Your guide to the Decent Homes Standard
There are new proposals to improve tenants' living standards as part of the Renters (Reform) Bill.
The Decent Homes standard sets the minimum standards for social housing. In November 2023, the government put forward a proposal to introduce a Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector for the first time.
Here's what we know so far.
- What is the Decent Homes Standard?
- What does "decent" mean?
- How is the Decent Homes Standard currently assessed?
- When will a Decent Homes Standard be applied to the private rented sector?
- How many private rented properties meet the Decent Homes Standard?
- How much will it cost landlords to upgrade their properties?
- How will the property portal help ensure compliance with the Decent Homes Standard?
- How will the standard be enforced?
What is the Decent Homes Standard?
Later in summer 2022, the government published its white paper ('A fairer private rented sector') that acted as a prelude to the Renters (Reform) Bill. In the white paper, the government committed to "halve the number of non-decent rented homes by 2030".
In November 2023, the government re-asserted its commitment to applying the standard to the sector as part of the Renters (Reform) Bill, despite previously stating in May that it would be a future change.
What does "decent" mean?
There are many factors involved ensuring that a property meets minimum standards. This includes:
1. Ensuring a property is in a reasonable state of repair
Building components include the home's structure, other external elements such as the roof or chimneys, and internal services and amenities, such as kitchens or heating systems.
In 2022, the National Housing Federation has proposed dropping "the distinction between ‘key’ and ‘other’ components" to avoid confusion over what falls into each category.
It also suggests replacing the age of a component as a factor and instead considering its condition and functionality, or taking into account the lifetime of the component.
2. Having reasonably modern facilities and services
This criteria requires kitchens to have adequate space and layout and to be 20 years old or less, and bathrooms to be appropriately located and under 30 years old.
There should also be adequate noise insulation, and space in the common entrance areas.
Some of the improvements to bring properties in line with this criteria may be challenging to make due to "physical or planning restrictions". If the relevant agency or body finds that it is impossible to do the renovations, the property won't fail this criteria.
On this point, the decent homes guidance notes that "demolition and new build may be more appropriate" in some instances, and therefore renovations won't be necessary.
3. Providing a reasonable degree of thermal comfort
Properties need to have efficient heating and effective insulation to meet this criteria.
The heating systems must be able to heat two or more rooms in the home and, even if the system covers most of the house, landlords need to make sure the home is warm enough for their tenants under the HHSRS (Housing health and safety rating system).
If a new heating system is installed, landlords should see this as a chance to increase the property's energy efficiency.
As the efficiency of oil or gas heating differs from other forms of heating, the level of insulation required also differs.
For oil or gas, cavity wall insulation or at least 50mm loft insulation is required. For electric storage heaters or solid fuel programmable heating, this is upped to 200mm for loft insulation.
When will a Decent Homes Standard be applied to the private rented sector?
The government's plans to introduce a legally-binding Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector was originally intended to be part of the Renters (Reform) Bill, which was delivered to parliament in May 2023.
However, the government stated that while it was "fully committed to implementing these reforms" it would need to continue its ongoing consultation on the sector before setting out its proposals.
In November 2023, this was updated again during the Bill's committee stage - part of the parliamentary process when a detailed examination of the Bill takes place. The government committed in a press release it had tabled amendments to set the standard.
How many private rented properties meet the Decent Homes Standard?
The government consultation estimates that 79% of properties in the private rented sector (PRS) already meet the current standard, and therefore won't require any additional investment. However, that leaves 21% of properties that don't meet the standard and will need to invest in upgrades.
How much will it cost landlords to upgrade their properties?
The government has so far shared no estimates on how much upgrading properties may cost individual landlords. However, the consultation says that it expects "most landlords to be able to meet these costs."
A "cost cap" on the improvements to be made will also be considered, with an upper limit set for how much landlords are expected to contribute - although the consultation also asks for views on whether this would be appropriate, as the standard is about safety.
How will the property portal help ensure compliance with the Decent Homes Standard?
The consultation outlines that private landlords will need to register their property on the Property Portal once live. This will help keep landlords informed and give tenants more visibility into the compliance of the property with the relevant standards.
It also proposes that landlords "use the Portal to self-declare whether the property is decent" and to declare any exemptions for their property - with a penalty of up to £30,000 for landlords that provide false or misleading information.
Read more about the property portal in this guide.
How will the standard be enforced?
Currently, local councils are obliged to identify any hazards in private rented properties and take enforcement action against the landlords.
The consultation proposes introducing "a legal duty on landlords to ensure their property meets the Decent Homes Standard." Any breach of the standard would therefore be considered a criminal offence, as well as a "banning order offence" - with certain exemptions, such as listed properties.
The white paper highlights how this will help councils "crack down on non-compliant landlords while protecting the reputation of responsible ones."
This article is intended as a guide only, and should not be considered legal advice. For more information, visit gov.uk.