The Decent Homes Standard: What Landlords and Investors Need to Know
by Property Investments UKThe Property Investments UK editorial team have been researching and writing about the UK's property market for more than a decade.
The Decent Homes Standard is a legal standard which regulates housing provided by the social housing sector. However, it is currently being proposed that this standard will be applied to the private rented sector or PRS in the future. Here’s what the Decent Homes Standard is and what landlords and investors need to know about it.
- What Is the Decent Homes Standard?
- The Decent Homes Standard in the Private Rented Sector
- What Does the Decent Homes Standard Cover?
- How the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) Works
- How Is the Decent Homes Standard Enforced?
- When Will the Decent Homes Standard Apply To the Private Rented Sector?
- What It Could Mean for Private Landlords and Investors
- Will Landlords Need to Upgrade Their Homes?
What Is the Decent Homes Standard?
The Decent Homes Standard applies in England and currently only applies to the social rented housing sector (including council housing), with some minor exceptions.
The concept behind the Decent Homes Standard is that everyone deserves the right to live in a safe and secure home.
When it was first introduced in 2000 the then government was concerned that the quality of social housing was variable, and also that there was no common standard for housing providers to operate to. The Decent Homes Standard was introduced to both regulate and improve the standard of social housing.
The government says that the Decent Homes Standard has contributed to the raising of standards in the sector of social housing. It says that the proportion of social properties that do not meet the standard reduced from 39% in 2001 to just 13% in 2020.
Homes which do not meet the Decent Homes Standard may be known as non-decent homes.
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The Decent Homes Standard in the Private Rented Sector
This section probes into the multifaceted discussions and policy evolutions around the potential inclusion of the Decent Homes Standard in the private rented sector (PRS) of the UK. Originally designed for the social housing sector, the Decent Homes Standard has become a pertinent topic of debate within the realm of private rentals. The drive to enhance living conditions for tenants across all sectors, especially within the PRS, underscores the importance of this dialogue.
In recent years, several policy documents, government initiatives, and legislative proposals have brought this issue into the limelight. These initiatives emphasise the necessity to augment the quality of accommodations within the PRS, ensuring that all tenants, irrespective of their rental sector, are guaranteed access to safe and comfortable living environments. The unfolding narrative around the Decent Homes Standard in the PRS will be examined in the subsequent subsections.
While there are many other standards and pieces of legislation which regulate the standard of property in the private rented sector or PRS the Decent Homes Standard does not apply to it.
However, it has been suggested for a number of years that the Decent Homes Standard should be extended to cover the PRS.
The government’s Levelling Up The United Kingdom white paper set out an ambition to reduce the number of substandard homes across all rented sectors by half by 2030. In 2022 the government published another white paper, A Fairer Private Rented Sector. This outlined an intention to make the Decent Homes Standard legally binding across the private rented sector in England.
The government carried out a formal consultation called A Decent Homes Standard in the Private Rented Sector: Consultation in 2022. The aim was to canvas opinions from the public and the property industry on introducing the Decent Homes Standard in the private rented sector.
The Renters Reform Bill
In 2023 the government published the Renters (Reform) Bill. This Bill expresses a government commitment to introduce the Decent Homes Standard in the PRS – although it does not specifically say if or when this will be done.
If the Decent Homes Standard is adopted in the PRS the consultation suggests that this will not be the same as that which currently applies in the social housing sector. The standard will likely be amended to take into account the different types of property that are found in the private rented sector.
What Does the Decent Homes Standard Cover?
Under the current version of the Decent Homes Standard a decent home is one which meets the following four criteria:
Criterion A: It Meets the Current Statutory Minimum Standard for Housing
Housing standards are assessed and hazards are categorised under what is known as the Housing Health and Safety Rating System or HHSRS – more information about the HHSRS is given next.
Properties which fail to meet this criterion are those which have one or more hazards assessed as serious or Category 1 hazards.
Criterion B: It Is In a Reasonable State of Repair
Properties which fail this section are those where either: One or more of the key building components are old and, because of their condition, need replacing or major repair. Or where two or more of the other building components are old and, because of their condition, need replacing or major repair.
Building components are a technical term for things such as roofs and walls, doors and windows and heating systems. Key building components are those things that have an impact on the integrity of the building. The Decent Homes Standard looks at whether these components are old (put perhaps still serviceable) or in poor condition when assessing the state of repair.
Criterion C: It Has Reasonably Modern Facilities and Services
Properties which fail to meet this standard are those which lack three or more of:
- A reasonably modern kitchen (20 years old or less).
