Homeless people can no longer insist on social housing
Councils will be allowed to rely on housing assessments carried out by letting agents when placing homeless people in the private rented accommodation because EHO inspections are ‘too expensive’.
The Department of Communities and Local Government’s (DCLG) draft homelessness suitability of accommodation order, which could become law in October, says persons acting of behalf of councils such as letting agents could assess the physical condition of the property because inspections by council officers can be too costly.
‘In order to assess whether accommodation is in a reasonable physical condition, we would expect that a local authority officer, or a person acting on behalf of the authority such as a letting agent, would visit the property,’ it states.
It says the agents will be expected to take account of the property’s general condition and state of repair, such as signs of damp, mould, loose or cracked windows and space and arrangement.
‘A full rating system inspection by an EHO is costly and may not be appropriate in all cases,’ it claims.
Bob Mayho, CIEH principal policy officer, says in a consultation response to the draft order that the CIEH strongly opposed the proposal.
‘It would be wholly inappropriate for a letting agent to have any influence over the assessment process as their impartiality would be compromised. They would also be most unlikely to be qualified to carry out this type of assessment,’ he writes.
He adds that the only objective way to assess the suitability of homes for homeless people is by using the housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS).
‘The most efficient and effective means of defining the condition of a property that a local authority has at its disposal is inspection under the HHSRS. A qualified EHP would inspect and assess properties for all hazards, including damp and mould and excess cold, but would also make assessments for gas and fire safety as these form part of the 29 hazards identified under the HHSRS,’ he writes.
The CIEH admits that the cost of an HHSRS inspection is a factor for a local authorities but points out it ‘must be balanced against the risk of placing vulnerable people in housing where there is a risk of harm and then having this decision challenged by the occupiers, particularly in the event of sickness or injury’.
DCLG told EHN that councils rather than letting agents will make the final decision on the suitability of properties.
A spokesman said: ‘As the consultation sets out the government believes that local authorities are better placed to make decisions about the suitability of an individual property. That's why we are proposing that the order requires local councils to decide whether the property is suitable. Any persons assessing the property would be acting on the council's behalf. The council will make the final decision on the suitability of accommodation.’
Under the Localism Act people accepted as homeless by councils will no longer be able to turn down offers of accommodation in the private rented sector. Previously they could insist on being housed in the social sector.