Life began at 40 for severely learning-disabled Colleen say her sisters, when she moved into her own home.
She is living happily in her Coventry house, 11 years after leaving unsuitable residential care, thanks to a carefully-crafted network of 24-hour care and a range of state benefits. But due to the impending removal of the housing part of her support, known as Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI), that security has been mired in uncertainty and anxiety.
Colleen is one of 124,000 households in England who receive this particular benefit. It helps them repay the interest on their mortgages and nearly half the recipients are pensioners. However, within weeks the benefit will be axed and a loan offered instead.
Those who have not signed up to the new government scheme face losing their mortgage support.
Security at risk?
Though small, the current funding arrangement makes enough difference to enable Colleen to live on her own, and not in a care home. With no capacity to make her own decisions, her sisters, Felicity Banbury and Fiona Garrigan, look after her interests.
They fought hard for 13 years to find her somewhere comfortable, safe and suitable to live. Felicity says the impending changes put that security at risk.
“The biggest worry was that we have been given six weeks to make what are really serious financial decisions affecting Colleen’s future,” she said. “If we don’t make the right decision, she [Colleen] could get into arrears and even lose her house.”
Fears of arrears
A lack of timely communication about the new rules, by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), has stoked up fears of arrears, and ultimately evictions, for some vulnerable and elderly people who receive SMI.
Beatrice Barleon, the policy manager at the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “Many rely on this benefit to pay for their accommodation, and poor communication around these changes has led to people fearing that they will lose their homes as a result.”
By late January fewer than 7,000 of the 124,000 affected households had signed up for the new loan scheme. And the latest statistics from the government reveal that 5,500 people have still not been contacted about the options ahead.
With just four weeks to go until the current benefit is withdrawn, neither Colleen nor her sisters have received the full information they need from the DWP (via private firm Serco) to be able to make a judgement on the options ahead. In fact they were contacted for the first time about the forthcoming changes only three weeks ago.
Shadow housing minister Melanie Onn said: “It is shocking that with just weeks to go people are still yet to be contacted about the end of support for mortgage interest.”
Since the BBC contacted the DWP with these concerns, new rules have been attached to the new regulations. This should give the most vulnerable SMI recipients – those with someone appointed to act for them – extra time to make their decision.
A DWP spokesperson said: “Over time, someone’s house is likely to increase in value, so it’s reasonable that anyone who has received financial help towards their mortgage should be asked to pay that back if there is available equity when the property is sold.
“We have been contacting people to explain the change and signpost them to independent advice giving them plenty of time to make a decision. “But we understand that there are vulnerable people including those with severe learning disabilities or dementia, many of whom have someone acting on their behalf, who need extra support and time,” said the DWP spokesperson.
Mrs Barleon from Mencap said this was not the end of her concerns. “The worry is now that innovative schemes such as homeownership for disabled people, will no longer be available in the future,” she said.
Before moving into her own home, Colleen spent 26 years in residential care, which her sisters say did not meet her needs. “When she was part of statutory services, she lived with others and we saw a deterioration in her condition,” said Felicity.
Felicity welcomed the late decision to give the most vulnerable SMI recipients more time to consider their options. But she said she was still very concerned about those without the sort of support she offers to Colleen, and possibly without a voice to argue their case.
Social housing tenants are falsely and unfairly portrayed as ‘benefit scroungers’ in the national media, say campaigners.
A newly launched campaign, backed by social landlords, is seeking to challenge the commonly-held belief that all social housing tenants are ‘benefit scroungers’ who are exploiting the benefits system.
The campaign ‘Benefit to Society‘ hopes to correct these misconceptions. Representatives from the campaign recently visited Parliament to seek MP’s support and backing. It comes after a national survey revealed that 90% of social housing tenants believe they are portrayed in a negative way in the British media.
The campaign is backed by social landlord Aspire Housing, which manages around 9,000 properties in Staffordshire and Cheshire, who say the negative portrayal of social housing tenants “must change”.
Chief executive of Aspire Housing Sinéad Butters told the Stoke Sentinel: “Untrue and unfair stereotypes of social housing tenants are all too often heard, in our media, in our sector and unfortunately, still, in our businesses. This must change.
“Social housing gives people an affordable home and for many, the start they need to shape their life. “We care about our tenants and want their positive stories to be heard.” Around 17% of housing in the UK is occupied by social housing tenants, who are routinely and inaccurately portrayed in the media as cheats and scroungers.
