Dr Jennifer Harris: Tackling issues in the private rented sector

The UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) is embarking on a substantial new UK-wide work programme with TDS Charitable Foundation and SafeDeposits Scotland Charitable Trust, which will aim to improve conditions and outcomes in the private rented sector.

Dr Jennifer Harris: Tackling issues in the private rented sector

The nature and role of the private rented sector (PRS) in the UK’s housing market has seen significant changes in recent years. Not only are 20% of all British households now accommodated within the sector, there have also been increases in the number of families with children and vulnerable people occupying PRS housing, and people are more likely to remain in the sector for longer periods of time. These developments have sparked growing concern about various issues and problems within the PRS, such as unaffordability, tenancy insecurity, and poor standards of accommodation.

To help policymakers and practitioners respond to these challenges on the basis of reliable and accurate evidence, TDS Charitable Foundation and SafeDeposits Scotland Charitable Trust have funded the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) to carry out a new three-year research programme on PRS-related issues.

The PRS is a complex sector comprising distinctive sub-sectors that are influenced by a complex web of policies that differ at local, devolved, and regional levels. The research programme will produce findings that are relevant to the challenges, policy responses and nature of the PRS within each constituent nation. A scoping paper, which is due to be published in the coming weeks, will mark the start of the new collaboration and present an overview of recent developments in the sector.

In the first year of the programme, the PRS project team will carry out three research projects, with each project providing systematic and robust evidence on the following key issues:

  1. Resolving disputes
    PRS disputes can cover a wide range of issues such as the return of a deposit, disrepair, or neighbour relations. Disputes involve issues that can prove difficult to resolve. In recent years there has been increased policy interest in mechanisms to help tenants and landlords resolve disputes within and outside of the court system. This project will review alternative dispute resolution schemes – both across the UK and internationally – and aims to highlight principles, practices, and approaches that could be applied to UK housing contexts to make it easier for landlords and tenants to resolve disputes.
  2. Tackling low standards
    Local authorities have a range of powers to tackle low standards in the PRS. However, existing evidence suggests that local authorities may face multiple challenges in exercising those powers effectively in practice. This project will review the enforcement of PRS legislation across the UK and within various regions and local authorities, and explore the (in)effectiveness of current measures, as well as possibilities for future improvement.
  3. Protecting tenancy deposits
    Landlords operating in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are required by law to protect the deposits of their tenants. However, evidence suggests that a significant number of deposits are currently not legally protected. This project aims to examine the discrepancy across the UK between the number of PRS tenancies and the number of protected deposits, and to identify measures to help secure the protection of a larger number of deposits.

A collaborative approach

To seek to ensure that the findings will effect change, the PRS research programme will engage with a wide array of stakeholders across policy, practice, and academia. Two advisory groups will be set up (one in England, one in Scotland) that will formally meet twice a year and provide ongoing advice and guidance to the research programme.

If you would like to learn more about this programme of work, please get in touch.

  • Dr Jennifer Harris is a senior research associate for UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE)

This article was originally published on the CaCHE website.

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