Some reason to celebrate

Among a number of pre-Jubilee announcements made yesterday, the Government quietly published the long-awaited draft regulations on the suitability of private rented accommodation offered to homeless people.

The Localism Act 2011 will soon allow councils to offer a twelve month private letting to homeless households in order to discharge their duty to provide a settled home. During the passage of the bill, parliamentarians and organisations like Shelter and Crisis argued that, given the poor quality of much private rented housing and the risk of rogue landlords, it was dangerous to put often vulnerable homeless into private rented homes with little or no choice.

The Government has now responded to these concerns. The proposed regulations state that accommodation will only be considered suitable if it is free from serious hazards, meets requirements on gas and fire safety and, if it’s a house in multiple occupation, it has a valid licence – all existing minimum standards.

There is a very welcome safeguard to protect homeless households from harassment and unlawful eviction by rogue landlords. Landlords used by councils will have to be ‘fit and proper’ persons, free from previous convictions for, among other things, violence, discrimination and sexual offences. And landlords will have to provide an Energy Performance Certificate and a written tenancy agreement, which Shelter has long argued should be a legal requirement of all private lettings.

All these measures are hugely important to the health, safety and well-being of homeless households. But Shelter has argued that where people are housed is equally important. We cited evidence that councils were increasingly offering temporary accommodation miles away from people’s existing schools, employment and support networks. This was confirmed when it emerged that Croydon Council was considering sending people to Hull and Newham Council was looking for homes in Stoke – a story that prompted the Minister to insist that homeless families should not be accommodated miles from their previous home.

Only this week, Waltham Forest Council announced that they would stop offering accommodation out-of-area because, as the council said, ‘most say they would rather stay on their mum’s floor so their kids could go to the same school’.

So it’s very welcome indeed that the Government has listened: the preferred option announced yesterday is to specify in regulations that accommodation should only be regarded as suitable if it is located close enough to the household’s previous home to avoid disruption to schooling, employment, medical care, amenities and support.

The draft regulations are open to consultation: everyone who cares about the well-being of homeless households should support the Government’s intention to include the rules on location in the regulations before councils are allowed to offer short-term lettings to homeless families.