Research by Professor Anne Power of the London School of Economics found that a reduction in social housing, from around 30% to around 17%, has resulting in a hardening of public attitudes toward social renters.
However, social housing has been often shown to be of a higher standard than homes in the private rented sector and provide tenants with the long-term security they desperately need. Contrary to popular opinion, the vast majority of social housing tenants are not drug addicts and do not cause problems for their neighbours.
70-year-old Linda Mountford lives in an apartment in Clayton and says social housing provides people with high quality homes. “I think the negative view comes from the old days of ‘council houses’, and the media showing programmes like Benefit Street, which are very negative”, she told the Stoke Sentinel.
“The apartments where I live are absolutely lovely. Social housing is needed – there is such a demand for properties because young people can’t get on the property ladder.”
Debra Berry, head of housing at Aspire Housing, said: “We work very closely with our tenants and see daily the stereotypes that misrepresent them. “We’re delighted to be a sponsor of the Benefit to Society campaign, to raise awareness of the great stories behind social housing tenants and leave the negative press behind.
“I urge others like me to support this campaign and stand up for all of the people in our communities.”
Housing Secretary Sajid Javid has spent this morning blaming NIMBY councils for the housing crisis on GMB and LBC. Turns out however that he’s been the biggest NIMBY in his constituency Bromsgrove for years…
Javid has been pushing his housing revolution for some months now. In January, he told the Times:
“We’ve got a housing crisis. We’ve got no time for anyone who is just anti-development for the sake of it. We need to change our attitude. If you are nimby, the government is not going to be your friend. We are on the side of people who want more homes.”
In particular, Javid told the The Sunday Times that it was obstructive NIMBY councils that are to blame for housing shortages:
“The new rules will no longer allow ‘nimby’ councils that don’t really want to build the homes that their local community needs to fudge the numbers…We are going to be breathing down your neck day and night to make sure you are actually delivering on those numbers.”
Unfortunately folks, it seems Javid has been a little disingenuous. In fact, Javid has consistently fought for the NIMBYs in his local constituency:
“…..I wish to re-emphasise my concern that land within Redditch Borough is fully utilised before any consideration is given to expanding the area’s housing need into Bromsgrove Green Belt as a neighbouring district.”
Ah, the green belt, of course. Javid is a man of principle, let us not forget.
“While I understand this land was designated for housing, there is significant concern about the implications such a large-scale development would have on local infrastructure, facilities and environment.”
Aaaah, it all makes sense now: Javid cares about providing sustainable housing. Makes perfect sense:
“People aren’t against it just for the sake of being against the development, it’s can the local infrastructure cope?”
Hmm, a theme seems to be emerging. Surely Javid was again rallying to defend the green belt, no? Well, no. The council head of planning Ruth Bamford responded to Javid’s NIMBYism by pointing out:“If it didn’t go here it would most likely go on greenbelt because there isn’t much land around Bromsgrove district that can take new housing.”
Slippery Javid just keeps on passing the buck #NIMBYpamby
The thousands of lettings agents and landlords around the country who reject housing benefit claimants could be flouting equality laws, due to a recent legal case.
The widespread practice has led to “no-go zones” for those on lower incomes – especially in desirable residential areas.
But single mother Rosie Keogh won compensation for sex discrimination from a lettings agency that refused to consider her as a tenant because she was on state benefit.
The cleaner and former paralegal successfully argued that blanket bans on benefit claimants indirectly discriminated against women, especially single women.
This is because they are proportionately more likely to be claiming housing benefit than single men, according to official figures.
Rosie’s attempt to rent a property in a smart area of Birmingham in May 2016 was blocked when the lettings agent found she would pay some of the rent via housing benefit.
The agent told her it would not be proceeding with her application for a property in Kings Heath before it had looked into her individual circumstances or assessed how reliable a tenant she would be.
She had been living in the same property for 11 years with the rent being paid in full every time.
After a letter of complaint was dismissed by the agents, the mother of one issued a claim for discrimination in the county court.
“I felt something had to be done to challenge it. I was motivated by anger at such inequitable practice,” said Rosie.
“It made me feel like a second-class citizen.
“You are being treated differently – and it’s women and women with children who are bearing the brunt of this because they need to work part-time.”
And Rosie is not alone. There are whole areas of towns and cities in England that have become virtual no-go zones for people on housing benefit because lettings agents and landlords are unwilling to deal with them.
Rosie was supported in her case by Shelter, whose legal officer Rose Arnall said: “By applying a blanket policy they are actually preventing good tenants from accessing the private rented sector.
