All Party Parliamentary Group for the Private Rented Sector.

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All Party Parliamentary Group for the Private Rented Sector.

An All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Private Rented Sector met to consider how best to future proof the PRS to ensure that it is best equipped and supported to meet the needs of older and disabled renters.

All-Party Parliamentary Group on Accessibility in the Private Rented Sector AccessiblePRS

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics in December 2019 suggested that around 15% of disabled people aged 16-64 in the UK now live in private rented housing.
Alongside this, in its report, “Why older private renters need more security” Age UK has noted the increase in the proportion of private rented homes now headed by an older renter.
In light of this, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Private Rented Sector, chaired by Andrew Lewer MBE MP, held a meeting to consider how best to future proof the private rented sector to ensure that it is best equipped and supported to meet the needs of older and disabled renters.
Guy Harris, who runs AccessiblePRS was invited to address the Group at its online meeting on 21st April at 10:30am. Also addressing the group was Lottie Beauchamp for Age UK, Dr Rachel Russell for the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, and Meera Chindooroy for the National Residential Landlords Association.

Below is a transcript of what AccessiblePRS had to say:

We are part of a small vanguard of organisations working to increase the supply of accessible housing and make it easier for disabled and older renters to find suitable homes to rent. We are exploring different models with both corporate and private landlords, looking at new builds and existing housing stock.

I’m going to highlight some of the issues we face and suggest ways that government action can help create a private rented sector that is future proofed for disabled and older renters.

Wheelchair users register with us to find somewhere to rent privately. Each telling a catalogue of horror stories. Some look to the private rented sector because the social housing system is failing them. Some because private landlords are selling and terminating their tenancy. While others have good budgets yet cannot find what they need. In a nutshell, the private rented sector has evolved in ways that exclude disabled renters.

Yet it can offer scale, diversity and flexibility, but not until we solve the chronic lack of accessible housing and address issues of process, which needs the support of the government - financially and through regulation. 

The Private Rented Sector can offer scale, diversity and flexibility, but not until we solve the chronic lack of accessible housing and address issues of process, which needs the support of the government - financially and through regulation.

Guy Harris, AccessiblePRS

So what needs to happen with New Build properties? 

Most obvious is to make the current optional accessibility planning rules mandatory. It makes no sense that we’re not building accessible homes. New builds must be built to a baseline M4(2) standard, and include 10% of M4(3) wheelchair accessible or adaptable homes. 

But for these to be available to disabled renters, there is a further step: a landlord must buy these properties, ensure they’re fitted out as accessible, and then rent them to disabled people. This is over and above what the standard private rented sector does. 

Here the corporate landlord can play a part, creating accessible homes at scale. For example:

Abode Impact is a specialist asset manager that has been working on the institutional supply of wheelchair accessible homes for the private rented sector - during which time, they have carried out important research and explored various models. They are still looking to purchase their first properties, against issues of supply and affordability. It is not straightforward. Yet if they succeed, we have a model for institutional investors, which is what will drive the scale for long-term change in the sector. 

So what can we do to help this? We need to provide institutional landlords with funding in the form of a corporate Disabled Facilities Grant. Based per property, to the higher M4(3) wheelchair accessible standards. It could be paid upfront, or over a number of years. The grant reflects perceived risk, supply issues, specialist fit out, and extra costs associated with disabled renters. Any policy also needs to ensure that funding and policy for accessible housing does not compete with affordable housing, even though affordable homes are an immediate political objective - particularly in London. The government should stipulate tenancy contracts that offer security of tenure and that properties go to disabled renters. If a tenant moves out earlier, there must be a route to ensure that the property is offered to another disabled person.

Meanwhile, for private landlords, we need new incentives and solutions to create more accessible homes. 

We must bring together the disabled renter, the letting agent, the landlord and their property, the builder, and the Local Authority. Here’s my shortened list of how the government can help achieve this. I have seven points:

  1. Disabled and older renters need Housing advice and advocacy. My experience is that often disabled people don’t know what routes are available to them, whether the housing choice they are pursuing is actually their best option, or whether advice they are given is correct and in their best interests. When I’ve relayed different cases to professionals within the system, I am met with dismay that types of support are already in place, but the guidance is not being followed.

  2. We need an accessibility standard for marketing property. One of the biggest challenges disabled renters face when going online, is screening properties for accessibility information. It’s an impossible task. Given an agent’s range of tools, including floor plans, photos and video tours, it needn’t be. A renter should be able to assess a property online and know immediately whether a property warrants further viewing, without the need to call an agent for further information - which is often incomplete anyway. It must be a level playing field, with all letting agents upholding the same standards. AccessiblePRS is on the point of launching an Accessible Letting Scheme with a large London agent, but it’s frustrating to know that take up will only be voluntary and standards can’t be enforced. We want collaboration with an expert panel of stakeholders in order for the scheme to be made mandatory for letting agents. This aims for one single, inclusive and cost effective private rented sector.

  3. We need to revisit the process for Disabled Facilities Grants, if they are to work for disabled renters. Let the renter bring a DFG-in-principle when they search for a property, so that they could approach agents and landlords with an expedited process that is already mapped out for a landlord, including rent payments during adaptation works. These tenants would need to bring a further carrot and stick with them, namely a grant to the private landlord to increase the desirability of disabled tenants, but also the requirement to provide security of tenure for a period of time. This must be supported by awareness campaigns.

  4. We need to encourage builders and developers to incorporate accessible features when refurbishing. We need to incentivise them because they’re not doing it already. Encouraging them into a circular model that connects builders, landlords and tenants earlier in the process, would start to look like low hanging fruit, and a private renting model that offers greater certainty, fewer void periods, and more disabled renters in suitable homes.

  5. We want to get Local Authorities working with private landlords to ease waiting lists for accessible properties. Issues of affordability and security can be factored in along with adaptations giving landlords an opportunity to invest for the long-term. And while retrofitting for accessibility, this is also an opportunity to include energy efficiencies that alleviate fuel poverty. Have a look at Walsall council’s pilot scheme with Agile Homes & Properties.

  6. Use Section 106 to stimulate accessible housing supply. Planning departments or developers could be given the option to transfer some of their Section 106 obligations over to accessible housing. Just as with affordable housing, these properties could come with use restrictions for types of tenants.

  7. Finally, we need to get different organisations working together to deal with complex cases - for example, where disabled people want to work, but are juggling care packages, housing affordability and local authority constraints, particularly in London. Housing is a significant obstacle to workplace equality. Solving it will benefit the Treasury. Speaking with renters in this situation, it’s apparent that they’ve been refused help everywhere, because of a lack of resources or remit. By joining budgets and resources, and with public and private cooperation, these cases should be simple to resolve.
Let me finish by saying that with good supply and clear information provision, the private rented sector can be a place disabled and older renters call home.