Levelling up for London renters: can we improve standards, decarbonisation homes, and increase access for low-income families?
Chair: Laurence Coaker, Head of Housing Needs, Brent Council and Acting Chair of Capital Letters
Tom Copley, Deputy Mayor for Housing, Greater London Authority
Joanne Drew, Housing and Regeneration Director, Enfield Council and Co-Chair of the London Housing Directors Group
Sam Bruce, Head of Housing, Centre for Social Justice
The government is proposing to apply the decent homes standard to the private rented sector; the Mayor of London is investing in landlord enforcement, while London councils have committed to an unprecedented retrofit programme to raise EPC.
Our expert panel considers where the funding to back this combined political ambition will be found, and how landlords can be incentivised to do their bit.
Tom Copley welcomes the plan to extend the decent homes standard to the PRS but is concerned about the LHA freeze
The role of the private rented sector in housing homeless families has grown despite an increase in council and social homebuilding since 2016. The growth of the private rented sector in housing homeless families requires us to address quality, sustainability and affordability.
Private renters are disproportionately likely to be vulnerable, and millions face rising rent arrears and the threat of eviction as a result of the worsening cost of living crisis.
One thing that often surprises people about London’s private rented sector is that unlike many cities around Europe and America, the Mayor has no powers to regulate it.
Improving PRS standards
Despite this, the Mayor and I are committed to improving standards and conditions in the private rented sector. Too many renters suffer risks to their health and safety, with more than one in ten properties in the private rented sector containing Category One hazards and almost a fifth failing the government’s decent home standard.
Last year, the Mayor launched a new PRS qualification to build skills and capacity across the capital’s private rented sector enforcement teams. It equips housing office officers to identify breaches of legal requirements, which in turn raise awareness and has a deterrent effect on landlords.
We welcome the government’s intention to extend the decent home standard to the private rented sector. However, it must reflect expectations of a decent home in 2022 and beyond, and not just for a few standards developed for social housing in 2006.
The renters reform bill will incorporate many elements of the Mayor’s London model of renting, including an end to no-fault eviction and a national register of landlords. Both are essential to improving the quality and security of the private rented sector for tenants.
Benefits and the affordability challenge
Affordability of the private rented sector in London is a growing challenge, especially for those in receipt of benefits.
The Government must ensure that welfare benefits cover London rents, which means removing the benefit cap and increasing LHA rates. However, more needs to be done to address affordability in the private rented sector.
Sustainability is going to be crucial if we’re going to meet the Mayor’s net zero ambitions. It’s also vital to help reduce energy bills, particularly for families on the lowest incomes.
Households living in private rented accommodation are most likely to be fuel-poor. Only 19% of all households privately rent their homes, whereas 35% of all fuel poor live in this type of accommodation.
The private rented sector remains the most difficult tenure for retrofit. There is evidence that landlords who own the least energy-efficient properties are quietly selling up, shifting the burden of retrofit onto first-time buyers.
Given this, it is up to the government, local authorities and the mayor to work together to ensure good conditions, high standards and affordability for families in temporary accommodation.
Sam Bruce believes housing will be a big issue at the next election and see opportunities for “securitization” of benefits to enable PRS investment
Centre for Social Justice is a think tank, and we do a whole range of work on policy research and advocacy. We did a polling exercise that showed the central issue of housing as a question of the strength of local communities.
We realised there’s a need for a systems thinking approach to housing as a whole. We’re keen to develop are developing a policy approach that looks at housing and housing affordability. Please get in touch if you’d like to be a part of that work.
We have been interested in what levelling up means for British politics and housing. We launched a paper last year entitled The Hidden Housing Crisis, and we polled a nationally representative political survey of 5000 people.
Voters caring more about housing affordability
We were able to show that since the 2019 election, support for the Conservative Party gained a lot of people trusted the party with their vote for the first time in their lives. Among that segment, there’s much more of an interest in housing affordability and in social housing.
We’ve made the case that all parties need to have a vision for affordable housing and social housing at the heart of their next election campaigns.
So what does that mean for levelling up? There’s a question about levelling up conceptually, particularly in London. Does levelling up mean “not London” or does it have something to offer to London?
I don’t like to think about levelling up as being “not London”. It is about communities that are experiencing disadvantages and feel left behind. There are communities across the country where policy innovations in the English housing system would have a huge impact on increasing the supply of affordable housing.
One example is the idea of securitizing housing benefits. There may be an opportunity for the government to say to institutional investors looking for a reliable return on an investment that in return for a guaranteed uprating that there would be substantial investment in build-to-rent accommodation, which would be high quality and energy efficient.
Joanne Drew sees decarbonising London housing as an unprecedented challenge, but is optimistic that green investment will unlock jobs and quality-of-life benefits
The first thing to say is that the London retrofit program is one of seven climate change initiatives led by London Councils, with some great cross-party political leadership.
We are addressing the decarbonization of 3.8 million homes in London, and we aim to achieve an EPC B rating by 2030 and then move to net zero by 2050.
The price tag for that is high, £49 billion to get to EPC B. If we’re going to net zero, that equates to around £13k per home. So with current market prices, we can anticipate that going up even further.
PRS and the retrofit challenge
It’s a challenging agenda, and we think that the private rented sector may be one of the hardest yet most parts. The private rented sector has some of the lowest quality accommodation concentrated in some of the most deprived areas with vulnerable people on low incomes.
So your role in working with the private rented sector is crucial, and I urge you all to look at how those programs can support your climate change agenda.
Green jobs, landlord incentives
We’re already doing many good things in local authorities. The first thing is addressing our own council housing stock. By doing that, we help to create the supply chains, which helps to create the jobs and training programmes that we need to support the green investment.
So 120,000 jobs are potentially achievable. We all want to ensure that those green jobs go to our residents and that they benefit from the upskilling. We also need to look at aggregating our collective buying power, we can help to create solutions that are more affordable for landlords.
Another idea is council tax incentives. How can we support landlords who do retrofit works, and have void periods as a result? Should we reduce council tax liabilities on those to help kind of support that endeavour?
We can develop more creative solutions, including encouraging the government to provide a wider range of green mortgages and green tax incentives that landlords can draw down. We’re also looking at different forms of tenancy agreement, which can share the benefits of reduced energy bills and initiatives to kickstart the investment of landlords in their properties.
We asked the audience to vote on the most important take aways from the session via Slido. Here are the results.