Laura Sandys is MP for Thanet South.
When I visit bad housing in my constituency, I can “smell” the damp, the lack of proper ventilation, the lack of care and attention long before I get to the door. These properties are not decent – not homes for children, and they make a mockery of my belief that everyone deserves a place of security that can and should be called home.
Last Wednesday, I called on the Government to extend the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented housing sector. Currently, we demand that all council owned and housing association properties comply with the Decent Homes Standard, but we do not expect the same for properties in the private rented sector: what is the difference? They are all homes, and we should not be discriminating according to tenure. All families deserve the same standard.
The requirements of the Decent Homes Standard are neither onerous nor unreasonable. Why should privately rented accommodation not meet safety standards; or not be in a reasonable state of repair; or not have reasonably modern facilities and services; or not provide a reasonable degree of thermal comfort? Why should those who have to rent privately have any different level of comfort or have to pay double for their energy compared to those who live in council properties?
It is perverse that we set up elaborate Government schemes to get better energy efficiency when improvements to the standard of the housing itself would help those in greater fuel poverty. Because it is not people who leak energy: it is homes that are badly insulated.
Unfit properties create all sorts of other problems – a much higher turnover of tenants, undermining community cohesion, disrupting children’s education, breaking links with support services and the erosion of any sense of permanency for families. Why put up with all this displacement activity when a clear standard would create a much more transparent and fair set of expectations on all sides, helping to establish decent homes for decent people?
“The housing crisis” is a staple part of today’s political lexicon. But it is crucial to remember and to highlight that the housing crisis we face is, for many people, a qualitative one as well as a quantitative one. We are facing a new and growing problem around rented property – there are now more than nine million private renters in England and, what is more, they are no longer predominantly students and other young people. Nearly 50 per cent of growth in the sector over the last two years has come from families with children, which now make up nearly a third of private renting households.
We must start putting in place clear expectations for the properties rented in this sector, addressing the quality as well as the quantity of our nation’s housing, because families need safe, clean, warm and decent homes so that they can put down roots, strengthen communities and look with optimism to their future.