“Women are more likely to be caring for children and therefore working part-time and are therefore more likely to top up their income by claiming housing benefit.”
Because of the lack of available social housing, more than a fifth of those renting privately are relying on housing benefit either wholly or partly to cover their rent, according to 2017 figures.
Eighteen months after Rosie first began her fightback, lettings agent Nicholas George admitted indirect discrimination on the grounds of her sex, settling out of court with £2,000 compensation.
She also had help from the Bar Pro Bono Unit with the case who gave significant advice and drew up the consent order which led to agreement between Rosie and the agent.
Although not setting a legally binding precedent, the case clearly established that the practice can be considered indirect sexual discrimination under the Equality Act.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said private renting was so expensive that many people could not get by without housing benefit, even if they were working.
“Our advisers repeatedly hear from desperate mothers battling to find someone willing to let to them, in spite of being able to pay the rent.
“We are urging all landlords and letting agents to get rid of ‘no DSS’ policies, and treat people fairly on a case-by-case basis.”
Chris Norris, head of policy at the National Landlords Association, agreed there was no place for discrimination on the basis of someone’s gender.
“Cases like this highlight the very worst of what a minority of renters have to put up with when looking to secure a home in the private rented sector.”
He added: “The number of landlords willing to rent to housing benefit tenants has fallen dramatically over the last few years because cuts to welfare and problems with the universal credit system are making it more and more difficult for anyone in receipt of housing support to pay their rent on time and sustain long-term tenancies.”
Labour’s housing spokesman John Healey said government cuts to housing benefit had stripped away the safety net for families and led to “no-go zones” for families on low and middle incomes.
“These short-sighted decisions have made landlords more wary of tenants claiming housing benefit and so made discrimination more likely.”
A government spokesman said: “It’s wrong to treat someone differently because they are claiming a benefit.
“The majority of claimants are comfortable managing their money but we are increasing support to help people who need it to stay on top of their payments.”
He added that from April, people in receipt of housing benefit would receive two weeks’ rent when they moved on to universal credit and landlords could now apply to have the benefit paid directly to them if their tenants were more than two months in arrears.
But one landlord, Tom Black, said his landlord insurance prohibited him from taking tenants that are on housing benefits when their tenancy starts.
Another said: “As a council accredited landlord who trains others to become accredited, I can safely say that the “no DSS” is not down to landlord preference or discrimination… it’s entirely down to (a.) mortgage terms and (b.) severe delays in the claimants HB claim, universal credit policy to pay claimants directly into their bank account.
“We personally could fill our houses 10 times over if we could rent to DSS as our phones never stop ringing, day and night, whenever we advertise a vacant one.”
Here’s what you’ve been saying about this issue:
Sarah from Andover
I am a mother of 3 children, ages 3, 7 and 11. I have had to private rent for the last 8 years due to the lack of council properties available. I have moved 7 times within those 8 years and each time to a completely different area because of lack of estate agents and landlords who will except housing benefit. We have had to move due to landlords no longer wanting us after the benefit cuts, and also bad landlords who would not keep the house together. Due to be refused a tenancy over and over again so many times due to being on housing benefit, we have had to look further afield. We have moved from Southampton to Eastleigh to Gosport to Andover. My daughter who is aged 11 has been very affected by this after now being in her 8th school and this has effected her education and her mental health, due to constantly having to make new friends and losing many every time. This is all because there are so so many landlords who will not accept housing benefit even though we are great tenants and always pay our rent on time as it is our priority. This needs to come to a stop. We do not feel safe in any property. We have been faced with homelessness previously due to not finding anywhere and even when we Have, the estate agents feel they can charge hundreds of pounds more due to our circumstances which does not make any sense as we have a low income so we are forced to be homeless if we can’t pay or find a suitable guarantor. These guarantors that they want have to be very specific and earning so much money but unfortunateley not everyone knows someone that is employed and earning so much money.
David from Birmingham
My family and I have been trying to move house for over a year now. We currently rent privately and have been keeping up with our rent at this property for over 7 years. I search online every day for properties, from Cornwall, right up to the Scottish Borders. I am lucky if I find 1 property a month that will accept DSS and be in a suitable area for us to raise our children. Being so few of these properties, they are snapped up almost amediately. People on benefits are being viewed as a nuisance risk and are being pushed into inner city areas blighted by crime. The children are being punished because their parents can’t work, or have a job with a low income. How can that be fair?
