulation” despite the rapid growth in the private rental sector over the past two decades.

Furthermore, the Government plans to improve the quality of the rental sector by increasing the range of powers available under consumer protection legislation and has no intention of introducing regulation.

The Government does not intend to introduce regulation in the sector and has pointed instead to the existing range of available powers under consumer protection legislation. However, an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 enabled the Government to require agents to sign up to a redress.

This comes as private motions in Parliament have been heard recently in relation to regulating letting agent fees which one Conservative MP described as “an opportunity to fleece tenants”.

The research note states that the Government considers that the present legal framework strikes the right balance between landlords and tenants and that new regulations would “introduce too much additional red tape”.

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Less than 3% of Housing Disrepair Complaints Enforced

letting-agent-fee-cap-house-of-lords

The lack of resources available to local authorities to deal with housing disrepair in the private letting sector was exposed yesterday in the House of Lords.

According to the Liberal Democrat Baroness Bakewell, housing complaints totaled 62,818 in 2012-13 which resulted in only 31,634 inspections by local authorities.  Astoundingly, only 1,645 improvement notices were served over the same period. The most common categories of hazards and faults identified in inspections were: damp and mould, excess cold, crowding and space, falling hazards and fire. The powerlessness of many renters is exacerbated by out-of-date legislation whereby  tenants can take action themselves only if their rent is less than £80 a year in London and £52 a year elsewhere.

These findings come as 11 million people now live in private rented accommodation in England, a figure which has almost doubled in the last decade and is set for further increases.

The Baroness claims that Parliamentary research indicated that  30% of private rented properties in England would fail the Government’s decent homes standard. This is almost double the 15% in the social rented sector. Also, despite having the lowest average property standards, the private rental sector is the most expensive housing option.  Private renters now spend an average of 47% of their income on rent compared with 23% of the income of people with a mortgage and 32% of the income for those in the social rented sector.

The Baroness’ comments were made during a committee reading of the Housing and Planning Bill which would establish a database of rogue landlords and letting agents and strengthen the enforcement of pre-existing legislation in the private rental sector among other measures.

 

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MP Reports only 27% of Poor Housing Reports Investigated by Authorities

houses-of-parliament

Karen Buck, the Member of Parliament for Westminster North has announced that only 14,000 of a total of 51,316 complaints made to councils about poor housing were subjected to a local authority environmental health assessment in 2014.  Ms Buck, has also claimed that on average councils prosecuted only one rogue landlord each year.

The figures were presented in a debate about standards in the Private Rented Sector on February 6th during which Ms Buck asked  whether the statistics provided irrefutable evident that local authorities lack the resources to investigate cases of housing disrepair.

On being asked what measured the Government proposes to adopt to tackle rogue landlords, the Government’s Minister for Housing and Planning, Brandon Lewis, claimed that enabling councils to issue civil penalties amounting to up to £30,000 and remedy payment orders for up to 12 months proposed under the Housing and Planning Bill would give councils extra resources to improve housing conditions.

Also participating in the debate was the Labour Member for Hampstead and Kilburn, Tulip Siddiqm who claimed that many of his constituents who rent privately have reported being the victim of revenge evictions despite the banning of retaliatory eviction in 2015.

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