The way England’s private rented sector is regulated and how well it protects tenants has been criticised by a new National Audit Office (NAO) report.
It says regulation is not effective, that renting is not fair for many tenants and that too much PRS housing is not safe or secure.
The NAO also highlights how a lack of joined-up thinking means a quarter of landlords are unwilling to let properties to non-UK passport holders, and half are unwilling to let to those on housing benefit.
And it takes the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to task for having overseen these ongoing problems and for not yet having a detailed plan to address them.
Last month Ministers said they would delay their promised Rent Reform White Paper to wait for this NOA report’s conclusions.
Echoing points made before by housing campaigners and previous reports, the NAO says privately-rented properties are less likely to comply with safety requirements than other types of housing and are more likely to be classified as non-decent.
DLUHC is criticised in the report for its piecemeal introduction of regulation – for example letting agents must be a member of a redress scheme but landlords do not – and that it ‘does not yet have a strategy for what it wants the regulation of the sector to look like as a whole’.
Ministers are also slammed for not having enough data to make decisions or measure their effectiveness and that, although they have some insight into how the sector is working such as on property conditions and tenants’ finances, they lack data on key issues where regulatory action may be required.
These include harassment, evictions, disrepair that is not being addressed, or on the costs to landlords of complying with obligations.
Finally, the report also says that tenants are too powerless or ignorant of their rights when complaining.
The NAO recommends that DLUHC defines an overall vision and strategy for the regulation of private renting including whether dispute resolutions arrangements for private renters are appropriate and accessible for all tenants, and improve its understanding of the experiences among private renters.
Gareth Davies (pictured), the head of the NAO, says: “The proportion of private renters living in properties that are unsafe or fail the standards for a decent home is concerning.
“The government relies on these tenants being able to enforce their own rights, but they face significant barriers to doing so.”
Eddie Hooker, CEO of Hamilton Fraser, who was involved in informing the report’s findings, says: “A joined-up approach to the private rented sector is long overdue and this report from the respected National Audit Office is right in its demand for a coherent strategy to protect consumers and hold outdated views and practices to account.
“The requirement for all landlords, regardless as to whether they use a letting agent or not, to be part of a redress scheme for the benefit of their tenants is a sensible and important recommendation as is holding councils to account in the use of their existing powers to tackle the minority of landlords and agents who bring the sector into disrepute.
“But let’s not forget that there is already much regulation already on the statute books and the sharing of information between existing authorities such as trading standards, deposit and client money schemes and redress suppliers should not be overlooked which would bring immediate benefits to the consumer in rooting out poor operators.
“Final recommendations in the forthcoming Renters Reform white paper should formalise, if not made mandatory, the sharing of intelligence.
Ben Beadle (pictured), Chief Executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, says: “Regulation of the private rented sector needs to ensure that homes are safe and meet all required standards.
“Too often the approach to this has been piecemeal. It has led to a proliferation of initiatives such as licensing, banning orders and a rogue landlord database with little evidence to show they are working. “We support the NAO’s call for a more strategic approach.”
Sean Hooker, (pictured) Head of Redress at the PRS, says: “This is a hard-hitting report that pulls no punches in its call for the need for a joined-up strategy for the sector.
“The NAO is a highly respected independent body and the evidence they have collated must be taken extremely seriously by the Government.
“It is no surprise to me, that issues like the introduction of redress for landlords feature prominently in the conclusions.
“Plugging this gap for consumers in getting their complaints resolved is vital to raising standards and making the sector safer and fit for purpose.”