The Spirit of ’74: Disruptive Citizens…Your Country Needs YOU!

This post is by Stephen Hill, Director- C2O futureplanners

This won’t sound very important; but, before the month is out, we should expect the government quietly to drop their New Garden Cities Prospectus. It’s run out of political time. It won’t win any votes in this parliament. As a housing professional, with some involvement in this initiative, my first reaction was disappointment, but not surprise.

About two hours later, my citizen heart took over. ‘How dare they’, I thought, ‘how dare this government walk away from this, for their own political convenience?’ Garden Cities might or might not be the answer, but this would have been the government’s only serious attempt to find new ways to increase housing supply through large-scale developments. This is a dereliction of duty to meet a national housing crisis. If you don’t understand why, let me try and explain; and its starts with the economy and incomes. Continue reading

The Budget: disastrous housing policy continues

The lack of coherent, affordable housing and land policies since the 1980s is at the heart of the UK’s social and economic woes. As the late Professor Peter Ambrose wrote in 2005:

We argue that there have been failures of vision, collective memory, strategy and regulation that have wasted many billions of taxpayers’ money. The deregulation of financial markets in the 1980s sparked off a flood of house purchase lending that has underpinned massive house price rises and consumed £600 billion of investment that could have found a better use renewing our infrastructure or in research and development to make Britain more competitive in a global market rather than in bolstering house and land prices. The increasing commitment, from 23% to 72% of GDP since 1980, to house purchase loans seems unsustainable; furthermore the increasing flow of demand side subsidies are working to enrich landlords and land vendors, not to stimulate more housing output. The analysis shows that more money has gone into housing but fewer houses have come out. Housing benefits and allowances have imposed a huge and increasing burden on state finances. [1] Continue reading

Human Rights, Housing and Health Inequity

By Stephen Battersby, Chair, Pro-Housing Alliance

In 2001, the late Inez McCormack – the influential human rights activist and first female president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions – brought together a wide range of individuals including social justice and human rights activists, community representatives, academics and lawyers from across the island of Ireland, to begin a discussion around the theme of participation and rights. The resulting cross-border conference of 2002 entitled ‘Participation and the Practice of Rights’ evidenced the need and the desire to harness international human rights tools for use in local struggles for equality. Encouraged to explore this further, the emerging organising groups linked in with an international network of human rights experts and advisers, whilst simultaneously moving the discussion into local communities to explore the value of this work to concrete experiences of exclusion on the ground Continue reading

PHA submission to the Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry into the Private Rented Sector

Memorandum from the Pro Housing Alliance

1.0 Executive Summary

1.1. Housing is a determinant of health, with the exported costs of poor housing are met by the NHS and others. Cold, damp and overcrowded housing makes tackling health inequalities harder

1.2. Amateur landlords who too often are ignorant of the law typify the PRS. In some cases landlords are either wilfully neglectful or plain criminal. Continue reading

New Report: ‘Poor homes, poor health- to heat or to eat? Private sector tenant choices in 2012′

Press Release – Stark choices for private tenants on benefits and increased demands on the NHS

 

“The health of tenants in the private rented sector who are in receipt of housing and other benefits, is

clearly being put further at risk as a consequence of the Government’s welfare reforms and poor conditions within the sector, and this is not just a London issue”, said Dr Stephen Battersby, Chair of the Pro Housing Alliance at the launch of a research report commissioned by the PHA – Poor homes, poor health- to heat or to eat? Private sector tenant choices in 2012.  Continue reading

Private rented sector – good in parts

By Dr Stephen Battersby and Rev Paul Nicolson

The housing market suffers from the lack of ethical foundation in the model of the free market followed by UK governments since the 1980s; hence the richest citizens, particularly landowners, become excessively asset and income rich and the poorest citizens are forced to call on food banks. In an inflated and overvalued housing market home owners have equity that can be used for paying health and care costs but renters do not, which is inequitable and further increases the social gradient in health. Continue reading

Professor Peter Ambrose 1933 – 2012

Professor Peter Ambrose 1933 – 2012

Professor Peter Ambrose died peacefully on the morning of the 22st August. He had been struggling against cancer for several months. His condition deteriorated sharply resulting in a couple of falls in the night. The ambulance was called and he was made comfortable; but by the morning he had died. Continue reading

PHA’s submission to the Banking Standards Inquiry

Pro-Housing Alliance

submission to the

Banking Standards Inquiry

20 August 2012

Drafted by Professor Peter Ambrose, Visiting Professor in Housing and Health, University of Brighton, and agreed by;

Dr Stephen Battersby, Chair PHA, past President of the Institute of Environmental Health.

