Review reveals millions of private housing tenants are being failed

September 9, 2018

Millions of private housing tenants have been failed over the past decade through poor policy-making and a lack of strategy, a major review carried out by the University of York has concluded.


Current regulation of the sector is ‘confused and contradictory’

The review, The Evolving Private Rented Sector: its Contribution and Potential, reveals that changes to welfare reform are creating a ‘slum tenure’ at the bottom end of the market.

The authors suggest the introduction of a 'Property MOT' - operating in a similar way to that which exists for cars - in which all properties let for residential purposes would be required to undergo an annual standardised inspection.

Independent analysis

The review, funded by the Nationwide Foundation, is a detailed, independent analysis of who lives in private rented housing, how their needs are being met and the impact of policy interventions over the last 10 years.

It comes a decade after Dr Julie Rugg and David Rhodes, from York’s Centre for Housing Policy, published their original review of the private rented sector – the first to look in detail at how it functioned.

The main findings in today’s review include:

  • Current regulation of the sector is ‘confused and contradictory’ and ‘failing at multiple levels’. Opportunities for linkage and simplification are being missed, with tenants and landlords unsure of their rights and responsibilities
  • Poor conditions are a problem at both ends of the market – 1 in 5 homes let at the top 20% of rents are non-decent, to 1 in 3 let at the bottom 20%. Conditions get worse the longer tenants are in their property, indicating that poor property management rather than old housing stock is the root cause
  • Changes to welfare reform are creating a ‘slum tenure’ at the bottom end of the market as more tenants are unable to afford to meet their current rent levels or find accommodation without the help of statutory or third sector agencies
  • Policy interventions are increasingly focused on helping higher and middle-income renters priced out of ownership, with little or no help for those on low incomes

The review concludes that no government has been clear on the function of renting within the housing market and as a result, interventions have been piecemeal and poorly targeted.

Dr Rugg, co-author of the report and Senior Research Fellow at the University of York’s Centre for Housing Policy, said: “Since our first review was published, declining home ownership and a shortage of social rented homes have led to a surge in the number of people privately renting – particularly families with young children.

“Unfortunately, in its current form the private rental market isn’t providing a suitable alternative, and in the absence of an overarching vision from government we’ve seen reams of policies and regulations to address problems in the sector which are not joined up or thought through.

“We need to see a fundamental rethink of the role renting plays in our housing market and a comprehensive strategy to ensure it meets the needs of all those who live there.”

Fundamental reform

Leigh Pearce, Chief Executive of the Nationwide Foundation, the charity that funded the review, said: “For years politicians have ignored the needs of private renters, resulting in a market that all too often fails to provide decent, secure and affordable homes – particularly for those on low incomes. It’s time government started to take this problem seriously. Instead of more tinkering round the edges, we need fundamental reform and a clear strategy to fix renting. We hope this review will be the start of a cross-party conversation to make that happen.”

The 'Property MOT' would operate in a similar way to that which exists for cars: all properties let for residential purposes would be required to undergo an annual standardised inspection. It would bring together current requirements such as electrical and gas safety certificates and energy efficiency reports, but also include a new assessment according to a basic minimum standard.

The MOT test would be conducted by independent inspectors and would be a tax-deductible business cost for landlords.

Minimum standard

Dr Rugg added: “Unbelievably, there is currently no minimum standard that properties have to meet before they are let and as a result, millions of renters have to put up with damp, disrepair and sometimes life-threatening hazards.

“A 'Property MOT' would give people confidence before they sign a tenancy that the property is well-managed and that standards won’t lapse in the future, while for landlords, it offers greater clarity and protection against prosecution.

“This proposal is just one way in which existing legislation can be simplified to make the sector work better for everyone.”

The review was carried out by Dr Julie Rugg and David Rhodes from York’s Centre for Housing Policy and was funded by the Nationwide Foundation.

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