Quarter of a million households put up with ‘shoddy, unsafe homes’ for fear of eviction

Citizen’s Advice releases figures to fight for further protection from revenge eviction.

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More than one in four (28%) private tenants who have experienced problems while renting do not complain for fear of being evicted, new figures from Citizens Advice show.

Now, the charity is calling on the government to use the planned introduction of an ombudsman for private landlords to further protect tenants from “revenge eviction”.

Research released today reveals almost a quarter of a million households, who had issues and chose not to complain, said their main worry was their landlord raising their rent or ending the tenancy.

Citizens Advice has helped almost 75,000 people with a private rented sector issue in the past 12 months.

Based on their experiences advising private renters, more than two in five Citizens Advice staff (43%) said people “worrying about the consequences of complaining” was the biggest issue for tenants seeking redress for their problem.

Repairs and maintenance is the most common issue that private tenants needed help for from Citizens Advice.

More than 13,000 issues about problems such as mould, electrical faults and pest infestation were dealt with by advisers in person, over the phone, by email and via webchat last year.

Citizen’s Advice The national charity is calling on the Government to use the planned introduction of an ombudsman for private landlords to further protect tenants from “revenge eviction”.

A consultation into the plan – which also looks into naming and shaming rogue landlords – finishes today (April 16).

Last year, Citizens Advice recommended all private landlords be required to join a dispute resolution scheme after it found 41% of tenants waited longer than is reasonable for repairs to be carried out.

As a result, one third (33%) of people gave up on asserting their right to repair, 13% paid out of their own pocket and 7% relocated.

Today’s report, Redressing the Balance, says tenants who rent privately face a complicated path for redress against their landlord when they have a problem with their home.

It also reveals:

  • Nearly half of renters (48%) did not think their landlord or agent had a complaints process
  • Almost nine in 10 Citizens Advice staff interviewed said people most often come for support after reporting the issue to their landlord or letting agent several times
  • More than one in seven (13%) tenants who experienced a problem didn’t complain because they were unable to contact their landlord or didn’t know how

Citizen’s Advice says any redress scheme for private renters should be simple to use, with a single, recognisable portal through which tenants can register complaints.

It should have the enforcement powers to punish rogue landlords and mandatory membership so all renters are protected and landlords who “let-and-forget” are included.

Landlords who receive the most complaints should pay more towards the running of an ombudsman, keeping the costs low for the majority, the charity says.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “People who rent shabby or unsafe homes have few options when landlords let them down – resolving disputes can be risky, costly and complicated.

“Our research shows many of these tenants fear eviction or rent hikes if they make a complaint about a problem including repairs, letting agents fees or deposit returns.

“We welcome the government’s proposal to extend redress to all private renters, bringing it into line with other consumer markets.

“However, for any scheme to be successful it must be simple, free and ensure renters are protected from losing their homes simply for raising a complaint.”

There are a number of approaches that Government is testing through consultation:

  • A Single Housing Ombudsman – primary legislation would ultimately be required to create an entirely new organisation to combine most of the existing housing redress functions, and potentially also new functions where there are currently gaps, into a single body
  • A ‘Single Front Door’ with greater standardisation of practices – a single ombudsman service portal through which all housing-related complaints could be channelled.

Consumers would only need to engage with one front-of-house organisation, but the operation and process of complaints by existing redress schemes could continue in the background.

Within this, Government could seek to standardise practices where appropriate to minimise confusion and drive best practice

  • Consolidation – in the absence of creating one single ombudsman there could be a case for rationalising the existing schemes.

For example this might include retaining one ombudsman for the social rented sector with another single service for the private rented sector, leasehold and estate agents.

Services could be standardised where possible and appropriate.

The government says not all of these options will necessarily be mutually exclusive and a combination of some or all of these may offer additional benefits over time.

 

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