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homeFriday 20th January 2017

Housing enforcement powers 'rarely used'

Tom Wall13/01/2016 - 13:40

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EHOs and police raid a house
EHOs and police raid a house

Local authorities are far more likely to take informal action against landlords following complaints about poor conditions, according to a new report.

A survey of 120 councils in England found they received 57,828 complaints about conditions in the private rented sector such as cold, damp and overcrowding in 2013.

Officers took informal action, such as sending warning letters, on 15,964 occasions in 2013. They only took enforcement action in 4,211 cases. There were 95 prosecutions in the same period.

The report, which was prepared for Karen Buck MP by housing consultant Stephen Battersby, warns that councils are using informal approaches even when they have a legal duty to take formal action such as issuing an improvement notice.

‘The evidence is that local authorities are using informal means such as a letter even in cases where they have a statutory duty to use one of the courses of action in Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004, that is they are in breach of their statutory duty,’ it says.

The average number of inspections per local authority fell slightly from 287 in 2012 to 260 in 2013. The report does not examine what happens to those who complain but do not have their home inspected.

‘Whether this is the result of local authority lack of resources and therefore the time it will take before inspecting, or because an explanation of the process that may be involved, including contacting the landlord first it is difficult to say,’ it says.

The Deregulation Act 2015 brought in new protections for tenants making complaint to councils. Landlords cannot evict tenants if housing officers serve either an improvement notice or a notice of emergency remedial action following a complaint

Yet the research shows that formal action is rare in many local authorities and non-existent in even more. 

‘There will need to be a change in approach by local authorities if these changes are to have a positive effect,’ the report notes.

Mr Battersby says few local authorities appear willing to use their powers to enforce housing standards.

‘Indeed the level of prosecution is so low either local authorities are failing to target or find the worst landlords or they are letting landlords get away with non-compliance,’ says the report.   

‘If all notices and orders are complied with, then it would seem local authorities are not seeking out the worst landlords, which might be the case given that tenants of the very worst landlord are also less likely to complain.’

Local authorities took 95 prosecutions in 2013, which is an average of less than 1 for every council. However the report points out that despite cuts to local government, interventions in the PRS have not reduced markedly.

‘That said, the level of activity does not appear to match the actual need and undoubtedly some bad landlords are getting away with it,’ says the report. 

Some 120 responded to the survey, representing 37 per cent of the local housing authorities in England. Of these responses 18 were from London boroughs, a London response rate of 55 per cent.

Bob Mayho, CIEH principal policy officer, said the report was ‘an excellent piece of work’.

 ‘Local authorities that are reluctant to take formal action will be less able to make use of the legislative changes that have already been enacted such as retaliatory eviction, smoke and carbon monoxide and those which are contained in the Housing and Planning Bill,’ he said.

He added that inspection rates were holding up because councils are using ‘triage’ systems to identify complaints that are highest priority.

There are 4.4 million households were renting in the private rented sector, more than in the social rented sector.

In 2015 the Building Research Establishment reported that 8.4 million homes in England have a ‘significant’ hazard.

The annual cost to the NHS of these hazards was assessed at £2.0bn in England and £2.5bn for the UK. These figures compare with estimated costs to the NHS of £2.3bn to £3.3bn from smoking, and 0.9bn to £1.0bn from physical inactivity.

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Howard
371 days ago
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Twas ever thus, in my experience LA,s Chief Officers & Council members and even legal advisors were always wary of engaging in most formal action preferring an informal approach which of course can lead to delay in resolving issues, the breach of statutory duty argument has been raised many times before but the remedy for that is expensive for most individuals to pursue. Also the devastating cuts and the loss of experienced professional staff must mean that most Local Authorities are in breach of statutory duties frequently, across a wide range of functions. It is also doubtful that the courts would have the capacity to deal with the caseload were LA's even capable of changing their approach. Sounds easy when its printed in black and white in the statute but dealing with these problems takes more than empty promises from Parliament and politicians !

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