UNISON calls for overhaul of England’s private housing system

Plans for a new Housing Complaints Resolution Service welcomed

UNISON is calling for an “overhaul of the private housing system to ensure that it meets the people’s needs”, while welcoming the government’s announcement of plans for a new Housing Complaints Resolution Service in England.

The service, announced by communities secretary James Brokenshire, will provide a “single route” for private tenants and house owners to get disputes resolved “when in-house complaints processes have been exhausted through the current redress schemes.”

Private landlords will be required to join a housing redress scheme – something which UNISON has campaigned for and suggested in its response to last year’s consultation on housing. Landlords who don’t could face fines up of up £5,000.

The government also reiterated plans to set up a New Homes Ombudsman to champion the rights of home-owners who buy new-build homes.

But while last month’s announcement of the plans included setting up a working group to develop the service, it did not specify a timetable.

UNISON is calling for a proper complaints and redress system to be in place as soon as possible, saying that the current process for settling disputes between landlords and tenants is bureaucratic, complex and ineffective.

“Private housing consumers are not only put off from complaining about housing issues due to the complexity,” commented assistant policy officer Sylvia Jones.

Private renters, in particular, are also deterred from reporting issues, including repair problems, to their landlords because they fear retaliatory eviction, rent increases and intimidation from landlords.

“Many are left living with disrepair, which has implications for their health and wellbeing. Others end up paying for the repairs themselves and risk financial hardship.

“The court system is also failing private housing consumers,” she added, “as those that are forced to rely on it, have to contend with the cost, time and stress involved in the process, which is why the government needs to overhaul the private housing system to ensure that it meets the needs of consumers.”

The union has called on the government to reform the private rented sector in England to provide tenants with a stable, decent, safe and affordable home. Specific demands included:

  • an effective complaints system, including mandatory members of redress systems for landlords;
  • an expanded role for the Housing Obudsman, enabling the office to deal with both social housing and private housing;
  • a specialist court to handle private housing matters;
  • legislation to stop tenants being evicted at short notice and without reason when they have complained about a landlord;
  • new laws to regulate rents and strengthen to rights of social and private tenants.