Landlords profits from unsafe housing in the ‘billions’


flickr photo by umjanedoan shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Landlords are making ‘billions of pounds’ from private sector tenants living in homes that fail to meet basic legal housing standards, according to a new report by Citizens Advice and the New Policy Institute (NPI).

Damp and mould, excess cold, rat infestations and pollutants such as Asbestos – the most dangerous ‘category 1 hazards’ – were found in as many as 700,000 privately rented homes in England.

It’s not just low income households vulnerable to renting unsafe housing. 30% of households surveyed reported an annual income of £30,000 and 18% more than £40,000, according to the ‘Paying a high price for a faulty product’ report.

Private renters on the rise

The number of those renting privately is set to increase. Figures by the National Office of Statistics show households in the private sector have risen by 12% in the last decade. Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) reports that private rented households will rise to a quarter by 2025 as more people are priced out of home ownership by rising house prices of 5% a year.

Renting in the private sector is the most expensive form of housing yet the poorest in quality. Despite paying significantly more in monthly payments than social housing tenants and home owners, private tenants live in households with a larger number of category 1 hazards. Private rented homes have 5% more category 1 hazards than owner-occupied homes, and three times the number than social rented homes. Average monthly costs for private renters is £765 compared to just £409 for social renters and £664 for home owners paying a mortgage.

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Call for rent ‘refunds’

Campaigners are calling for the Government to provide tenants with the same level of protection seen in consumer law. The recently updated Consumer Rights Act (2015) replaces the Sales of Good Act (1979) and aims to make buying and selling – and redressing complaints – easier. The laws that protect consumers do not translate in housing law, and campaigners want to see this changed.

Citizens Advice is asking for a new housing bill that gives rights such as the ‘right to refund’ in rent when housing problems are ignored. Despite the right to refund proposal being accepted by the government in the current Housing and Planning Bill, rent refunds currently require pursuing through the courts – with tenants footing the bill.

Campaigners say more needs to be done to make rent refunds easier, especially for those not in receipt of housing benefit. Private tenants also need greater protection from ‘retaliation eviction’

License landlords and ‘rogue’ database

Local landlord licenses and a database of ‘worst offenders’ is being considered, alongside the right to refund in the current Housing and Planning Bill. There will be tougher rules to protect tenants from rogue landlords who fail to maintain safe households and new legislation to prevent letting agents from charging extortionate and unnecessary fees in England.

However, there is fear that landlords will respond to increased legislation by selling housing stock and further exasperating the demand for housing in the private housing.

Citizen Advice Press Release
Citizens Advice Report: Paying a high price for a faulty product 
Link to Housing bill 
Link to Price Waterhouse Cooper report summary


Arguing Makes For Better Decision-Making, Meerkat Study Proves

meerkats2Conflicting interests within a group can improve collective decisions, according to a joint-study by the London School of Economics and Social Policy (LSE), UK and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin.

Published in the journal The American Naturalist, the study shows that instead of confusing the group and slowing down decision-making, conflict within a group can make for better group decisions.

The effectiveness of a squabbling group is dependent on other factors. The individuals in conflict must share the same overall aim of the group for the squabbling to be effective conflict, rather than ineffective disagreement.

Examples of common group goals improved by small-scale conflict include:

  • searching for food
  • finding a place to rest or shelter
  • seeking a safe place to sleep
  • avoiding becoming prey

A decision-making model was developed by the research team which showed that when individuals in a group have slightly different small-scale goals, they are less likely to make the same mistake as another group would predicted by chance.

Small-scale contrasting goals are often seen in groups when animals try to optimize a group decision for personal gain. If the personal gain is not completely opposed to the group goal, the conflict that arises can be a positive. Conflict therefore serves to improve the groups achievement of its aim, rather than hamper it.

Dr Christian List, Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at the LSE, comments on the findings:

Collective decisions in groups where there are lots of minor disagreements actually offset errors made by individuals. Counter-intuitively, this means that the ‘quality’ of a decision for a group as a whole may improve with the number of differing decision-makers within it – although this plateaus at a certain number of animals.”

The example given to demonstrate the positive nature of conflict can be seen in the group choice of land. In two given patches, one suitable for food and the other unsuitable, a group with contrasting personal goals is much more likely to choose the patch that is suitable for food than the group with goals that are completely compatible. Effectively, all members of the group benefit from diversity and the consequential conflict, as long as the conflict remains relatively small-scale.

Despite disagreements, decisions are still made by the group and the group continues. It is always in the interests of a group to avoid permanently splitting, or dividing.

Studies of animal group behavior or ‘swarm intelligence’ have tended to not concentrate on the consequence of conflict within a group. This research is the first to study the nature of group conflict, and its positive function.

Examples of  conflicting goals within the group include:

  • vulnerable animals preferring a safer migration route
  • larger animals opting for a shorter migration one
  • smaller animals choosing a food patch with higher forage quality
  • larger animals favouring a patch with a higher quantity of food

The disagreement that arises by negotiating contrasting desired outcomes improves the quality of group decision making as a whole. The study showed that without an element of conflict, decisions were not just not as effective but were ‘surprisingly poor.’

The findings of the study into group behavior, when applied to humans, demonstrate that involving the interests of all members of a group in decision-making – from the most dominant to the most vulnerable, is essential for the group success and avoiding the pitfalls of error.

Co-author Dr Larissa Conradt comments:

Our results showed that shared decisions, made by animals without conflict, were often surprisingly poor. It’s possible that this could be applicable to human collective decision making and provides a strong argument for not excluding different or minority factions from collective decisions.”

Equality and diversity, therefore, is officially in everyone’s interests.


LSE Press Release: Squabbling meerkats make better decisions

The American Naturalist: Swarm Intelligence: When Uncertainty Meets Conflict

Image credit: with thanks to Tacluda of RGB Freestock