An Inconvenient Truth – helping the facts speak for themselves

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Matt Oliver, NLA Public Affairs Officer, on perception & reality

I have been working at the NLA for nearly two years now and many of my friends and family still don’t really know what I do for a living.  Why?  Because I deflect when people ask and change topic.  People’s view of the PRS are often based on selective statistics and a one sided media narrative that assumes all landlords are greedy property barons raking it in off the backs of poor tenants, who can’t do anything about it.

Most of the time I don’t have the strength to put them right.  When I do, I either see their eyes glaze over as they lose interest or the conversation is ended angrily as they are disgusted by my evil capitalist view of the world and how dare I object to…(insert name of left wing newspaper or respected ‘charity’ here).  In short, they have swallowed the spoon fed lines from these various groups hook line and sinker.  So I bite my tongue.

However, recently released figures – that I am sure will not garner much media attention – reveal a much brighter reality of the PRS than is normally portrayed.[1]  The English Housing Survey 2014-15 Headline Report highlight an Inconvenient Truth for the anti-PRS bandwagon.

Tenure – On-going calls for the implementation of mandatory 3 year tenancies can be seen as the ideological pursuit that they are, with the current average tenancy length now hitting almost 4 years, without resort to unnecessary regulations.

Rents – It also shows that, outside the anomaly that is London, “private rents remained stable” (who knew people would want to live in or near the fifth largest metropolitan economy in the world).

Evictions – The unfortunately prevalent view that private landlords are continuously evicting vulnerable tenants can also be seen as hogwash, as these stats show that around two-thirds of repossession claims come from the social sector!

Standards – Standards are continuing to improve across the board with the percentage of ‘non-decent’ properties in the PRS falling again, (see below graph).

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Please note: purple line indicates housing association properties

This is good news, especially as the Decent Homes Standard[2] was never designed to apply to the PRS.  Over a third of PRS property were built before 1919, compared to only 6.7% of social rented property, leaving the sector with unique challenges to overcome, especially with the recent abolition of Government backing for the Green Deal and of tax incentives such as LESA.

Whilst 28.6% is still too high, landlords should be commended for the improvements made over the last decade and there is no evidence to suggest that the proportion of non-decent properties won’t continue to fall.

Overcrowding – Down to 5.1% in the PRS compared to 6.4% in social housing.  The horror stories you see on TV are invariably criminal landlords often housing illegal workers as part of a larger illicit enterprise.

Energy Efficiency – Energy efficiency in the PRS is improving, with properties in the F&G efficiency bands down from 10.6% in 2013-14, to 7.5%. The average SAP rating for PRS properties is also up to 59.7, now on par with owner-occupied properties.

But we are not complacent…

This is of course not to say that more cannot be done. The best way to speed up improvements in the sector will not be through more regulations and the demonisation of landlords, but through incentives.

As mentioned in a previous blog, if landlords were treated like practically every other business and allowed to reinvest their profits without getting whacked with a massive tax bill, the rate of improvement would increase. So there are simple, workable solutions available that will not smother the sector in red tape and further pile on the costs to landlords.

As with any other business if you increase the cost of doing business then it simply gets passed down to the consumer or in this case to tenants. With 19% of households now living in the PRS, that would not be welcome news to millions of tenants and their bank accounts.

There are problems in the PRS, but the vast majority of the sector is professional and business-like. For too long it has been tarnished by criminals who use it to make a quick buck at the expense of vulnerable tenants, knowing local councils are under-resourced and ill-equipped to prosecute them.

It is often said the facts speak for themselves.  However, it’s clear that in this case they may need a little help cutting through the urban myths created by some vested interests, campaign groups and the media, who don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

That’s what we’re here for I guess.

[1] To be clear these aren’t numbers from a vested interest group, but are from The English Housing Survey, which is the national Statistician that Shelter describes as “a unique dataset that must be protected.”

[2] The Decent Homes Standard is a programme aimed at improving council and housing association homes to bring them all up to a minimum standard.

4 thoughts on “An Inconvenient Truth – helping the facts speak for themselves

  1. Your graph shows four lines, only three of which are mentioned in the key. What is the purple line with “x” data points? It is also less than clear what the graph is showing – the context suggests that it is the percentage of each type which are “non-decent”. If this is the case then no class of owners has any reason to be content!

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