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The private rented sector (PRS) has experienced the introduction of a wide range of reforms in recent years. This looks unlikely to change with the concept of healthy homes now a pressing concern, and the pace is unlikely to change.

The Healthy Homes Bill started its journey towards becoming legislation in May 2022 and has since passed through the first, second and third stages in the House of Lords. While the bill still needs to progress through the House of Commons and Final Stages to become law, its ethos is ambitious and widely welcomed across the industry.

The Healthy Homes Bill advocates that regulation in terms of building homes ensures that all new homes support and do not hinder the wellbeing and physical and/or mental health of the people living there. Many of these properties will enter the PRS through private landlord investment or buy-to-lets, so the Healthy Homes Bill could therefore affect the sector and its professionals’ everyday practice.

This article will summarise the Healthy Homes Bill and the things driving it, before exploring the 11 Healthy Homes principles it recommends. We will examine this proposed legislation as part of a wider drive to raise housing standards in the UK, looking at the role of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 alongside it.

What is the Healthy Homes Bill?

At its heart, the Healthy Homes Bill and the Healthy Homes amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill seek to guarantee a certain level of standards for the built environment that bolsters the health and wellbeing of its residents.

The initiative was developed by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) with the Healthy Homes Bill aiming to simplify regulation to “end the creation of unhealthy homes by introducing legally binding Healthy Homes Principles.” As the benchmark of what PRS renters in newly built properties could look forward to, these principles would have to be considered across the government when forming new policies.

Is it the aftermath of Permitted Development?

As previously covered in our article Healthy Homes – Will Guiding Principles Make a Difference?, criticism has been levelled at Permitted Development. Some of the homes built using this statutory order do not have access to natural light or are situated in non-residential industrial areas and office parks.

Brought into effect by the 2015 Town and Country Planning Order, Permitted Development has only made things worse according to its most vocal critics. With the housing crisis still a pressing issue, many feel that new build regulations are inconsistent and fail to deliver for the people who will live there.

Whilst the extent of the above order was scaled back, the TCPA campaign echoes that “Standards for new homes and places are fragmented, complex and do not guarantee that all new homes provide for residents’ basic human needs, such as access to green space and local services, and clean air”.

Advocates for the bill hope to stop new neighbourhoods and their properties from negatively impacting the general wellbeing and health of residents, while also aiming to prevent what it names the “slums of the future” from being built.

What does this mean for the PRS?

The eleven Healthy Homes tenets could potentially find their way into regular property inspections in the PRS. This would affect letting agents and other property professionals in terms of what knowledge and processes would be needed to deliver compliant services for both landlords and tenants, should the bill become enshrined in law.

What are the reasons behind the reforms?

To better understand the aims of this bill, it is worth it to explore the original campaign including some of the alarming statistics driving its proposed change.

An Introduction to the Healthy Homes Bill by The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) highlights their key concern that poor-quality homes “damage lives and make society less resilient”.

Support for this claim includes the Institute for Health Equity’s findings that mortality or the chance of cardiovascular, respiratory and communicable diseases are more likely to develop in housing that isn’t fit for habitation.

Agreeing with the findings of the 2010 Marmot Review that “low living standards are powerful determinants of ill health and health inequity” including mental health conditions, it seems there is still work to be done over a decade later.

Whilst not everyone lives in low-quality housing, it has been found that its ripples are experienced across society. For example, the Good Homes Alliance states that “inefficient housing causes an estimated £1.4-2 billion additional annual NHS costs”. This expense could in theory be avoided under the Healthy Homes Bill.

Similarly, the Local Government Association’s ‘Healthy Homes, Healthy Lives’ document features numerous case studies where poor living conditions have resulted in ill health or reduced life expectancy.

Affecting all ages, it states that the UK faces a £146 million bill each year for home-based accidents among children and young people, whilst falls amongst the elderly cost England £2 billion and millions of hospital bed days.

A shared experience

The adverse effects of these housing conditions are easier to relate to following the fairly recent national COVID-19 lockdowns which started in 2020. This situation stressed the importance of having enough room to live inside comfortably, the effects of enjoying sufficient natural light and needing access to outside areas or public green spaces.

Indeed, a Public Health England ‘Spatial Planning for Health’ resource draws a correlation between our neighbourhoods and the state of residents’ physical and mental health, where said green spaces and parks have not been included.

A poor picture of new builds

Whilst researchers have known the relationship between home and health for over a century, an audit by the campaign group Place Alliance and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (published January 2020) discovered that little of this knowledge is being applied in practice to new housing developments today.

They looked at 142 such projects constructed by large-scale housebuilders in England, only to find that 75% had poor or mediocre design. Similarly, 20% of them would have been refused planning permission according to the National Planning Policy Framework issued by the government.

The 11 Healthy Homes Principles

11 healthy homes principles
The 11 healthy homes principles

As mentioned above, the Healthy Homes Bill advocates several seismic principles that would become legally binding for planning committees and developers should it pass into law. Here are each of the 11 standards for new homes (as explained on the TCPA website):

  1. Fire safety: All new homes must be safe in relation to the risk of fire.
  2. Liveable space: All new homes must have, as a minimum, the liveable space required to meet the needs of people over their whole lifetime, including adequate internal and external storage space.
  3. Access to natural light: All new homes must have access to natural light in all main living areas and bedrooms.
  4. Inclusive, accessible and adaptable: All new homes and their surroundings must be designed to be inclusive, accessible and adaptable to suit the needs of all.
  5. Access to amenities and transport: All new homes should be built within places that prioritise and provide access to sustainable transport and walkable services, including green infrastructure and play space.
  6. Climate resilient: All new homes must demonstrate how they will be resilient to a changing climate over their full lifetime.
  7. Reductions in carbon emissions: All new homes must secure radical reductions in carbon emissions in line with the provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008.
  8. Safety from crime: All new homes must be built to design out crime and be secure.
  9. Limit light and noise pollution: All new homes must be free from unacceptable and intrusive noise and light pollution.
  10. Thermal comfort: All new homes must be designed to provide year-round thermal comfort for inhabitants.
  11. Prevent air pollution: All new homes must minimise and not contribute to unsafe or illegal levels of indoor or ambient air pollution.

Raising housing standards in the UK

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 was introduced to make sure that every rented property, including those in the PRS, is fit for tenants. As noted in the Government’s Guide for Landlords, it has given renters a “means of redress against the minority of landlords who do not fulfil their legal obligations to keep their properties safe”.

Whilst the FFHH Act certainly moves towards a fairer rental landscape and better living conditions for PRS tenants as part of a drive to ‘level up’ the country, it depends on letting and managing agents playing their part.

This is why new laws for social housing managers were suggested by the RoPA Working Group, which comprises ARLA Propertymark, NAEA Propertymark and other industry stakeholders. However, their hopes to create a new industry regulator, standardised training, licensing, qualifications and a code of practice are still to be realised.

Letting agents can help to create a fairer PRS by reading our blog Fitness for Human Habitation (FFHH) – Are You Service Ready?

Among other things, it highlights how the Inventory Base assessment template has been designed to mirror all 29 risk categories of the FFHH. Its many helpful features include examples of issues and the actions to be taken, the people viewed as most vulnerable and the act’s three risk category options, in an easy-to-read information table. Agents then have the option to add the FFHH risk assessment to their current services.

Inventory Base continues to raise PRS standards

Inventory Base can support your agency’s compliance efforts, helping you to raise standards in your local market.

Through the use of Inventory Base’s award-winning technology, agents will be much better equipped to react to the effects on the PRS should the Healthy Homes Bill be successful. Book a demo to learn how we can help you succeed.