Renters (Reform) Bill: What’s the Decent Homes Standard? - Total Landlord Insurance

May 1, 2024
Renters (Reform) Bill: What’s the Decent Homes Standard? - Total Landlord Insurance

Note: Articles on the Renters (Reform) Bill will be continuously updated as details emerge

Last updated on 29 April 2024

Read an interactive and user-friendly version of this guide below.

Renters (Reform) Bill update: Third reading

Note: this section was published on 29 April 2024 following the third reading of the Bill in Parliament on 24 April 2024

Campaigners have been arguing for years that homes rented out privately should reach the same standards as those set for the social sector, namely council or housing association properties.

The Decent Homes Standard sets a minimum standard for all social housing in England and Northern Ireland, excluding leasehold and shared ownership properties.

Following the third reading of the Renters (Reform) Bill on 24 April 2024, the Government confirmed that the Bill will “apply and enforce the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector for the first time, so that everyone has a safe and decent home.” The Bill has now progressed to the House of Lords.

As predicted, significant changes to the Bill were introduced at the third reading – the report stage, in the Houses of Commons on 24 April 2024.  

For an overview of the Bill, including amendments and next steps as it progresses to the House of Lords, head over to our Renters (Reform) Bill hub.

The Decent Homes Standard has had a convoluted journey to becoming part of the Bill. This article charts the progress of the Decent Homes Standard in more detail and provides information on its background.

Is the Decent Homes Standard in the Renters (Reform) Bill?

Note: this section was published following the introduction of the Bill to Parliament on 17 May 2023

In 2022, the Government’s Fairer private rented sector white paper suggested that minimum housing standards would ‘require privately rented homes to meet the Decent Homes Standard’, and measures were expected to be included in the Renters (Reform) Bill.

However, this was not to be the case, as Sean Hooker, Head of Redress at the Property Redress Scheme, commented in his blog for LandlordZONE after the Bill was introduced to Parliament on 17 May 2023:

“As suspected, the proposals do not contain any huge surprises and the direction of travel is broadly where most informed commentators believed it was going. Yes, there were some glaring omissions, for example there is absolutely no mention of Decent Home Standards, however I have been reassured that this will be introduced, but how and when is to be decided.

The Government has now confirmed that it will deliver further measures set out in the 2022 white paper, including bringing forward legislation at the earliest opportunity to apply the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector “to give renters safer, better value homes and remove the blight of poor-quality homes in local communities.

However, the Government has said that it needs to continue its
ongoing consultation first and will set out next steps in due course. In a statement on the application of the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector, the Government commented, “This will help deliver the government’s Levelling Up mission to halve the number of non-decent rented homes by 2030. We will update this Decent Homes Standard in consultation with stakeholders over the coming months to ensure it is fit for purpose and proportionate.”

Renters (Reform) Bill and the Decent Homes Standard update

Note: this section was published following the second reading of the Bill on 23 October 2023

Although the Renters (Reform) Bill was introduced to Parliament on 17 May 2023, there was a significant delay before the second reading of the Bill, which finally took place on Monday 23 October 2023.

Decent Homes Standard: What has changed?

Following its omission from the Bill, Michael Gove confirmed the Government’s commitment to the Decent Homes Standard, albeit with an extended implementation period to avoid the cost of any improvements being passed on to tenants. In his blog for Goodlord, The Decent Homes Standard: the big questions that still need answers, published the day after the second reading, Sean Hooker shares his insights into what needs to happen before the standards can be implemented. The consultation on a Decent Homes Standard in the private rented sector closed on 2 September 2023. The outcome has not yet been published.

The Government announce that the Decent Homes Standard will be included in the Renters (Reform) Bill

In November 2023, despite stating that the Decent Homes Standard would be a future change, the Government announced that it would be included as part of the Renters (Reform) Bill.

On 15 November 2023, the Government tabled amendments to the Bill which include a mechanism for applying the Decent Homes Standard to ‘qualifying residential premises’ including HMOs in the private rented sector.

This was followed by a Government press release on 15 December 2023, which confirmed that a Decent Homes Standard would be applied to the private rented sector for the first time:

“A Decent Homes Standard (DHS) will be applied to the private rented sector for the first time. The new standard will set a clear bar for what tenants should expect from their home ensuring it is safe, warm and decent. It will be set following further consultation and will help to meet the target of reducing non-decency in rented homes by 50% by 2030.
Local Authorities will be given new enforcement powers to require landlords to make properties decent, with fines up to £30,000 or a banning order in the worse cases. Tenants will also be able to claim up to 24 months’ rent back through rent repayment orders up from 12 previously.
Councils will also be given stronger powers to investigate landlords who rent substandard homes, providing them with the tools they need to identify and take enforcement action against the criminal minority and help drive them out of the sector.”

