Since last you had word from us, there have been a few changes to the law that you need to know about. Sadly, the much-anticipated end to tenants’ liability for letting agents’ fees isn’t one of them. That remains away in the future. There is some good news, though. And an invitation from Co-ops for London, as well.
Changes Around Gas Safety Rules
New regulations amending gas safety regulations come into effect this week (6 April). Your landlords is still obliged to pay for any gas appliances to be checked annually. As a tenant, you should be given a copy of the gas safety record before you move in, and receive a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate every year, within 28 days of the safety check.
Now, the annual gas safety check can be carried out up to two months before the due date, while retaining the existing expiry date. The change aims to support landlords in overcoming any difficulties of gaining access to check the gas appliances in your home. We are concerned that this might leave 14 months, instead of 12 months, between safety checks.
Still, the most important thing is to check that your Gas Safety Certificate is not out of date. If you don’t have of a copy of the certificate, you should ask your landlord to provide one. If they fail to do so, you can report them to the HSE. Any landlord who fails to observe gas safety requirements has committed a criminal offence. The HSE has the power to issue a formal caution and may prosecute your landlord.
In the past landlords, have argued that it was hard to co-ordinate availability of an engineer with the tenant’s availability to access. Landlords tried to keep appointments very close to the renewal date, to avoid overlap in the dates of certification, as well.
From this month, if your landlord does not comply with the new, flexible regulations, Homes England (the regulator) is most unlikely to accept any excuses for the breach.
Changes to Housing Benefit
On 29 March, Esther McVey (Secretary for Work and Pensions) announced a very welcome change to Universal Credit. Now, people aged under 21 can claim housing benefit as part of Universal Credit “in the normal way.”
It was obvious that preventing young adults from claiming housing benefit increased the likelihood of people falling into homelessness. While conditions of ‘market rents’, out of all proportion to wages, are allowed to prevail, it is imperative that everyone who needs help to keep a roof over their head can apply for housing benefit. Of course, Renters’ Rights London would prefer to see rents capped to levels we can actually afford to pay ourselves. This would be recognition of housing as a human right, with a social use, rather than as a profitable asset class. For now, though, the fact that everyone over 18 is entitled to claim housing benefit comes as good news.
Homelessness Reduction Act
It made big news so you’ll probably know by now that the Homelessness Reduction Act came into effect on 3 April. The Act aims to help people at risk of homelessness. Officers at your local council have a duty to try and secure accommodation for any eligible person who is homeless. This includes hidden homelessness. Help is available whether or not you meet the criteria for council housing.
In September 2017, an investigation by London Assembly Housing Committee found that most people who experience hidden homelessness don’t seek advice or support from the council or support services. Also, that many homeless people are unaware of existing homelessness support and advice provision. So please help to get the word out; tell anyone and everyone you know who is staying with friends, sleeping on her sister’s sofabed, or in receipt of a s21 Notice and struggling to make the next move.
The Association of Housing Advice Services has estimated that London boroughs will face a combined bill of £161 million to implement the new duties. Under pressure after cuts to funding from central government, it remains to be seen whether councils can actually meet their responsibilities. If you’ve had any experience of the new system, Renters’ Rights London would be grateful to hear from you.
Register Before 17 April
Many more of us are eligible to vote in in the local elections being held on 3 May than can vote in the General Election. You can vote in local elections if you are a
- British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen (a Commonwealth citizen with leave to remain in UK or not requiring such leave).
- Citizen of any other European Union (EU) member state.
You can only vote if your name is on the Electoral Roll, though. Registration closes on 17 April. These elections decide who will run your local services for the next four years. Your vote really matters so register to vote
Mayor’s Database of Criminal Landlords
Mayor Sadiq Khan has come good on his election promise and set up a database of landlords and letting agents who have been successfully prosecuted or subject to civil enforcement penalties in the past 12 months. The database is not fully populated yet – not every local council has contributed their data. Still, if you are looking for a new home in London Borough of Brent; Camden, Islington; Newham; Southwark; Tower Hamlets; Waltham Forest; or Westminster, you can check the database first, to be sure your prospective landlord has not been convicted of an offence.
Wherever you live in Greater London, if you want to report a bad landlord, the database includes space for that. At Renters’ Rights London, we are all-too aware that local council officers don’t always follow up on renters’ complaints about overcrowding or hazardous living conditions. We think that reporting your landlord via the Mayor’s office is likely to ensure that your complaint is properly investigated.
Housing Co-operative Conference
If you’re looking for a way to escape the private rented sector, perhaps you should consider starting a housing co-operative? There is a lot of work involved but the pay-off is a home for the long-term, to decorate and furnish as you choose.
On Friday 11th May, Co-ops for London are hosting the 2018 Co-operatives Conference a day of workshops and talks open to everyone interested in setting up a housing cooperative. This event, to be held in the Living Room of City Hall, is free to attend but to attend, you must >> register.