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Rugg Review 2018: LHA properties increasingly resembling slum tenure

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In a comprehensive research paper, Dr Julie Rugg, keynote speaker at our upcoming conference on the private rented sector, highlights concerns that private tenants in receipt of benefits are increasingly having to live in substandard accommodation.

The Evolving Private Rented Sector: Its Contribution and Potential, co-authored by Dr Rugg and David Rhoades of the University of revealed that one in three homes let at lower rent levels in England fail the decent homes standard and shares worries that the only properties genuinely affordable to LHA claimants are increasingly resembling a residual, slum tenure.

This report is a companion to Vulnerability amongst Low-Income Households in the Private Rented Sector in England, which focuses on households in the bottom third of incomes across all tenures.

Welfare reform creating “slum tenure” in PRS

Welfare reform is creating a ‘slum tenure’ at the lower end of the private rental market, as tenants are increasingly unable to afford their rent or find accommodation on their own.

Although LHA rates are nominally set at the 30th centile of market rents, the Chartered Institute of Housing recently carried out research which found that the Local Housing Allowance in many areas is only sufficient to meet the rental charge of the cheapest 10% of properties in certain areas.

Management failures exacerbate poor housing conditions

The report also states that housing conditions worsen the longer tenants continue to live in their property, suggesting that poor property management is the root cause of such problems. The report identifies the principle management failure as landlords failing to undertake routine maintenance and/or respond in a timely way to requests for repair and points to tenant expectations in this regard being very low

Rugg report relevance to Northern Ireland

Although the report is based on the private rented sector in England, its findings will be of great interest to Northern Ireland.  The sector has grown rapidly and the Housing Executive has recently consulted on the possibility of using the private rental sector as a means to discharge their statutory duties to accommodate homeless people. One of the most relevant elements of this report is its references to poor quality housing, particularly in light to the ongoing review of the PRS in Northern Ireland, an integral element of which is the intention to review existing fitness standards.

Private rented sector accommodation standards in Northern Ireland

The standard used to determine if a property is fit for habitation in Northern Ireland is overdue for review. As an example, the current fitness standard relating to heating in a property can be satisfied by ensuring that a living room has an available socket which can accommodate an electric heater.

Based on our clients’ experiences within the private rental sector, Housing Rights has found that the existing fitness standard does not provide sufficient protection to ensure that tenants are living in accommodation of an acceptable standard. In our response to the Department for Communities’ previous consultation on the Review of the Statutory Minimum Housing Fitness Standard, Housing Rights called for the existing fitness standard to be replaced by the Housing Health & Safety Rating System, which has been adopted in England and Wales, alongside enhanced enforcement of fitness standards.

The report by Dr Rugg and David Rhoades includes a number of recommendations, including a new ‘Property MOT’, where all properties let for residential purposes would be required to undergo an independent inspection annually. It is hoped that such a proposal would simplify existing regulations and help improve property standards across the private rented sector.

Additionally, the report recommends

  • A fundamental change to regulation of the PRS, including an overarching strategy developed with reference to a strong evidence base
  • Revising and simplifying the law in relation to the PRS
  • A national landlord and agent register, which individuals or companies must appear on before they can let out property. Unlike the register in Northern Ireland, this review recommends using this register as a way of monitoring breaches of property management requirements, potentially leading to banning any person who has carried out numerous breaches from continuing to let property
  • Improving the routes to redress and creating a specialist housing court
  • Undertaking a thorough review of how best to meet the housing needs of low-income tenants, particularly those in receipt of benefit.

Hear Dr Rugg speak at our conference

Our upcoming conference provides Northern Ireland with a valuable opportunity to hear Dr Julie Rugg discuss her recent research and findings.  Reserve your place now.