DCLG has issued a consultation on suitability of accommodation in satisfaction of the main homelessness duty. It addresses two issues: the grant of an AST in the private rented sector; and the location of accommodation. The former is much more interesting to be honest, although the latter has been more politically controversial.
Suitability and the PRS
DCLG has always been clear that it has no intention of altering the security of tenure regime or placing greater burdens on private landlords. Yet Shapps made some comments at last year’s CIH conference about tighter controls on landlords when they were used to discharge the main homelessness duty, although those controls did not appear in the Localism Act. The consultation sets out in pretty uncompromising terms the offer that is being made to private landlords:
Private landlords will benefit from the changes that allow authorities to end the main duty in the private rented sector and will not be required to let to homeless households. If they choose to do so, they will make a market-based decision on whether the benefits of additional tenants outweigh the costs of meeting any additional requirements.
This is almost old leftie speak (at least for Shapps anyway) and the Order makes a number of regulatory requirements related to the property and the landlord and management. Much of the policy rationale for these requirements is dependent on the basis that the homeless household is likely to be vulnerable, have limited choice, be less able to move to an alternative property and is unlikely to complain given their limited “bargaining” power. The impact assessment notes that the regulations are required because “Existing legislative protections were not considered to provide sufficient protection that low quality private rented accommodation would not be used by local authorities, particularly given the vulnerability of some of the households”. It is also of interest that the impact assessment has no real grasp of how much use will be made of the PRS – it suggests 18,000 households per year, but the range is between 6,000-36,000 households.
As regards the property: (a) while not going as far as requiring a full HHSRS assessment, it requires consideration to be given to whether the property is of a reasonable physical condition in determining suitability – there is a concern that DCLG suggest that the assessment could be made by letting agents (who are, of course, unregulated); (b) health and safety requirements are met in relation to gas, leccy, furniture and furnishings, as well as the installation of a carbon monoxide alarm; (c) if the property is an HMO, it will not be suitable if it isn’t registered.
As regards the landlord: the landlord will be required to show that they are a fit and proper person (so the authority “will be required to consider any convictions in relation to landlord and tenant law, fraud or other dishonesty, violence or drugs as well as any discrimination and/or sexual offences”) and can require a criminal records bureau check where there are good grounds for doing so.
As regards management: the landlord will have to provide an energy performance certificate, a written tenancy agreement (a small victory for the reformers), and the guidance will remind landlords of the need to protect the tenancy deposit.
So, interesting stuff and a victory for those pressure groups, including in particular Shelter, which lobbied Parliament on this issue. But I think it’s interesting by way of reflection on the regulation of the broader PRS itself – homeless households represent one particular sub-section of households who obtain PRS accommodation; other households may be similarly vulnerable, have practically little (if any) choice, less able to move, and unlikely to complain (see, for example, the retaliatory eviction campaign). So, the real question is why stop with Part 7 applicants?
Suitability and Location
We haven’t blogged on this issue, although others have done so (see the brilliant Jules Birch, http://julesbirch.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/the-many-more-faces-of-grant-shapps/; a selection of newspaper articles can be viewed by tapping “Newham Stoke” into a search engine, but as various tweeters and others acknowledged, this wasn’t exactly a Newham problem and tory boroughs, especially Westminster, were exporting homeless households). Shapps got into a bit of a pickle about it – having complained that this Labour council was playing politics and being generally outrageous, the issues then turned around on him when tory boroughs were found to be doing the same things (predictable), HB caps, benefit caps, and (the unmentionable) rent regulation/control.
But what is Shapps to do? The consultation document indicates that he has got no idea at all but is inclined to create a further suitability SI to strengthen the weight given by authorities to location, balancing location needs against affordability, taking into account the following: distance of the accommodation from the applicant’s previous home; disruption to the employment, caring responsibilities, or education of members of the household; access to amenities such as transport, shops and other necessary facilities; and established links with schools, doctors, social workers and other key services and support essential to the well-being of the household.
I suspect he’s hoping that this issue will just go away.