Where is the Decent Homes Standard?

The Decent Homes Standard is vital, but still nowhere to be seen. Marks Out Of Tenancy can help boost Private Rented Sector standards right now.
By Ben Yarrow
11 July 2023


Image of a non decent home


The Renters Reform White Paper, the basis for the current Renters Reform Bill, promised to extend a version of the Decent Homes Standard (DHS) from the social housing sector to also include the Private Rented Sector (PRS).

For a home to be “decent”, the White Paper said it would need to:

(a) meet the current statutory minimum standards for housing (this includes being free of category 1 hazards as part of the Health, Housing and Safety Rating System or HHSRS);
(b) be in a reasonable state of repair; 
(c) have reasonable facilities and services; and 
(d) provide a reasonable degree of thermal comfort.

The proposed DHS is also supposed to be dovetailing with Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) regulations on landlords to improve the insulation in their homes, introduce more efficient electrical fittings and improve and decarbonise heating systems to address both the fuel poverty and climate crises.

Yet, there is no mention of a DHS in the Renters Reform Bill which has now been published and is currently being debated in Parliament. Nor has there been, even though it has been three years since they were first proposed, any next steps regarding the introduction of MEES in the PRS.

Why is the Decent Homes Standard so urgently needed?

The arguments for these overhauls to the regulation of standards in the PRS are uncontroversial. In the latest English Housing Survey, 23% of PRS homes would fail to meet the current DHS. We know that the NHS spends £340m per year treating private renters whose health has deteriorated as a result of their housing. Recent analysis by City Hall also shows that private landlords in England are earning £1.6bn a year in housing benefit in return for providing “non-decent” homes that are in a state of disrepair, cold, damp, lacking modern facilities or do not meet health and safety standards.

We also know the DHS works, whilst a still unacceptable and all too visible 10% remain, the number of non-decent homes in the social housing sector is lower than both the PRS and owner-occupiers. Furthermore, it seems many landlords would be happy to engage with implementing such a Standard.

Marks Out Of Tenancy is currently working with allies in the London Boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark to improve the PRS, so let’s also focus-in at what housing standards are like there.


What is the state of private rental housing in London?

When we zoom into London, the story of PRS standards can easily be spun as being better than elsewhere in the country. In the stats, the number of non-decent PRS homes sits below the national average at 19.9%. However, it is vital to understand that the numerical volume of these homes is far greater than all other regions, with a whopping 26.8% of households living in the PRS, compared to the national average of 19%.

Zooming in even further to Lambeth and Southwark we can see that the percentage of the housing stock in the PRS is even higher, 33% and 29.4% of households respectively.

This statistical nuance is essential to understanding why £500m of the £1.6bn in welfare payments going to landlords for non-decent homes is being spent in London.


What is MEES and why does it matter?

The argument for MEES is similarly strong. In England, 59.6% of all PRS homes are below Energy Performance Certificate Band C.
In London, this figure falls to 47% - although much of this can be attributed to the higher prevalence of flats (which perform better on EPC assessments) rather than the quality of housing.

Southwark sits at around the London average with 45% but Lambeth has a whopping 57% of PRS properties languishing below EPC C.

This poor-quality housing stock directly contributes to the number of households living in fuel poverty, which the government’s official  estimates will be 14.4% or 3.53 million homes in 2023. It also contributes to the high prevalence of damp and mould in the English PRS, with 11% of dwellings having a serious problem with damp and mould in 2021, in comparison just 2% of owner occupiers and 4% of social renters.

With energy yet again becoming an issue of national security and a cost of energy crisis that, whilst tempering, looks likely to continue for many years clearly monitoring and improving the energy performance of our homes is vital. And that is all before we even get to the climate crisis. The government’s official advisers on climate change - the Climate Change Committee (CCC) recently released a report that was particularly damning about the government’s progress on improving energy efficiency in homes

Clearly, renters in Lambeth and Southwark and across the country urgently need the reforms outlined in the White Paper to be brought forward. It is welcome that the Labour Party also recently committed to introducing a stricter Decent Homes Standard and having plans for mass housing retrofit, but with these reforms not in the Renters Reform Bill, it looks more and more likely that a version of these reforms is not coming this side of the general election from either Tories or Labour (which could be as late as January 2025). With additional implementation time – tenants could be years away from new support.

So how can Marks Out of Tenancy help now?

Despite being a complex patchwork, there isn’t actually a total lack of enforcement mechanisms against poor PRS standards at the moment. However, most enforcement mechanisms lie in the gift of local authorities who have faced a funding crisis since 2010, and in areas with such substantial housing stock in the PRS like Lambeth and Southwark, knowing where to look can be challenging. This is recognised in the White Paper which explains, “Councils struggle to crack down on non-compliant landlords due to a lack of robust data and information on the sector.” In addition, tenants often don’t know how to complain to the council, or fear eviction as a result of doing so.

We can see how this plays out in the data. In data from Generation Rent, we can see that Lambeth Council received 1,059 complaints about PRS standards, inspected 764 properties and found 397 Category 1 HHSRS hazards in 2019-20. Meanwhile Southwark Council received 859 complaints, but only found 13 hazards – the number of inspections was not recorded in the data, but the implication is that a proportionately lower level than Lambeth were carried out.

The DLUHC Select Committee concurred in their recent report on the Renters Reform Bill that local authorities need to be equipped with the powers and resources to enforce against standards both now, and when a DHS comes into force.

We believe that Marks Out Of Tenancy can play a material role in aiding local authorities to do that in the here and now. With more tenants using Marks Out Of Tenancy, (and more Local Authorities partnering with Marks Out Of Tenancy) it could support boroughs like Lambeth and Southwark to improve these stats - and also not rely solely on formal channels of complaint from tenants.


What does this look like in practice?

Well let’s look at one Marks Out Of Tenancy review of a flat in Lambeth as an example of how it can aid local authorities in their targeting of inspections. The tenant said there were:

“Cracks in all the walls, systemic damp/mould in the bedroom and bathroom, gaps in the windows, a leaking shower and toilet. The electrical safety report flagged up some unaddressed issues - fire alarms hanging from the ceilings by the wire/boiler electronics burning out etc.”

Evidently, such a property would be likely to fail a HHSRS inspection, which will underpin the DHS and, given issues with the boiler and gaps in the windows - could already be below the local authority enforceable Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard of EPC E. 

It is also important to recognise the role that Marks Out Of Tenancy can play in improving standards without local authority enforcement, simply by empowering tenants, a topic we have summarised on the site before

We are in the midst of a supply and demand-crisis in PRS housing in the UK, and this has accentuated all the worst monopolistic practices of the sector. In particular, this intense competition has reduced access for tenants to the breathing space (and contact with sitting residents) to find out more about the property and landlord. Landlords and letting agents have used the current crisis to promote mass group viewings, early tenant screening and viewing via Zoom and placed greater time-pressure on agreeing to a tenancy and paying deposits.

 Marks Out Of Tenancy can help to set that imbalance straight by giving tenants concrete information on a public site before taking any next steps. Finally, we must also recognise that the DHS is only ever-intended to be a safety net, ideally we want people living in homes that are pleasant, not just decent. Using Marks Out Of Tenancy to apply some market pressure to a system whose monopolistic tendencies are only rising due to supply and demand imbalances is one step toward making that a reality.

Clearly, we all need to step-up our campaigning to bring forward a DHS ASAP, but in the meantime, Local Authorities need to do all that they can in the here and now to drive up housing standards, and Marks Out Of Tenancy is here to help.

To find out more about our work with Local Authorities, click here.