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Rogue landlords forcing tenants into a ‘living nightmare’

11 December 2015

Charity says Government must use Housing Bill to take fight to unscrupulous landlords

Private housing tenants from across income scales are living in unsafe homes that fail to meet basic legal standards, a new report has said.

Rogue landlords are making billions of pounds from 700,000 private rented homes in England with a category 1 hazard, the worst kind of problems, which can include rat infestations, unsafe electrics, cold and damp.

New evidence from Citizens Advice today shows people from across society are falling victim to unscrupulous landlords.

The report Paying a High Price for a Faulty Product shows 30 per cent of households living in unsafe privately rented homes have an annual income of more than £30,000, with 18 per cent earning more than £40,000 a year.

Citizens Advice says private renters desperately need to be given protections that exist in other consumer areas and has been campaigning for tenants in unsafe accommodation to have the right to rent refunds. The charity is pleased this has been included in the Housing Bill currently going through Parliament - but it insists tenants must not have to pay court fees to pursue this action.

Despite private rented accommodation costing the most, the sector is most likely to have category 1 hazards - 17 per compared to 12 per cent of owner-occupied homes and 6 per cent of social rented homes.

The report, produced with New Policy Institute, shows:

  • There are more than 100,000 households who pay more than £900 per month to live in an unsafe private home.

  • The average monthly rent for an unsafe home in the private sector is £650, not much lower than the average overall cost of £720 for a home that meets minimum standards.  

  • Just 210,000 of the households in unsafe privately rented homes have no one in work or are of pension age.

  • Private renters in England spend £4.2 billion a year to live in unsafe homes that fail to meet legal standards.

  • Half a million children live in unsafe privately rented homes.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Rogue landlords are forcing private tenants into a living nightmare.

“The private rented sector is the most expensive housing tenure but is in the worst state - consumers are paying top dollar to stay in dire homes that can threaten their lives and risk their health.

“For too long the private rented sector has been seen as a side issue in the British housing crisis debate. This is utterly wrong as the astronomical cost of buying property means increasing numbers of people and families are moving into private tenancies.

“It is good the Housing Bill includes plans to give tenants the rights to rent refunds when their homes are unsafe - but it’s imperative renters don’t have to stump up court fees to seek this justice.”

The Citizens Advice report report shows the private rented sector includes a range of family types with a range of means. At one end 500,000 households have an annual income of less than £10,000. At the other, 500,000 working households with have an annual income of at least £50,000.

Citizens Advice supports a proposal in the Housing Bill to allow tenants to seek a refund of up to a year's rent when their landlord has taken no action to correct dangerous disrepair.

It recommends that the Government devolves more powers to councils so they can set up local licensing to tackle specific issues in their private rental markets. This could help to ensure landlords are providing the quality of housing and service the area needs and make sure tenants know what they can expect from a good landlord.

The charity also agrees with a Housing Bill proposal that landlords who continue to rent out unsafe homes should be blacklisted and banned. But it wants to see the fines of £5,000 for breaching a banning order set to a higher level so that it acts as a true deterrent. It goes further and says details of the database of banned landlords should be made available to the Probation Service, the NHS and charitable agencies that support disadvantaged people to gain access to housing.

In the last year Citizens Advice helped more than 82,000 people suffering from a problem with a privately rented home. The charity has campaigned for better rights for tenants through its Settled and Safe campaign.

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Notes to editors

  1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local Citizens Advice, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  2. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  3. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
  4. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.
  5. Local Citizens Advice in England and Wales advised 2.5 million clients on 6.2 million problems in 2014/15. For full service statistics see our publication Advice trends.
  6. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.