Background to the Decent Homes Standard

Note: this section was published on 22 May 2023 following the introduction of the Bill to Parliament on 17 May 2023

The Decent Homes Standard has played a key role in setting the minimum standards that social homes must meet since the early 2000s, and in 2021 the Government committed via its then Levelling Up white paper, to upgrade this.

The most recent update before that was in 2006 when the definition of what is a ‘decent home’ changed to reflect the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) which replaced the Housing Fitness Standard that year.

The HHSRS is a risk-based evaluation tool to help local authorities identify and protect against potential risks and hazards to health and safety from any deficiencies identified in homes, including those in the private rented sector.

And there is also the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 which requires all landlords, whether social or private, to make sure their property is fit for human habitation at the beginning of the tenancy and throughout – although it’s hard to enforce and requires court action - something many tenants and councils are reluctant to get involved with.

However, if landlords do not make necessary repairs to their property, their tenant complains and the council subsequently issues the landlord with a notice requiring them to carry out those repairs, the landlord cannot evict the tenant via a Section 21 notice for the following six months, under ‘retaliatory eviction’ rules.

Although the original social Decent Homes Standard may sound technical and arcane, it’s important. The standards set for the social sector are now being used as a template for the measures that will be brought forward in legislation within the Renters (Reform) Bill for privately rented properties.

These have been included within the consultation on the private sector Decent Homes Standard conducted by the Government, which it now plans to continue.

To be ‘decent’ the 2006 standard said a home should be free of Category 1 (i.e. severe) hazards, and the “existence of such hazards should be a trigger for remedial action unless practical steps cannot be taken without disproportionate expense or disruption”.

Properties must also be ‘in a reasonable state of repair’, the details of which are pretty long-winded but can be read here.

Nevertheless, work is still needed, the Government said in its white paper on renting reform.

“Despite significant improvements over the past decade, over a fifth of privately rented homes are non-decent, and 12% have serious ‘Category 1’ hazards, which pose an imminent risk to renters’ health and safety.

To be ‘decent’ we will require that a home must be free from the most serious health and safety hazards, such as fall risks,
fire risks, or carbon monoxide poisoning.

It is unacceptable that hazardous conditions should be present in people’s homes when they can be fixed with something as simple as providing a smoke detector or a handrail to a staircase. Landlords must make sure rented homes don’t fall into disrepair, addressing problems before they deteriorate and require more expensive work.

Kitchens and bathrooms should be adequate, located correctly and – where appropriate – not too old, and we’ll also require decent noise insulation.

Renters must have clean, appropriate, and useable facilities and landlords should update these facilities when they reach the end of their lives. We will also make sure that rented homes are warm and dry.

It is not acceptable that some renters are living in homes that are too cold in winter, too hot in summer, or
damp and mouldy.”

This will all be policed, the Government has suggested, via greater investigative powers for local authorities, and the existing patchwork of selective licensing schemes rapidly spread across many urban areas of England. However, given that council resources are already stretched – as is evidenced by the lack of success with enforcing licensing to date, which itself has resulted in this new legislation– there is a serious question about how much difference these ‘greater powers’ will make in practice.

The consultation has already made it clear this Decent Homes Standard will include the following:

  • The property meets the current statutory minimum standard for housing
  • Is in a reasonable state of repair
  • Has reasonable facilities and services
  • Provides a reasonable degree of thermal comfort.

Watch this video of Sean Hooker, Head of Redress at the Property Redress Scheme, for his views on the proposed Decent Homes Standard for private rented homes in England.

Ahead of this new legislation coming into force, it’s worth landlords making sure they are already fully compliant with the existing laws around property condition and health and safety – see our guide, ‘Legislation for landlords: Everything you need to know’.

For more insights on the Renters (Reform) Bill, listen to a special episode of The Property Cast with Sean Hooker, Head of Redress at the Property Redress Scheme, and leading property expert Kate Faulkner OBE, who share their initial reactions to the Renters (Reform) Bill – will it deliver what tenants need and will it have unintended consequences? Tune in to find out what the experts think.

Keep up to date on the Renters (Reform) Bill

Our media partner, LandlordZONE, will be offering exclusive insights and breaking news as the details of the Bill emerge. Keep up to date with everything you need to know by subscribing to LandlordZONE, the UK’s largest online landlord property news website.

You can also visit Total Landlord's Renters (Reform) Bill hub which will be regularly updated as more details emerge.

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