[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair] — Decent Homes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 27th January 2011.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee 2:30 pm, 27th January 2011

There are ways, and some of them have been rejected by the Government, but I do not think that the decent homes standard is necessarily one of them because it was not enforceable. That is probably one reason why it did not really succeed. The new fitness standards are an improvement, and are tougher, but the problem is that many authorities do not put the resources into the private sector to ensure that the standards are implemented in a co-ordinated way. There should be a strategy for private housing in every local authority area, but many local authorities do not have one, and co-ordinated enforcement action is rarely taken in many parts of the country.

The Rugg report into the private sector proposed that we should have a register of all private sector landlords, but the Government have said that they are not going to go ahead with that. There were also proposals to have licensing of managing and letting agents, but the Government have said that they are not going to go ahead with that either. The possibility of regulation is, therefore, probably disappearing. The previous Government's proposal for the household energy management strategy, which was going to cover all sectors, has been taken away and replaced by the green deal.

The Government have said that there will be proposals that reasonable tenant requests for energy efficiency improvements should not be refused, and proposals for minimum benchmarks for energy efficiency in properties, but there were caveats about them being subject to the availability of funding. I do not know how far the Government are prepared to go on that but, along with the repair requirements, it is a starting point for putting some basic energy efficiency requirements into private sector homes, which could be done separately.

By and large, we concluded in our report that it would be difficult simply to take decent homes from the social sector and transfer them to the private sector, but under the new homeless provisions, landlords will be able to discharge their obligations to homeless families by allocating not social housing but a property in the private rented sector. If homeless families can be allocated such properties by local authorities, are the Government prepared to do something about the standards of those properties? They should not allow any council to put a family in a private rented property unless it meets very high standards indeed. Some form of regulation would be another way we could seek to drive up standards.

I have spoken for a while and taken interventions. As I have explained, the report was generally congratulatory as regards the success of the decent homes programme, but we recognised that this is also about individual tenants. For the many thousands who are satisfied, a substantial number are still waiting for work to be carried out, as my hon. Friends have indicated, and they are now likely to have to wait even longer.

There are challenges, and we need to ensure that standards are maintained-it is a question not just of achieving standards, but of maintaining them. In terms of energy efficiency, it is also about doing something to improve standards. There is still a long way to go in the private sector, because the decent homes programme really has not had a major impact there.

To conclude, the Committee said, "We congratulate the Government"-the last Government, I should add-

"on its achievements so far in the decent homes programme. Notwithstanding the difficulties of the current public sector spending climate and the importance of continuing to make progress towards eliminating the remaining backlog, however, now is the time to build on those achievements, not to sit back on them. The Government needs to look beyond the existing decent homes programme and plan for a future in which social tenants, private tenants and owner-occupiers all have the opportunity of living in a warm, well-maintained and reasonably well-equipped home."

I think that is a reasonable point on which to finish.