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