House Proud: how councils can raise standards in the private rented sector

lego house, building, housing

A new report from the LGiU and the Electrical Safety Council (ESC) argues that central government should cut red tape to give local authorities greater freedom to enforce standards in the private rented sector (PRS).

The private rented sector is an increasingly important part of the housing market. Over the decade to 2011, the number of households in England and Wales renting privately nearly doubled to reach 3.6 million. At a time when home ownership is a distant prospect for many, the PRS provides a flexible form of housing for significant numbers of people.

But this growth also brings new challenges for the sector.  Private rented housing still falls behind social rented and owner occupied housing by some distance in terms of property conditions, with 35 per cent of PRS properties still failing to meet the government’s Decent Homes Standard. 

House Proud: how councils can raise standards in the private rented sector, suggests that central government bureaucracy is undermining the ability of councils to tackle poor standards PRS more effectively. It calls for central government to give councils the freedom they need to respond flexibly to the needs of their communities.

Recommended measures include:

  • amending the 2004 Housing Act, which currently prevents councils from licensing accommodation on the basis of poor conditions;
  • giving councils more power to recoup the costs of enforcement; and
  • allowing councils to choose to introduce compulsory accreditation.

Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of the LGiU, commented:

“The massive growth of the private rented sector presents a variety of challenges. Whilst the majority of private rented sector properties meet appropriate standards, a minority of landlords actively pursue criminal activity to the detriment of those living in their properties.

“Councils can play a key role in tackling poor standards in the private rented sector, but to do this effectively, they must be freed from central government red tape. There is no one-size-fits-all model. Rather, local authorities must be given the freedom and capacity to respond to the needs and issues in their areas.”

Phil Buckle, Director General of the ESC, added:

“With increasing numbers of people renting privately, it is imperative that proper regulations are in place to ensure their safety. For example, although it’s recognised that electrical accidents cause over half of Great Britain’s domestic fires, landlords are not required to have the electrics in their rented properties checked – or provide tenants with safety certificates. 

“And, while we would like to see additional safety requirements for the PRS at a national level, we wholeheartedly support empowering local councils to address the safety of housing in their areas. We’ve been working with proactive councils such as Newham to discuss their approach to safety in the PRS, and intend to do so more widely.”

The recommendations are based on evidence taken from a survey of 178 councils, and a series of in-depth interviews with local housing teams.

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said that resource was a major barrier to better engagement with the PRS.

However, there is a clear desire for a more proactive relationship, with almost 8 out of 10 respondents stating that they wanted to be more closely involved in the private rented sector in the future.

About the Electrical Safety Council

The Electrical Safety Council (ESC) is a campaigning charity dedicated to preventing deaths, injuries and damage caused by electricity. They promote behaviour change by raising awareness of electrical safety, influencing stakeholders to consider consumer needs and campaigning in areas of risk. For more information about the ESC, go to their website at www.esc.org.uk.

For further information about this piece of research, please contact:

  • Lauren Lucas, Policy Manager, LGiU (lauren.lucas@lgiu.org.uk)
  • Daniel Walker-Nolan, ESC Policy and Research Manager (Daniel.walker-nolan@esc.org.uk) 
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