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In this blog, Catherine Rennie and Lisa Whiting discuss why housing enforcement must be addressed through the Renters (Reform) Bill.

We launched our Community manifesto for health justice in December, which we developed alongside our network of grassroots community organisations and the people they support. In it, we set out priorities for the next government to address health inequalities. One of our key priorities is achieving safe and decent homes which improve health and prevent long-term harm.

Poor housing makes people phyisically ill and has a negative impact on mental health. Having a safe, secure and comfortable home is a critical building block of health. Poor housing conditions are having a drastic impact on people’s health and there are too few solutions for improvement. Too many people are currently forced to live in unsuitable homes that are harming their health. The latest English Housing Survey, released in December, found that over a fifth (21 per cent) of homes in the private rented sector in England fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard. The problem of damp is much worse in private rented homes, with nine percent reported to have a problem in 2022, a significant increase from seven percent in 2019.

We have heard from our funded partners how failures to tackle the damp and mould crisis are directly contributing to respiratory problems; infestations that are left unaddressed are making it impossible for people to live in their homes, and the stress of having to fight for a reasonable place to live is worsening the physical and mental health of households in every corner of Britain.

The current government has an opportunity to address this now. The Renters (Reform) Bill is currently progressing through parliament but has stalled. The Bill includes a set of proposals that if passed, creates the conditions for ensuring that rented homes do not damages health.

We welcome the proposed extension of the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector, as part of the Renters (Reform) Bill, as well as the new regulations brought in through the Social Housing (Regulation) Act in England (Awaab’s Law),

However, whilst the law requires that privately rented homes must be free from serious category 1 hazards, an estimated 12 per cent of privately rented homes in England fail to meet the existing minimum standard. Without changes to the enforcement system, these measures will not improve the lives of people living in the worst conditions in practice.

It is critical that councils have the support to enforce the new measures through sufficient funding, either from central government or through powers to expand local licensing interventions.

We are calling for a long-term strategy for local authorities to fund widespread and equitable housing enforcement, including a review of the current funding system which is failing to ensure local authorities have sufficient capacity. This new strategy with accompanying resources would support local authorities to proactively engage with private landlords and local communities around new regulations and support improvements, alongside stronger enforcement for those deliberately evading standards. The present situation too often requires tenants to bear the risk to ensure their landlords are meeting statutory housing standards. This funding settlement should be accompanied by a new strategy to create a functioning private rented sector that provides people with the decent homes they need.

The Renters (Reform) Bill must not be stalled further, but should also include proper funding and support for housing enforcement or the extension of the Decent Homes Standard risks being another legal requirement on paper that does not benefit tenants in practice.

Catherine Rennie and Lisa Whiting

Catherine Rennie is Communications and Public Affairs Manager and Lisa Whiting is Head of Policy and Research at People's Health Trust.

Street on a hill with city in background