Lisa from Middlesbrough
Welcome to my world!! It is hardly news that pretty much all Lettings Agents have ‘No DSS’ on their advertisements. The other way they stop Housing Benefit recipients from renting are – ‘HB accepted with a guarantor’ (I don’t know anyone who could do this for me) or, the absolute doozie ‘HB considered, please ask’ (this means, Housing Benefit considered if you can pay six months’ rent up front, plus their fee and a deposit – if you had that much spare, you wouldn’t be claiming Housing Benefit!). I have battled to house my family, as, even when I was well enough to work, I needed a HB top-up, as I’m a full-time carer for 2 of my adult children, I can only work part-time. If I’m honest, I have lied to agents in the past, just to get a roof over our heads.
Stephen from Birmingham
I am a wheelchair user and any property I phone up and tell then this and I’m on housing benefits it’s a straight no not even considered. I arranged a viewing at a house in risinghurst, oxford and got as far as signing documents. Landlord was happy to be housing a mother and two children (aswel as the family dog) but as soon as I mentioned housing benefits paying a small fraction of the cost, the entire agreement shut down and the agent became frustrated that I hadn’t told her prior to viewing.
Samantha from Oxford
It was embarrassing and upsetting. We are stuck in a privately rented property that is much too small for us because nobody will give us the benefit of the doubt. If we are asked to vacate this property I have no faith that we will be able to find anywhere else to live. Despite that we have paid our current landlord every month for 11 years, and that upon graduation, I will be earning a more than reasonable wage and the benefits will only be temporary. It’s degrading and frustrating. The sooner this is (rightly) viewed as discrimination, the better.
Robert from London
I was denied even inquiring about looking at private flats in London simply due to claiming housing benefit. Surprisingly, my wage is above the national average just over 29,000, but in London and having a child, this still entitled me and my partner to around £440 per month housing benefit. I tried to explain to the letting agent I am in full time, contracted employment, and anyone with a child earning under £35,000 per annum will be receiving housing benefit of some sort in London and they said it didn’t matter. This isn’t just blocking women from renting it’s blocking entire families.
Sheila from Isle of Wight
My daughter was a blame-free tenant for 10 years in one property from which she was given notice for no reason. Despite numerous letters of appeal and requests for conciliatory meetings, the landlords did not answer any of her correspondence. She could not even get them to give her a written reference. She sought replacement accommodation for herself (a lone parent) and her two little children aged 6 and 3, for six months before finding a landlord/ estate agent who would take her (on housing benefit) with my husband as guarantor. The whole experience has not only caused her great stress and anxiety and has led to an exacerbation of her chronic depression, but has also affected her six-year old who has become angry and withdrawn and fearful they will be evicted again from their new home. The stipulation “no HB, Children or Pets” was appended to most of the rental properties on offer. It reminded me of London in the 50s and 60s. “No blacks or Irish.”
James from Brighton
I am disabled and I have to be on housing benefits. It is virtually impossible to find a place that accepts housing benefits and those that do accept it require a guarantor with unacceptable requirements. I was made homeless and spent time sleeping rough when my landlord of my previous place decided to renovate and increase rent and price me out of the place and so he asked me to leave. I had paid rent in full for the previous 8 years with him no problem and have never had a problem. I am now stuck in a council home with no chance of ever moving or improving the place where I live. The equality act should account for disabled people on housing benefits being discriminated against. Since I could not go to a letting agent I tried to rent a place from a landlord personally advertising and renting their property, going that route I was also told on a number of occasion that their buy-to-let mortgages stated they could not let out to people on housing benefits. This shows the banks are also discriminating against disabled and people on housing benefit. Is it just because of a few rotten apples spoiling the bunch for the rest of us? Where and when does this discrimination originate from? The 70’s or 80’s?
The fact letting agents call it DSS makes me think so, it hasn’t been called that for decades. What are the statistic for rent arrears with people on housing benefit versus those on jobs? What about those with disabilities? With JSA type benefits allowing housing benefits they can be stopped and rent arrears can accrue if you miss an appointment, a horrible position to have that held over your head, however, if disabilities grant housing benefit, your disability is not going to suddenly disappear and your housing benefit with it. It is blatant discrimination against people with disabilities and those on housing benefit, it disgusts me. Renting decisions should be based on your previous history and if it is good you should not automatically be excluded or need a guarantor.
