Housing quality is on the agenda in the Commons as the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill receives its Second Reading this week. The Bill seeks to resurrect a duty on landlords to only let properties that are ‘fit for human habitation’ and maintained in this state throughout the tenancy.

But what do we know about the condition of private rented homes at the moment? This post explores some of the data.

What are conditions like in the private rented sector?

One way of measuring housing quality is to use the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). The HHSRS lets an assessor judge whether housing conditions are poor enough that there is a risk to health and safety.

It can be applied to all tenure groups, and is one of the main tools local authorities have to act against poor housing conditions in the private rented sector. Problems identified by HHSRS that are likely to have a serious impact on the tenant’s health are termed ‘Category 1 hazards’. Local authorities have to take action if they become aware of a privately-rented home with a Category 1 hazard.

If the Fitness for Human Habitation Bill is passed then tenants will gain the right to take landlords to court if they don’t keep the property free of Category 1 hazards. Landlords will also have to meet other minimum standards.

How many homes have Category 1 hazards?

The chart below shows the proportion of homes in each tenure group that have a Category 1 hazard, according to the English Housing Survey. It also shows the proportion with two of the most common Category 1 hazards: excess cold and fall hazards. Privately-rented homes are more likely than other tenure groups to have all of these issues.

Chart showing that the percentage of category 1 hazards is 17% in private rental sector, 13% in owner occupied homes and 6% in social rented homes.

Why are there more Category 1 hazards in the private rented sector?

The reasons behind the quality issue in the private rented sector are complex and interrelated. However, there is one straightforward factor: private rented housing tends to be older. The UK has some of the oldest housing stock in Europe, and much of that older stock is privately rented. As the chart below shows, over a third of privately-rented homes were built before 1919.

Chart showing that 34% of homes in the private rental sector were built pre-1919, 20% of owner occupied homes are pre-1919 and 6% of social rental housing is pre-1919

Who is affected by poor housing conditions?

The private rented sector is growing and becoming more diverse. 20% of households rented privately in 2015-16, compared to 12% ten years previously. In the same period, the number of families with children in the sector grew by almost a million to 1.6 million.

Within the private rented sector, some types of household are more likely to be affected by poor conditions than others. The chart below shows the results of analysis of the English Housing Survey comparing different types of privately-renting households.

Households on low incomes and those supported by Housing Benefit are more likely to have a Category 1 hazard in their home. The same is true of households with a disabled or long-term ill person, or households with someone over 60 living in them. However, households with young children are slightly less likely to have a Category 1 hazard.

SOME HOUSEHOLDS ARE MORE LIKELY TO EXPERIENCE HAZARDS: % of private-renting households who live with a Category 1 hazard. Is the household in poverty?* Yes, 22% experience a hazard. No, 15%. Does anyone in the household receive housing benefit? Yes, 19%. No, 15%. Does anyone in the household have a disability or long-term illness? Yes, 20%. No, 15%. Is anyone in the household aged under 16? Yes, 15%. No, 17%. Is anyone in the household aged over 60? Yes, 18%. No, 16%. Notes: * i.e. a household income of less than 60% of the median, before housing costs. Source: House of Commons Library analysis, English Housing Survey 2015 datasets

All comparisons in the above chart show a statistically significant difference.

Want to find out more?

In March, the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (POST) will be publishing a POST Note looking at the research linking housing quality and health. Read about it here.

Picture credit: London – Housing in London – 1788 by Jorge Royan, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported