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Plus ca change

By J

One day, at some stage before I retire from blogging, I would like to write a good news story about the regulation of the private rented sector in England. But today is not that day. For I have spent the afternoon reading “Regulation of Private Renting” by the Public Accounts Committee. And what a depressing read it is.

The Committee notes that the PRS in England has doubled in size over the last 20 years and now houses 11 million people. Some 13% of PRS properties contain a Category 1 Hazard (HHSRS; Housing Act 2004), which means there is something about the property (damp, cold, etc) which poses a “serious threat” to the health and safety of tenants. And this harms not just the tenants, but the whole of society. And that is because the cost to the NHS of dealing with the effects of poor housing is a staggering £340m each year.

In a conclusion which willl come as a surprise to precisely no-one who reads this blog, the Committee conclude that regulation and enforcement activity by local authorities is piecemeal and inconsistent. The matter is not helped by the government which is “not proactive enough” in supporting authorities and has no real idea of what level of financial support they require.

The scale of the task to create effective regulation is truly daunting and the current government – indeed, successive governments over my entire career – have shown little to no interest in what is required. Sometimes I just want to weep for the sheer desperation of at all.



J is a barrister. He considers housing law to be the single greatest kind of law known to humankind and finds it very odd that so few people share this view.


  1. John

    £340 Million isn’t a staggering amount really, it would take 110 years to spend as much as this clown show of a Gov’t spend on a non functioning Track and Trace computer system, add in the obvious fraud of PPE (570+ lorry loads of which go to landfill or incineration each month as its unfit for use or re-sale), have some perspective please. How much do the SRS need to spend to bring their disaster area of housing up to scratch??

    • Giles Peaker

      Seriously, your take is that private landlords having stock with poor conditions causing the taxpayer £340 million a year in the health impacts alone is OK because it isn’t much?

      I’m afraid such trolling will just get deleted in the future.

  2. Tom

    The government have gone on record recently saying the PRS is not part of the long-term solution to the housing crisis, but affordable housing and social housing is. As Michael Gove says, the standard of social housing is ‘scandalously poor’. The year-long ITV investigation uncovered unlivable conditions in Britain’s social housing. If the government wants to fulfil it’s long-term ambitions for housing, the resources may be better directed at the elephant in the room that is the poor state of, and lack of, social housing.

    • J

      The problem is that *both* the PRS and social sector have significant, and different, weaknesses. Both need regulatory, legislative and financial intervention.

  3. Said

    340m as the overall figure being the cost to the NHS for dealing with the effects of poor housing in the country is understandable. However, the contribution from PRS (being the focus of this article) is to be determined. In addition to new development and social housing properties, poor housing is also an issue in owner occupied properties. Regulating PRS is a step in the right direction however, it will not resolve the issue.

    • J

      The PRS makes very little contribution though. Developers build properties to sell. They care not whether it is sold to an owner occupier or someone who will let it. There *are* some developers who have a “build to rent” model but they are relatively few in number and scale. Look, I don’t dislike private landlords but they really need to stop pretending they’re some social necessity. They own an asset and because other people want to use it they get to charge for that. It’s just capitalism – nothing more, nothing less. And whether that is good or bad is a political, not legal question.

      As to a suggested focus on owner-occupied properties… I’d agree that we need to help with steps to deal with fuel poverty, disablied facilities grants etc, but the owner-occupation sector has never been regulated in the way that the rented sector (social or private) has because the law just doesn’t see that owner occupiers need regulation in the same way. It’s not as if the owner occupier will unlawfully evict themselves.

  4. Lou

    A question I have is why is the Government so dead set against building any council homes? They know that social housing is the only way to go to relieve housing waiting lists, to stop paying the millions in universal credit top up to help private renters with their high rent payments in private rented homes. Councils have the land within their own ownership already on which to build housing. As a private renter myself I would not approach the council because of lack of repairs as it would mean certain eviction!

    • J

      So… the government isn’t particularly pro or anti council housing. It has done some good things around changing the law on council borrowing powers (all to do with how the Housing Revenue Account works) but the price for doing that was to drive some councils into debt (because they had to buy their way out of the pre-Localism Act 2011 funding rules). The critical issue is the Right to Buy. As long as that exists (or, at least, as long as the discount is so huge – over £100k now for some people in London), local authorities will be reluctant to build homes. After all, if you spend (i.e. borrow) £400,000 to build a home and have to sell it on the RTB for, say, £300,000 after (say) 10 years, that isn’t a great use of money. Councils can only build at scale once they can be sure that the properties won’t be forcibly sold.

      Social housing isn’t the *only* way to deal wth the billions spent on UC and HB to pay private landlords. Rent controls would be another way. That doesn’t necessarily mean the SoS setting the rents for each property. There are various forms of rent control ranging from hard caps all the way through to controls on permitted increases. Adopting some form of rent control would be a way of helping bring down benefit costs. And if you’re worried that rent controls risk private landlords leaving the market (which I don’t worry about but I know some people do) then you can ease the pain of rent control for them by tinkering with the tax system (e.g. more generous wear and tear allowances; tax free income thresholds etc).

      Finally, you are quite right to fear retaliatory eviction because it does happen and, currently, the legal framework isn’t set up properly to stop it. Quite how common it actually is may be a matter for legitimat debate but it plainly does happen.


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