Stephen Hill, Director, - C2O futureplanners

Peter Archer, Chair, Care and Repair.

Angela Maule, past Chief Executive, UK Public Health Association.

Rev Paul Nicolson, Chair Zacchaeus 2000 Trust. Continue reading

Our response to the Government’s consulation on homelessness

The Localism Act 2011 enables local authorities to end the main homelessness duty by arranging an offer of suitable accommodation in the private rented sector, without requiring the applicant’s agreement. The government’s consultation period ends tomorrow and more details about the consultation can be found here: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/housing/homelessnessorderconsult

Here is our response, drafted by our Chair, Dr Stephen Battersby.

The Pro-Housing Alliance is a loose alliance of organizations and individuals who believe that a coherent housing policy should be based on the fundamental contribution of housing to public health, including mental health. Housing is a key social determinant of health and as such homelessness is a symptom of inadequate housing policies over decades. More recently, the housing market has been further distorted by irresponsible lending, and housing costs and prices adversely affect the economy.

The Alliance launched in September 2011 works to encourage others to join it in efforts to bring about a greater recognition of the role of housing in society as a determinant of health and well-being and as a vital element of infrastructure to service the growth of the national and local economies; it will seek to develop the components of a credible and just national housing policy including increasing the rate of new housing provision and a more realistic definition of affordability that relates to incomes. See http://www.prohousingalliance.com/

The Alliance does question whether the private rented sector is the appropriate vehicle to help meet the homelessness duties of local housing authorities. It seems the changes being instituted are less to do with needs of homeless people and more to do with reducing demands on hard-pressed local housing authorities. The growth in the PRS has largely been at the higher end of the market, and provides accommodation for those who previously would have been first time buyers. It is also true that the lack of finance to purchase housing now means that more responsible landlords in the PRS can and are letting to those who are in employment. This will leave homeless people to the worst aspects of the PRS unless local housing authorities are required to exercise greater control over these landlords.

Response to Consultation Questions

Question 1

The five areas listed might look reasonable at a superficial level, however the list obviously shows some confused thinking. Health and Safety matters must be fundamental, but that has to go beyond mere gas, electrical and fire safety. The physical condition is less of an issue if a more comprehensive approach is taken to ensuring that the property is free of significant risks to health and safety.

Licensing of a house in multiple occupation (HMO) is in itself no guarantee that the property is safe or even well managed if it has not been inspected (and there is no requirement to do so before granting a licence), but the quality of management is important, and there is some confused thinking in the consultation. However as was indicated in the report on HMO research undertaken for the Department of the Environment in 19851 it was unreasonable to expect private landlords to provide the intensity of support and management that some occupiers of HMOs need. That may seem to be distant, but the level of management under consideration then still was beyond routine property management what now might meet licensing requirements. Many homeless people by definition are vulnerable and in need of a level of support not found commonly in the private rented sector.

The key elements as to the quality of any rented property is the condition (as assessed against risks to health and safety of deficiencies) and the quality of management. Licensing is only one way of trying to ensure that the landlord is “fit and proper” and management arrangements are satisfactory, so that should be the fundamental requirement. However this could be achieved equally via accreditation and the document does not refer to where a local authority has adopted “selective licensing” which goes beyond just HMOs?

Question 2

Given the points above it is argued that a full HHSRS inspection should be required of any accommodation to assess whether or not it is suitable. This becomes even more important given that reference to a private landlord does not require the agreement of the homeless applicant. It cannot be right that a local authority could refer a homeless person to a property with a Category 1 hazard, where Parliament has determined that in other circumstances the local authority would have a duty to take one of the courses of action in Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004. The argument that a full rating inspection is costly is not accepted – it takes no more time to inspect under the HHSRS than under the fitness standard prior to 2006. If it is expected that a person visiting the property on behalf of the local authority will take account of the “general condition”, then this should be a proper inspection to identify risks to health and safety using the HHSRS. There is no other way of ensuring that the accommodation is free of Category 1 hazards. We would strongly oppose this work being done by “letting agents”.

Furthermore if it is felt that if there is concern that local authority’s may not have the resources to undertake such inspections, there is no reason why landlords should not be able to obtain and pay for inspection reports from suitably qualified environmental health practitioners. If this is a sector of the market in which they are providing accommodation and from which they will be deriving income they should be willing to pay for such assessments. There is an increasing number of environmental health practitioners working in private practice who could undertake such work. The important issue is that whoever undertakes the inspection can demonstrate their competence in HHSRS assessments. This would also address the “out of district” issue.

