As the Housing Bill makes its way through the legislative process, it presents Citizens Advice offices in London with a conundrum. Through our co-ordinated Research & Campaigns work, two key recommendations from national Citizens Advice are included – but there are two definite stings in the tail.
The success is two measures for those in privately rented homes. The first is a banning order for rogue landlords – those who rent out dangerous and unhealthy accommodation that they refuse to put right. Their names are added to a national database and the banning order makes it an offence for them to rent out their properties again. Sub-standard letting agencies also appear on the list.
The second measure allows a refund of up to one year’s rent where landlords have provided a sub-standard home or a poor quality service. If a landlord commits an offence under The Housing Act, 2004, uses violence or harassment against a tenant or evicts them illegally then this measure becomes active.This introduces the idea of a refund for poor quality housing as with most other things one can buy.
A major Citizens Advice study earlier this year found 740,000 households in England live in privately rented homes that present a severe threat to tenants’ health. These properties contain 510,000 children and 180,000 have a disabled person. So across the country these two measures are needed.
They are especially welcome in London, where many of the UK’s nine million renters are concentrated and where home-owning is becoming an increasingly untenable proposition, even for those on average incomes.
On the downside, there is a potential erosion of tenants’ rights. The Bill proposes that where a landlord thinks a tenant has abandoned the home then the landlord need not follow the proper eviction procedure. This measure seems fraught with the potential for misuse with legal redress inadequate and only available well after the fact – is the court really going to give you your home back when it’s already been let to someone else? Almost certainly not.
Lastly, the Bill allows the extension of Right to Buy to Housing Association properties. This is a special concern for London which already has a woefully inadequate supply of affordable housing, especially as it is to be paid for by the requirement for councils to sell off their most valuable housing when it becomes vacant. The grey areas perhaps need better definition so that the overall level of affordable housing does not fall in London. If that overall level does fall then that will be catastrophic for many of our clients as well as the character of our city.
There’s work to do. As ever, that includes gathering evidence, suggesting solutions instead of just raising problems and supplying national Citizens Advice with the data it needs to have mature conversations with government.