More than one in eight privately rented homes in England pose a serious threat to people’s health and safety, costing the NHS about £340m a year, according to a report from a committee of MPs.
It also uncovered evidence of unlawful discrimination, with an estimated one in four landlords unwilling to let to non-British passport holders.
The public accounts committee’s findings come as tenants’ finances face a record squeeze, with higher rents and energy bill increases combining to pile more pressure on many households.
In January the property website Rightmove said private rents in Britain were rising at the fastest rate on record, with the average advertised rent outside London almost 10% higher than a year earlier.
In its report, the committee said it was “too difficult for renters to realise their legal right to a safe and secure home”, and that local authorities – constrained by a lack of support from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – did not have the capability to provide them with proper protection.
An estimated 11 million people rent privately in England, and the sector has doubled in size during the past two decades. Years of soaring house prices have meant that many people who want to buy their own home have been forced to stay in rented accommodation for years, in some cases with no prospect of ever being able to afford their own place in the area where they live.
The committee’s report said an estimated 13% (589,000) of privately rented homes in England had at least one “category one” hazard – a serious threat to health and safety that landlords are legally obliged to address.
These hazards could range from damp and mould or a risk of accidents – for example, from trips or falls, faulty wiring or parts of the building collapsing – to smoke alarms or carbon monoxide detectors that were missing or not working.
Compliance with the legal minimum standards was inconsistent across England, with the proportion of properties with category one hazards ranging from 9% in London to 21% in Yorkshire and the Humber. The result, said the MPs, was “a ‘postcode lottery’ of tenant safety”.
At the same time there was also evidence of unlawful discrimination in the sector, with an estimated 25% of landlords unwilling to let to non-British passport holders, and 52% unwilling to let to tenants who receive housing benefit.
Yet only 10 landlords and letting agents have been banned by local authorities since 2016, while some councils inspect as few as 0.1% of their privately rented properties.
The report said the department recognised the challenges within the sector and had committed to proposing reforms in a white paper due later this year.
Meg Hillier MP, the committee’s chair, said: “Unsafe conditions, overcrowding, harassment, discrimination and dodgy evictions are still a huge issue in the private rented sector.”