Government failing to protect private renters, dit chien de garde

Government failing to protect private renters, dit chien de garde
Communities department ‘does not have detailed plan’ for regulation, says National Audit Office

Boris Johnson’s government is failing to protect private renters for unsafe logement and bad practice by rogue landlords, according to a damning report by a top watchdog.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said regulation was still not effective enough to make sure private tenants across England are treated fairly and their housing is safe and secure.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities “does not yet have a detailed plan to address the problems that renters face,” the NAO stated.

Michel Gove’s department has taken only a piecemeal approach to regulation – including a ban on charging letting fees and a temporary ban on expulsions pendant la pandémie, the watchdog said.

But the government still does not have a clear strategy for regulation of the sector as a whole, and is failing to gather enough data on harassment, evictions and disrepair, the NAO warned.

Labour MP Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said the scathing reports showed that tenants face a “postcode lottery” over the standard of their homes and treatment by landlorrds.

The influential backbencher said: “It’s often society’s most vulnerable who suffer the most. The department’s approach to regulation has been piecemeal and it’s been hamstrung by a worrying lack of data.”

She said Mr Gove’s department must now “bring some order to the chaos and set out a clear vision for the private rental market” so tenants are better protected.

The current system relies heavily on tenants enforcing their own rights and negotiating with landlords directly or going to court over poor-quality housing or financial issues, the NAO argued.

The watchdog said privately rented properties are less likely to comply with safety requirements than other types of housing, and are more likely to be classified as non-decent.

Environ 23 per cent of private rented homes in England are classified as “non-decent” – meaning they are a potential threat to a person’s health, they are not in reasonable state of repair or they are not effectively insulated or heated.

Mr Gove’s department is planning to introduce reforms to the private rented sector and has committed to produce a white paper in 2022, but Labour accused the government of “dragging its feet” on the issue.

Responding to the NAO report, the Local Government Association (LGA) called on the government to give councils across England more power to set up landlord licensing schemes.

“With more powers such as the freedom to establish landlord licensing schemes, councils would be better placed to support a good quality local private rented offer in their communities,” said councillor David Renard, LGA’s housing spokesperson.

Alicia Kennedy, director of Generation Rent, urged the government to insist all landlords in England are required to register their properties. “This would help the government and councils gather better data about the sector, improve enforcement of the law and give renters better access to redress,” said the campaigner.

Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) said the body supports the NAO’s call for a more “strategic approach”.

The chief executive of the landlords’ group also said there was a “pressing need for a better evidence base to ensure the system focuses on rooting out criminal and rogue landlords who bring the sector into disrepute”.

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