More than one in eight privately rented homes in England pose a serious threat to people’s health and safety, costing the NHS around £340m a year, according to a report by a committee of MPs.
It also revealed evidence of unlawful discrimination, with an estimated one in four landlords unwilling to allow non-British passport holders.
The Public Accounts Committee’s findings come at a time when renters’ finances are facing record strain, with rising rents and a rising energy bill combined to put more pressure on many households.
In January, property website Rightmove said private rents in Britain were rising at the fastest rate ever, with the average advertised rent outside London up about 10% from a year earlier.
In its report, the commission said, “it has been very difficult for tenants to realize their legal right to a safe and secure home,” and that local authorities – constrained by a lack of support from the Ministry of Settlement, Housing and Communities – have done so. They do not have the ability to provide them with proper protection.
It is estimated that 11 million people rent from the private sector in England, and the sector has doubled in size over the past two decades. Years of rising home prices mean that many people who want to buy their own home have had to stay in rented accommodation for years, in some cases with no prospect of being able to afford their place in the area they live in.
The commission’s report said an estimated 13% (589,000) of privately rented homes in England had at least one “Category 1” risk – a serious health and safety threat that landlords must legally address.
These hazards can range from moisture, mold, or the risk of accidents—for example, from tripping, falling, faulty wiring, or parts of a building that has collapsed—to smoke alarms or carbon monoxide detectors that have been missing or not working.
Compliance with legal minimum standards has been inconsistent across England, with the proportion of Class 1 risk properties ranging from 9% in London to 21% in Yorkshire and the Humber. The result, the deputies said, was a “zip code lottery” for tenant safety.
At the same time, there was also evidence of illegal discrimination in the sector, with an estimated 25% of landlords unwilling to allow non-UK passport holders, and 52% unwilling to allow tenants receiving housing benefit.
However, only 10 landlords and rental agents have been banned by local authorities since 2016, while some councils screen at least 0.1% of their privately rented properties.
The report said the ministry recognized the challenges within the sector and committed to proposing reforms in a white paper due to be issued later this year.
“Unsafe conditions, overcrowding, harassment, discrimination and dodgy evictions remain a significant problem in the private rental sector,” said Member of Parliament Meg Heller, chair of the committee.