Renting directly linked to poor physical and mental health

Damp, mould, and cold plague renters – with the current energy crisis compounding the issue. So what rights do tenants have to demand safe and secure housing?

Rebecca Goodman
Wednesday 20 October 2021 07:00
<p>Mould and rot seen in an image shared with Shelter</p>

Mould and rot seen in an image shared with Shelter

Everyone deserves to live in a safe and secure home that isn’t going to put them or their family at risk of ill health. But for millions of renters, that right seems a world away from their own everyday living conditions.

One in five renters in England has poor mental and even physical health because of the type of housing they live in, according to research from Shelter.

Damp and mould are one of the most common problems, affecting 26 per cent of renters, the same proportion that aren’t able to heat their homes.

A fifth are constantly struggling to pay rent and another one in five worry about being evicted.

Someone experiencing any one of these issues is three times as likely to say their housing situation is harming their health, the research showed.

The current energy crisis is not helping, with wholesale energy prices soaring and the cost of gas and electricity rising for most households.

Ofgem’s energy price cap rose by £139 on October 1 from £1,138 to £1277, yet it is still the cheapest option for many. It’s predicted to go up again when it is next reviewed in April.

To make matters worse, the £20 uplift for universal credit has come to an end, after the government declined to extend it, and the furlough scheme keeping many people in work has also closed.

These issues, combined with rising inflation that is pushing up the price of everything we buy, are creating a toxic environment for tenants.

The charity is calling on the new housing minister, Michael Gove, to tackle these health issues it says are caused by poor housing.

“The cost of poor housing is spilling out into overwhelmed GP surgeries, mental health services, and hours lost from work,” says Shelter’s chief executive, Polly Neate.

“The new housing secretary must get a grip on the housing crisis and tackle a major cause of ill health.

“The government can ease the pressure on renters’ health now by providing targeted grants to clear rent arrears built up during the pandemic, and by making good on its promise to reform private renting. But ultimately the housing crisis will never be cured until we build the decent social homes that more people need to live a healthy life.”

Despite the rising number of renters in the UK, they are still in the minority when it comes to those who own their own homes.

However, there are steep barriers to overcome such as rising house prices, which have been steadily increasing over the past year and for September were 7.4 per cent higher than in 2020.

Separate research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) showed that almost 1 million families on low incomes in England could not afford the rent they were paying in the private sector. It said government policies to support homeownership and to make renting more affordable were failing this group.

It said current plans to build 6,000 homes for social rent each year do not come close to delivering the number of homes needed to meet the scale of the current problem. Instead, building 100,000 homes for social rent per year for the next 15 years would turn the tide on the housing crisis.

Rachelle Earwaker, economist at JRF, said: “Our analysis shows that buying your own home through government schemes is simply not an option for the vast majority of people on low incomes, and policies to make rent more affordable are not working either.

“With an ambitious new minister at the helm, the spending review is the first opportunity for him to signal a clear intent to tackle the housing crisis head on by delivering the homes that can fix the problem.

“Bold investment in homes for social rent that are genuinely affordable for people on low incomes would set us on a clear path to reducing poverty and increasing the living standards of people on the lowest incomes.”

The Renting Reform Bill is due to be published in the next few weeks, which is expected to improve conditions for tenants with measures including the scrapping of Section 21 eviction notices and a lifetime deposit.

However, if you are renting and unhappy with the condition of your home, it’s unsafe or affecting your health, for example, you do have options.

The first thing to do is contact your landlord or estate agent about any repair problems to ask them to arrange for the problem to be fixed. If they are unable to do this, or don’t respond within a reasonable time, you can contact your local council’s environmental health department. Its job is to look at problems that could affect your health or put you at risk.

When you contact your council, you’ll be put through to the team looking after privately rented properties. Keep hold of any communications between you and the owner of the house and take photos of the issue. If you’re unhappy with the council’s response, you can contact the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and ask it to investigate the issue.

If your landlord or estate agent is a member of a professional tradition body, such as the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) you can also contact it to complain. A charity such as Shelter can offer free advice and support.

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