Poor conditions damage tenants' health
Public sector cuts are hampering efforts to crack down on rogue landlords in two out of five councils, according to an EHN survey of EHOs.
It shows 40 per cent of housing EHOs believe local authority cuts are impacting on their ability to prosecute irresponsible landlords and 80 per cent say they have lost frontline staff since 2010.
One officer says ‘we generally have no budget to prosecute’. Another notes that their authority has been unable to take ‘any notices through to prosecution stage’ since 2009 because their legal department is so small.
Others focus on the impact of severe staff shortages. One council has ‘practically disbanded’ its private sector housing team and another has a single EHO covering two authorities with large geographical areas following a restructure.
‘Therefore we do not have the capacity to take a prosecution without this severely impacting on other areas of work/ability to take on more complaints. There is no resilience to the service,’ warns the unnamed officer.
Cuts have led to greater public dissatisfaction. One council says that there is ‘more discontent with our services as are able to deliver less and make more errors.’
EHOs feel stretched and overworked. An officer based at a district council says: ‘I am the only enforcement officer covering private sector housing, caravan site inspections and protecting tenants from illegal evictions.’
Lack of training is further hindering prosecutions. Reduced training budgets at one authority have led to ‘a loss of prosecution skills’.
The survey, which will be discussed at the CIEH’s annual housing conference on 17 May, also reveals 43 per cent of private landlords are failing to carry out remedial work when contacted by tenants. One EHO remarks there has been an increase in the number of landlords refusing to undertake improvement or remedial work in the last two years perhaps because of the ‘poor financial climate’.
Other issues which EHOs regularly encounter include damp, cold, overcrowding, mould, lack of heating and hot water, harassment, unlawful entry, lack of fire alarms, uncertified gas boilers, pests and electrical hazards.
Sixty per cent of councils said they had increased regulatory activity over the past two years, but raised questions over their ability to maintain that level.
One EHO said: ‘Cuts have been hinted as being in the pipeline. This will definitely impact on departments’ ability to take enforcement action.’
David Kidney, CIEH head of policy, who will be speaking at the conference, said: ‘This survey confirms our worst fears – that many councils are finding it increasingly difficult to conduct investigations due to massive cutbacks in government housing expenditure. This is impairing the ability of EHOs to tackle abuses in the private rented sector.’
He added that it made no sense to cut back investment in housing.
‘As we have said it makes no sense to cut back investment in housing. The equation is a simple one: poor housing leads to poor health which leads to longer NHS queues and a further squeeze on the nation’s resources,’ he said.
The survey was conducted in April and May by EHN. There were more than 40 responses to the survey.