- A kitchen with adequate space and layout. A reasonably modern bathroom (30 years old or less).
- An appropriately located bathroom and WC.
- Adequate insulation against external noise.
- Adequate size and layout of common areas for blocks of flats.
(A home lacking one or two of the above meets the standard.)
Currently, it is being proposed that if the Decent Homes Standard is introduced to the PRS the ‘modernness’ or age of the facilities and services will not be considered. The facilities and services will simply need to be reasonable.
Criterion D: It Provides a Reasonable Degree of Thermal Comfort
This criterion requires properties to have both effective insulation and efficient heating. This looks at the type of heating system and whether it keeps the property adequately warm.
Private rented sector properties must also meet a minimum level of energy efficiency under the requirements of the Domestic Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES) Regulations. This standard is likely to be raised in the future.
It is possible for properties which meet the standards in criteria B, C and D, to not meet the standard under criterion A.
How the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) Works
The Housing Health and Safety Rating System, known as the HHSRS, was introduced in 2006. It replaced the previous Housing Fitness Standard. The system is a risk assessment tool. It is used by local authority officers to assess and categorise hazards in housing in all sectors.
The Housing Act 2004 requires local authorities to take enforcement action against landlords where they identify serious hazards in a rented property. Councils use the Housing Health and Safety Rating System or HHSRS to assess what hazards exist. The HHSRS specifies 29 hazards in areas including falls, fire safety, electrical safety, security, dampness and cold.
The Housing Health and Safety Rating System assessment categorises hazards as either Category 1 or Category 2.
- Category 1 hazards pose an imminent risk to health.
- Category 2 hazards are serious but are considered unlikely to cause immediate direct harm.
The Housing Health and Safety Rating System is itself under review. The aim of the review is to make the tool easier to use and understand rather than change the hazard types. The review is looking at how the Housing Health and Safety Rating System risk assessment tool works.
How Is the Decent Homes Standard Enforced?
Local authority housing officers or environmental health officers are able to inspect social properties and assess whether they meet the Decent Homes Standard. Inspections may be undertaken as the result of a proactive inspection by the council or where a tenant raises a concern.
Local councils can take a range of actions as a result of this where necessary. They can issue hazard awareness notices and improvement notices. They can take emergency remedial action in some cases. They can issue civil penalties or take legal action.
Councils must act in the case of Category 1 hazards. They can opt whether or not to take action for Category 2 hazards.
When Will the Decent Homes Standard Apply To the Private Rented Sector?
It is not currently known when or if the Decent Homes Standard will be introduced in the private rented sector. The government’s recent Renters (Reform) Bill suggests that the government intends to bring forward legislation to introduce it, but there is no target date for doing so at the time of writing.
What It Could Mean for Private Landlords and Investors
Landlords and investors in the private rented sector do not currently need to comply with the Decent Homes Standard. However, if the standard or an amended version of it is introduced into the private rented sector local housing authorities will be able to apply it to privately rented properties. Landlords will need to ensure their properties are compliant with the Decent Homes Standard.
As part of the Renters (Reform) Bill, the government is planning to introduce a new digital Property Portal. Private landlords will be legally required to register their property on the Portal. Current proposals suggest that when registering on this Property Portal landlords will need to self-declare that they believe their property is decent. It may be a criminal offence to let out a property that does not meet the Decent Homes Standard.
If the Decent Homes Standard is adopted in the private rented sector it is likely that local authorities will be able to use the same approach as they currently use in the social housing sector. They will be able to inspect properties, issue necessary notices and take action against private landlords if their properties do not meet the standard.
It is important to realise that there are already housing standards applicable in the private rented standard. These include the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, the Tenant Fees Act 2019 and the Housing and Planning Act 2016 which introduced more enforcement tools for councils. Landlords with good quality properties which meet the existing standards for the PRS may find that their properties also meet the Decent Homes Standard with little or no extra work.
However, they will need to be aware that a different standard applies.
Will Landlords Need to Upgrade Their Homes?
According to the government, over 20% of the 4.4 million households that rent privately endure poor conditions and lack security and control over the homes they pay to live in. They say that although there has been good progress over the last decade, with the proportion of substandard dwellings in the Private Rented Sector falling from 37.2% in 2010 to 21% in 2020, it is unacceptable that some renters still live in poor-quality homes.
So, yes, if the Decent Homes Standard is introduced up to almost 1 million private landlords may need to upgrade their properties.
However, the current proposals suggest landlords will be given time to meet the standards. There could also be a number of exemptions (such as listed buildings for example) where properties will not need to meet all of the provisions of the Decent Homes Standard.