Frank from Stratford-Upon-Avon
Housing Benefit is just that. For Housing. Landlords would accept benefit tenants if rent was paid directly to Landlords with a guarantee that it would start at the beginning of a tenancy and be guaranteed to continue. The reality is that once a tenant is is a property, the assessments can take many weeks. The slightest error by a tenant means the application has to start again, meaning 6-8 weeks delay. The Council isn’t concerned as the applicant isn’t homeless. This is the reality, while of course a Landlord still has to pay his mortgage. I just get tired of the ill informed comments by Shelter. How many properties to HB tenants do they rent out? How many properties do they rent to anyone? Millions in income. So why don’t they put their income to good use, and help solve the problem. Yes, there are bad Landlords, but the vast majority are good, and wish for good, long term tenants. Conversely, there are good HB tenants, but equally others who are not..
Cross-departmental group was set up last year to address soaring levels of rough sleeping but plans for first meeting still ‘being finalised’
A government taskforce set up last year to tackle soaring levels of homelessness has not held a single meeting, it has emerged. The Rough Sleeping and Homelessness Reduction Taskforce was announced by Philip Hammond in his Autumn Budget last November, following a spike in the number of people who are sleeping rough.
The Chancellor said the Government was “committed” to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it by 2027, and that the taskforce of government ministers “will develop a cross-government strategy to work towards this commitment”. The group is being supported by an advisory panel that brings together homelessness charity leaders and local government representatives, including Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester
However, the Government has now admitted that plans for the ministerial taskforce’s first meeting are, three months on, still “being finalised”.
In response to a parliamentary question from John Healey, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary, Heather Wheeler, a minister at the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government, said: “The Government has committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it by 2027.
“In order to achieve this ambitious target the Chancellor, at Autumn Budget 2017, announced the establishment of the Rough Sleeping and Homelessness Reduction Taskforce. “Arrangements for the inaugural meeting are currently being finalised.”
Labour said the revelation was evidence of a “total lack of urgency” on the part of government ministers when it comes to combatting homelessness and rough sleeping.
The number of people declared homeless has increased 48 per cent since the Tories came to power in 2010, while the number sleeping rough has shot up 169 per cent in the same period. Mr Healey told The Independent: “Homelessness has spiralled out of control since 2010. This shames us all, and Conservative ministers most of all.
“Rising homelessness is a direct result of decisions made by the Conservatives: a steep drop in investment for affordable homes, crude cuts to housing benefit, reduced funding for homelessness services, and a refusal to help private renters.
“Now my question to ministers reveals they’ve still not even fixed the first meeting of a promised taskforce on homelessness, three months after it was announced. It shows a total lack of urgency.
“A Labour government will end rough sleeping within its first term in office, and tackle the root causes of rising homelessness.”
Campaigners have used Three Billboards outside Parliament to make a powerful point about the Grenfell Tower fire. A campaign group placed three huge posters in Westminster, echoing the film Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Campaigners placed three billboards outside the Houses of Parliament today, with a powerful message about the Grenfell Tower blaze.
Echoing the Oscar nominated film Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, the Justice 4 Grenfell Campaign drove three trucks bearing the billboards into the heart of London, and parked them outside the Palace of Westminster.
Eight months on from the tower-block blaze, the group said key issues were being “downplayed or ignored” and that it was acting to keep “this tragedy in the national conscience”.
The red billboards, which were driven past St Paul’s cathedral, where a national memorial service was held in December, and Westminster, say “71 dead”, “And still no arrests?”, “How Come?”
In the film, a mother challenges authorities over finding the culprit for the rape and murder of her daughter.
Justice 4 Grenfell said: “These three billboards are here to keep this tragedy in the national conscience, to make sure that the voices of those no longer with us are heard.”
Clarrie Mendy, who lost two relatives in the fire, said she wanted to “commend” what the billboards represented.
Speaking in front of the posters, parked outside the charred high-rise on Thursday afternoon, she said: “A lot of people have deadened, closed their minds to Grenfell.
“Life goes on every day, we know, but for some of us it doesn’t, it’s never moved on from that day.
“So really, it’s beautiful that these billboards are going around, they’ve been outside Parliament today, and as a humanitarian and seeking humanity for Grenfell, I really do hope these open a lot of people’s subconscious mind to look at this – how is this still going on eight months later?”
Joe Delaney, who is still in a hotel after being evacuated eight months ago from his home neighbouring the tower, said: “I’m really pleased that we were up around Westminster today. I do hope that those in power saw them and took note.”
He went on: “People have gone from being shocked and numb initially, to being hopeful that they were getting help, to now being resentful that we’re not getting help and so unfortunately what’s the next step from that?
