Rachman on the march again?

I read with interest a report in today’s Independent about problems with private landlords. They correspond exactly to my view that the spectre of really bad private landlords is again rising throughout the country and that we (through the route of housing benefit) and private individuals are shelling out £billions on poor quality and in many cases dangerous or unhealthy accommodation.

There are three types of landlord:

  • Good. Yes there are many good private landlords who should be encouraged and supported.  They are the type of landlord who turn up to seminars run by councils and join voluntary accreditation schemes.
  • Bad. People who just don’t care about conditions for their tenants who don’t give proper rent books or contracts and who are only available at the end of a mobile phone.
  • Accidental. People who did not want to be landlords but who have been caught by the recession. These too fall into good or bad often dependent on the quality of the lettings agent that they employ.

In Liverpool our PCT instigated an excellent scheme to look at tenants after private landlords after it did some research to show, what we always suspected, that tenants of private landlords spend proportionately more time in hospital and using drugs and other expensive remedies than people in any other sector.

They created a partnership with:

  • The Council who can use their statutory environmental health powers to get improvements made.
  • The Fire Service who have a similarly large proportion of fires in these properties
  • RSLs who provide good accommodation but often next to poor accommodation where the lack of a damp proof course etc means dilapidation to the good priority they own.
  • GPs who refer people for early visits to the service who suffer from chronic lung and other complaints related to damp and draughts.

Over about 2 years they will visit every tenant of private landlords using information about ownership provided by the council.

The pay offs have been amazing. More than £2.5 million has been spent by landlords to remedy defects. Hundreds of people have been put on the lists of dentists and GPs. Hundreds have been put in touch with a range of services outside health that will make them less dependent on health. Excellent but not good enough. What about these three things to create good conditions everywhere:

  • Compulsory registration for private landlords. The good ones will welcome this. It is only dogma that means that there is no regulation of the supplier for a basic human need. Utilities such as gas, electricity and water are regulated so why not landlords:
  • Compulsory registration for lettings agents. There appears to be no control over these people. Anyone can set them up and they often act badly with people who are quite or very vulnerable.
  • Let councils handle all aspects of housing benefit. If councils could make local choices about which landlords would be allowed to take on benefit applicants councils could regulate the quality of supply and reduce costs through bulk purchasing.

Not putting money and resources into housing simply creates costs elsewhere. The Liverpool PCT has shown excellent imagination and judgement in developing and paying for this campaign which doesn’t cure people when they are ill but stops them becoming ill in the first place.

Excellent stuff (further details from Andy Hull at the Liverpool PCT) but something which shows me how the public sector can and should join up together (call it Total Place) and why it is absolutely right for public health to come back to the council where such continuums can be more readily made.

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. UK representative on UCLG Finance Committee, Executive Bureau and World Council. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperon on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and three grandchildren.
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