Action for healthy homes

Published: by Martha Mackenzie

Minimising the impact of bad housing is still a significant challenge for local authorities. Poor conditions can affect people’s mental health and wellbeing. They can also lead directly to illness and injury.

Last week I blogged about the impact rogue landlords are having on the health of renters. Nearly one million renters have had their health affected by their landlord failing to make repairs or deal with poor conditions such as mould, damp, or electrical hazards. Shelter has called on local authorities to take tough, visible enforcement action against these landlords.

Last month, major changes in public health offered a new opportunity for councils to take a well rounded approach to eliminating rogue landlords. These changes will allow councils to embed the importance of safe, hazard free housing as a key contributor to the health of the local population

The new public health agenda aims to address the wider determinates of health, such as the physical environment. It is seeking to identify the circumstances that lead to health inequalities and to prevent poor health in the first place.

One of the main practical implications is the establishment of local authority Health and Wellbeing Boards, which will be responsible for assessing the needs of their residents through quantitative and qualitative evidence collection.

We hope that these Boards can be used to facilitate a multi-agency response to poor private sector housing. This will be particularly important at a time of increased budgetary constraints.

A housing presence, such as a landlord accreditation body or an environmental health expert, on Health and Wellbeing Boards (something that a number of local authorities have argued should be mandatory) will ensure that this joined up approach is encouraged and maintained.

Local authorities will also be tasked with creating local ‘health and wellbeing strategies’ that implement a community-wide approach to preventative health care. As there is a clear link between health and housing these strategies should look closely at the home environment of their local population. As more and more of us become long-term tenants these persistently poor conditions are damaging local communities.

It is also up to those of us campaigning for reform to make the case for involvement in this new public health world. To justify the allocation of resource we must continue to gather evidence on and draw attention to the health impact of poor housing. Something that the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health have expertly arguing for some time.

Councils should continue to use the powers at their disposal to bring effective enforcement action. But this new preventative health environment presents an exciting opportunity for local authorities and the housing sector to think innovatively about tackling the rogue landlords and poor conditions that are putting renters at risk.

Has your council signed up to evict rogue landlords?