“Unless something dramatically changes around here we’re just going to move from resentment to anger.”
“Summer is approaching, so is the year anniversary. Those are big milestones that are approaching and they are approaching fast, so I would urge anyone that’s in authority to get their skates on and get some action on this matter.”
Estimated 338,000 properties rented by under-35s hazardous and likely to cause harm 80
Rented housing so squalid it is likely to leave tenants requiring medical attention is being endured by hundreds of thousands of young adults in England, an analysis of government figures has revealed.
Rats, mouldy walls, exposed electrical wiring, leaking roofs and broken locks are among problems blighting an estimated 338,000 homes rented by people under 35 that have been deemed so hazardous they are likely to cause harm.
It is likely to mean that over half a million people are starting their adult lives in such conditions, amid a worsening housing shortage and rising rents, which are up 15% across the UK in the last seven years.
Visits by the Guardian to properties where tenants are paying private landlords up to £1,100 a month have revealed holes in external walls, insect-infested beds, water pouring through ceilings and mould-covered kitchens.
A 30-year-old mother near Bristol said her home is so damp that her child’s cot rotted. A 34-year-old woman in Luton told of living with no heating and infestations of rats and cockroaches, while a 24-year-old mother from Kent said she lived in a damp flat with no heating and defective wiring for a year before it was condemned.
“Young adults have very little option but to rent from a private landlord, so we should at least expect a decent home in return for what we pay,” said Dan Wilson Craw, director of the Generation Rent campaign group. “Relying on cash-strapped councils to enforce our rights means that too many of us are stuck with unsafe housing.”
The extent of the impact on young people emerged as a cross-party bid to give tenants new powers to hit back against rogue landlords gathers strength.
The government has backed a private member’s bill going through parliament that would allow tenants to take direct legal action instead of relying on local authorities to do so.
Research by Shelter published last week found that 48% of families in social housing who reported issues about poor or unsafe conditions felt ignored or were refused help.
The issue has gained greater political impetus in the wake of the fire at Grenfell Tower where tenants had complained publicly about safety conditions but nothing was done before the blaze claimed 71 lives last June.
Seven months before the blaze, Ed Daffern, a member of Grenfell Action Group, warned of “dangerous living conditions” and wrote in a blogpost that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord”.
Government figures suggest as many as 2.4 million people in England live in rented homes, both in the private and social sectors, with category 1 hazards. That includes 756,000 households living in private rented properties – almost one in five of the whole private rented stock – and 244,000 households in social housing.
The worst affected regions are the east and west Midlands, which features large numbers of Victorian homes, where about a quarter of a million rental properties suffer from category 1 hazards, according to the figures compiled by Labour based on the English Housing Survey. These hazards include exposed wiring or overloaded electrical sockets, dangerous or broken boilers, very cold bedrooms, leaking roofs, mould, vermin and broken stairs.
“One million homes in this country are currently unfit, putting the health and in some cases safety of tenants at risk,” said Karen Buck, the Labour MP for North Westminster who drafted the fitness for human habitation bill that is going through parliament. “Yet at the moment landlords have no obligation to their tenants to put or keep the property in a condition fit for habitation.”
About half of councils in England have served no or just one enforcement notice under the Housing Act in the last year, Buck said.
The London Borough of Newham estimates 10,000 private rented homes within its boundaries in the category – equivalent to one in four. Its inspectors have photographed rats in larders, baths and beds in kitchens, bedrooms in cupboards and homes with plastic sheets in place of roofs.
“In practice you have fewer rights renting a family home than you do buying a fridge-freezer,” said John Healey MP, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for housing. “Too many people are forced to put up with downright dangerous housing. After the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower, it’s even more important that ministers back Labour’s plan to make all homes fit for human habitation.”
Sajid Javid, the housing secretary, said he was determined “to do everything possible to protect tenants” and pledged government support for new legislation that requires all landlords to ensure properties are safe and give tenants the right to take legal action if landlords fail in their duties.
Since April landlords have faced fines of up to £30,000 and as an alternative to prosecution the government is planning banning orders for the most serious and prolific offenders with a database of convicted rogue landlords and letting agents.
“The Grenfell tragedy exposed the catastrophic consequences of unsafe housing in the most devastating way, and how our laws fail to protect people’s right to a safe and decent home,” said Shelter’s chief executive, Polly Neate. “Too many private and social renters are forced to live in poor and sometimes dangerous conditions, unable to tackle safety concerns or legally challenge their landlord.”