Shelter report finds UK housing safety laws ‘inadequate’
THE RESEARCH from the charity, undertaken alongside Bristol and Kent universities, found that the ‘lax laws likely played a part’ in the Grenfell Tower fire.
In September, the charity tasked the universities to scrutinise laws and ‘shortcomings’ after ‘concerns about the adequacy of tenants’ legal rights’ post Grenfell. The project looked at ‘identifying potential gaps in current legislation which undermine[s] the safety of homes’, with ‘just under a thousand’ renters, owner occupiers, lawyers and ‘other professionals’ asked for evidence.
The Grenfell Tower fire was ‘alleged to have occurred against a backdrop of ignored warnings about fire safety from those living in the building’, Shelter aiming to ‘establish how the legal rights of tenants could be strengthened’, and to ‘unearth any holes in the legislation which compromise the safety of houses or prevent households from remedying problems’. It is also looking to identify ‘where lack of enforcement could fetter legal protections’.
Now, The Independent has reported on the results of the study, which found housing laws to be ‘inadequate’ and ‘outdated’, and are ‘failing to priorities tenant safety’. The current provisions for safety are ‘piecemeal’, with 85% of experts surveyed criticising the current laws as ‘unfit for purpose’, and the authors said a ‘lack of coherence’ between housing and health and safety had in turn created ‘competing alternative rationales’.
Other aspects of the report, Closing the gaps: health and safety in housing, included that local authorities were struggling to ‘find the right regulatory balance’ between improving housing standards and placing ‘unnecessarily burdensome’ demands on landlords. A lack of legal aid has also ‘lessened’ tenants’ ability to challenge housing defects, while threats of ‘retaliatory evictions’ meant private tenants were and are ‘less likely to speak up’.
Much of the housing law is also ‘divorced from practical reality’, and makes ‘obscure distinctions, which have little relationship with the everyday experiences of poor conditions’. Shelter’s chief executive Polly Neate stated that ‘the laws which are meant to protect people in their homes are inadequate and outdated, stretching back to the Victorian times. They’ve failed so catastrophically that those living in social housing are no longer safe.
‘And while the Grenfell inquiry is ongoing, our review shows these lax laws likely played a part in the tragedy’. Additionally, co author of the report David Cowan stated that there was ‘no easy answer to the question’ of responsibility for front doors, as one example that ‘absolutely epitomises all of the problems in the law’.
He added: ‘It’s shocking, it’s concerning, it’s ludicrous, ridiculous and dangerous. I’ve been an academic for 26 years, a professor for 14, and I tried to read the building regulations. I’ve got no idea. I don’t understand them. I’ll hold my hands up and say, despite my many years of being in academia...I don’t understand them. That’s just outrageous isn’t it?’