Private Rented Sector

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 2:12 pm on 25th June 2014.

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Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price Conservative, Thurrock 2:12 pm, 25th June 2014

I am not the local council, but if I were, I would be doing something about it. Let me give the hon. Gentleman some examples. A row of four terraced houses in Tilbury is subsiding. One of the tenants has been on the waiting list to be rehoused for nine years. The council is still putting people in those properties. There is a flat from which someone was rehoused because it was riddled with damp, only for a new tenant to come to me two months later about the same property because it had not been treated. The post-1940 housing stock in my constituency has poorly installed central heating and double glazing units, which have led to real problems of decay. Yes, the previous Government did introduce a decent housing initiative, but it is useless if councils do not take advantage of it. I am doing my best to tell the council what its obligations are to its tenants. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could do the same. It might listen to him as it is a Labour council.

The real point is that some tenants suffer seriously life-threatening illnesses. Where properties are infected with damp and mould, which happens in poorly ventilated properties with cheap double-glazing, we see a rise in illnesses such as asthma. I also want to mention an illness that many hon. Members may not have heard of, aspergillus. Where tenants inhale mould in infected properties, the mould can start to invade their lungs. That condition can be terminal, and I am sorry to advise the House that in my constituency I have a number of cases of people with aspergillus, contracted from the houses in which they live. One lady who suffered from respiratory failure was not allowed home by hospital staff because they recognised that it was her living environment that was killing her—and, yes, that was a council house. We must all be vigilant and remind councils of their obligations in this regard.

I very much welcome the efforts made by Government to educate tenants about their rights, and we must do more, because it is the voice of the consumer that will make landlords of all types deliver on their obligations. We can do a lot more in this place to highlight good and bad practice, and we should name and shame the particularly bad cases. While there are powers for councils to take action against rogue landlords, the real weakness in the current system is that we cannot make them do so. I say to the Minister that we really need to look at this.

We can take action to remind private landlords of their obligations to their tenants and remind tenants of what they can expect from their landlords, but the real hole in the system is the obligations of council landlords to their tenants and how we force them to act. We need to look at toughening up the powers of the ombudsman or developing a charter so that we can tell tenants what they can expect from their council landlords. However, let us not pretend, as Labour Members do, that the problem with our housing is always rogue private landlords; it is much worse than that. Our biggest problem is a failure to invest adequately in supply, and there is a serious problem with the quality of a lot of our housing stock. We should stop playing politics and actually get some houses built.