Posted by: Tom Lloyd05/06/2012
There was a brief flurry of excitement after Grant Shapps’ speech at the Chartered Institute of Housing’s annual conference last year when it looked like he’d promised tougher standards for the private rented sector.
During a question and answer session after his speech the housing minister said he would not ‘let the private sector be a poor quality alternative to the high quality social rented sector’.
This naturally led to a few more questions to be followed up after the event. What was the minister referring to? Were more standards going to be introduced? Who was going to police them? How did this fit in with wider government policy to slash red tape and regulation?
What the minister was talking about, it later emerged, was standards for private properties that councils use when discharging their duty to house people who would otherwise be homeless.
Under the Localism Act – as it has since become – people presenting to councils as homeless cannot refuse accommodation in the private rented sector. If they do so they are regarded as intentionally homeless, and the council is absolved of its responsibilities.
This change in law clearly required some kind of safeguards regarding the private rented sector homes that could be used, and this materialised last week in the form of a Communities and Local Government department consultation on an order governing the ‘suitability of accommodation’ used under the Act.
Broadly speaking, it is all very sensible stuff. Landlords must have a current gas safety record, ensure appliances and furnishings comply with fire and safety standards, take precautions around carbon monoxide, and offer 12 month tenancies with a written agreement ‘that the local authority considers adequate’.
There is also a section in the consultation designed to stop councils placing families a long distance away from their local area, which the minister promised to introduce after it emerged some London boroughs were looking to house people hundreds of miles away from the capital.
The only problem is these standards will only apply to a minority of private rented sector homes, and landlords who don’t meet the requirements can simply avoid taking on homeless people.
In the CLG press release that accompanied the consultation Mr Shapps was once again talking about ensuring ‘vulnerable families have this reassurance whether they’re placed in the private or social rented sector’, but these proposals will only provide the protection in a small number of cases.
If the government really wants to get to grips with the private rented sector it must look at tougher standards across the board, and a mechanism for enforcement. Unless it does so Mr Shapps’ pledges will continue to sound a little hollow.
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