In February the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) published the latest headline report from the English Housing Survey (EHS). In 2008 the English House Condition Survey was merged with the Survey of English Housing to form the English Housing Survey.
This report shows the reduction in the rate of owner-occupation in England to 66%. The social rented sector accounted to for 17.5% of households and 16.5% were in the private rented sector – that is 3.6 million households in the Private Rented Sector (PRS) . Average weekly rents in the PRS were £160 compared to £79 in the social rented sector. So it is not surprise that the housing benefit bill is so large. Some 63% of households in the social rented sector were in receipt of Housing Benefit, compared with only 25% in the PRS but the mix of the PRS is very different from the social sector. This surely should highlight that it is not the total amount of Housing Benefit (HB) that is the problem, but the high cost of housing in England. What can be done to ensure that private landlords whose tenants are in receipt of HB/Local Housing Allowance (LHA) maintain conditions and the state is not subsidising exploitative landlords while protecting the tenants. The amount the government has to pay in support is a reflection of the over-valued and over-priced housing market – a reflection of the sins of previous governments over the past 30 years. Governments that presided over deregulated financial systems (excessive lending and indebtedness) and inadequate construction of homes.
Looking at conditions in the private sector the long-term trend for increased overcrowding in rented housing continued but the average energy efficiency of the stock continued to improve with the average SAP 55. However in the PRS some 638,000 homes are in Energy Efficiency Rating Bands F & G that is, they have a SAP of less than 38.
There was a slight reduction in the proportion of dwellings with dampness down to 7% (it was 13%) in 1996. That still amounts to 1.4 million homes, and dampness is most prevalent in the PRS where about 13% have some damp problems. In 2010 there 1.386million non-Decent Homes in the PRS. Of the non-Decent Homes in the PRS 858,000 had at least one Category 1 hazard. It is also worth noting that 2.613 million owner-occupied homes had at least one Category 1 hazard under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). Many of these will be on low incomes and often elderly. As a country we must surely be able to find ways of reducing the risks to health in these homes so as to keep them out of hospital and certainly to ensure that they have safe and warm homes to return to after they have been in hospital.
Although the Report indicates some marginal improvements in stock condition, there are still hundreds of thousands of homes that pose a risk to health and safety of the occupiers, and the rate at which these are being addressed is a sad reflection on successive governments. The reduction in the private sector housing renewal budget by DCLG does not help local authorities address the problems in the private sector.
The full report can be downloaded at:http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/statistics/pdf/2084179.pdf
Stephen Battersby, Former Chair, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health