As the presence of valid gas and electric certificates are matters that can be taken into account under the HHSRS as well as being an indication of the quality of management these would be considered in any proper inspection. Fire safety is an HHSRS hazard (applicable to all accommodation) and many of the properties could be outside the scope of HMO licensing, and so the HHSRS will be the only way of assessing whether adequate fire safety protection is in place. Carbon monoxide and products of combustion is another HHSRS hazard and the presence or absence of a CO detector is a matter to be taken into account, so again would be covered by an HHSRS assessment. In short the easiest way to ensure that health and safety risks are absent or dealt with is by way of an HHSRS assessment.

As another important issue, crowding and space is an HHSRS hazard, and it would be wholly wrong for accommodation to be used that would lead to a Category 1 hazard for crowding and space – this is a more realistic approach than relying on statutory overcrowding provision and another argument for a proper HHSRS inspection.

Nor should it be forgotten that some Category 2 hazards (such as fall into Bands D and E) can still pose a significantly increased risk to health and safety.

So as a matter of equity, it should be a requirement of the order that to be suitable the property has to have been inspected and assessed under the HHSRS by a competent practitioner.

On management, local authorities are now used to assessing whether or not an applicant for an HMO licence is fit and proper and so there is no reason why the order should not reflect the same matters as in Parts 2 and 3 of the Housing Act 2004. If the requirements are appropriate for licensing generally then they must be appropriate for landlords who could be accommodating vulnerable people.

The presence or absence of appropriate certificates, including an EPC, a written tenancy agreement (the terms of which are not unfair) and how deposits have been dealt with previously (the landlord’s record on tenancy deposits rather than for the current homelessness applicant) are an indication of the quality of management. Landlords who cannot show that they meet ‘good practice’ on these matters should not be providing accommodation for homeless people. The Order should be explicit in this as such omissions reflect that the person is not fit and proper in this context.

It would be far better for the Order to require that the landlord demonstrates that they are competent managers, and this could be by holding and complying with any relevant licences (HMO or selective licence) and/or by be being accredited via a scheme acceptable to the local housing authority.

Question 4

Provisions on location should be strengthened not least to take account of children’s education as well as employment. Where there is evidence that the accommodation would incur additional social and economic costs (e.g. change of school or additional travel to work costs), then that accommodation should be deemed ‘unsuitable’. The one matter that appears to have been omitted is “informal support” as opposed to “key services” including support from friends and family.

The presumption must be that the accommodation should be within the district, particularly where children are involved so that there is no disruption to schooling and to the social peer group networks that are important to children’s learning experiences.

Question 5

The matters to be taken into account should again be specified in the Regulations.

Question 6

The performance of local housing authorities on homelessness varies considerably and it is important that as much as possible is set out in the Regulations on “suitability”. Thus the factors listed are the ones that should be taken into account. However, they may be “taken into account’ and then ignored. Education is another fundamental when addressing health inequity so the Regulations should also set out specific “deal breakers”. So it should be an absolute that any accommodation that would lead to disruption of schooling or education (whether of offspring or the applicant or member of their household) is unsuitable.

Conclusion

The use of the PRS to meet homelessness duties by local authorities is fraught with difficulty when the applicant has no say in the matter. It is therefore crucial that with the number of neglectful, inadequate and irresponsible landlords in the PRS, this does not become a charter for easy money, much of which could come from the public purse given rent levels. After all nearly 900,000 dwellings in the PRS have a Category 1 hazard – that represents 25% of all households in living in the PRS. Tight controls are therefore required over what is “suitable accommodation”. It could also provide another means of encouraging landlords to act more responsibly and professionally.

Should any clarification be required of these points please do not hesitate to contact the PHA.

Dr Stephen Battersby, Chair of the PHA

 

House price inflation – 60 Inglorious Years

On Saturday 26 May the Money Guardian included an article on house price inflation over the sixty years since the Queen came to the throne (under the title ‘Worth their weight in diamonds’). It pointed out for example that a terraced house in Chelsea that sold for £4,600 in 1952 is now ‘worth’ £3,500,000. Similar examples were given for other types of property such as a three bedroomed detached in Guildford sold in 1952 for £5,544 and now on the market for £768,000. ‘…in London it’s £16 a day profit over the 60-year period.’ Continue reading