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Decent Homes But More Regulation?


The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) For Healthy Homes and Buildings met this month, primarily to discuss updating the Decent Homes standard for the Social Rented Sector but one of the outcomes could be greater regulation of the Private Rented Sector (PRS).

What is an APPG? 

All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are informal cross-party groups that have no official status within Parliament. They are run by and for Members of the Commons and Lords, though many choose to involve individuals and organisations from outside Parliament in their administration and activities.  As an example the APPG for healthy homes and buildings has wide membership from within Parliament, plus invited guests including representatives of the PDPLA, and more importantly, the Dept Levelling Up, Housing and Communities  who use it as a sounding board with MP's and appear also, to take direction from the group.

There are over 700 APPG's and they are completely unregulated - so have become active lobby spaces for corporations to promote their view.

As an example, the APPG for healthy homes and buildings has honourable intentions, is chaired by Jim Shannon MP with Mary Gindon MP as Co-Chair, Derek Thomas MP as secretary, Paul Givan MP as treasurer and vice chairs Marco Longhi MP and Earl John Lytton.  This months meeting was chaired by Lord Best but was sponsored by E.ON, McCarthy Stone, Saint-Gobain, Velux and others. There is no suggestion that any policies promoted by this group are not good policies, but you can see from the sponsors that there are going to be areas which are of more interest than others.

What is the Decent Homes Standard? 

In the PRS we are all too familiar with HHSRS (Housing Health & Safety Rating System) and have often commented that it is a shame it does not also apply to the Social Rented Sector (SRS)

The reason it does not is because there is a national regulator for the Social Rented Sector and the 'Decent Homes Standard' (DHS)specifies the standard which social housing providers need to meet - and if they do not, the regulator is empowered to take action to rectify the situation or penalise the offender.

In the PRS, there is no national regulator and in its absence, responsibility is devolved to local authorities. Also, where the SRS has the DHS, the PRS has HHSRS which is a completely different standard.

The issue with the DHS is that it was last updated in 2001 and is now completely out of date - it does not, for example, have any mention of mould or damp - so you council house can be knee deep in water without any rules having been broken. It also needs update as it does not have any requirement for smoke or carbon monoxide alarms. On the basis that there is an obvious correlation between health and housing, achieving the highest standards possible are obviously very important which is why this august group has focussed upon it.

Social Housing White Paper: Decent Homes Review

Progress in this area is almost glacial and the update to the DCS is no different. Having been in the works for several years, it has been confirmed that the White Paper will be consulted upon mid-2022, so a final draft is unlikely before 2023.

However, the review is focussed on 4 areas - see the box to the right. Part 1 is only focussed on whether the standard needs updating and only after that, will Michael Gove (as the responsible minister) decide whether to proceed to Part 2 which is to actually update the standard.

What Does This Have To Do With The PRS?

The charts above were part if the presentation by the BEIS on plans to decarbonise housing which went on to talk about encouraging heat pumps, growing the heat network market and making things easier for consumers.

However, the key point for us came from the last chart above - showing the PRS  to be 2nd worst in terms of EPC ratings. You could be positive about this and say that living in a privately rented house, you are likely to have better insulation and warmth than if you own your own house but of course, the MP's and others debating this issue simply compared the PRS with the heavily subsidised SRS and asked, what can we do to sort the problem in the PRS?

One suggestion that was debated at length, was the need for a National Register of Landlords and a regulator to manage the landlords on the register. While we have always argued against such a register - if it meant that the case for local licensing went away we would be very happy and also, if it also meant that we were regulated by a national regulator to a clear national rule book it would also mean we would no longer be subject to the jobsworth attitudes of some local authority officers, interpreting rules oddly or imposing standards which are not needed or appropriate. 

To his credit, at this point the chair, Lord Best, asked that any such debate focus on the managing agents responsible for around half of all properties in the PRS and not the individual landlords.  A ray of common sense in the madness of the day.

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