Call for new law to protect tenants in their homes after Grenfell

  "The charred remains after the tragic fire at the Grenfell Tower, west London" by ChiralJon. CC BY 2.0

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, a major new report calls for the introduction of a new Housing Act.

Research carried out at the universities of Kent (by Professor Helen Carr and Dr Ed Kirton-Darling) and Bristol (by Professor David Cowan and Dr Edward Burtonshaw-Gunn) for the housing charity Shelter found housing laws are ‘out-dated, complex and patchily enforced’. Tenants wanting to remedy defects face ‘numerous and often insurmountable’ barriers to justice.

The report, Closing the Gaps – Health and Safety at Home, recommends that the law needs to evolve: occupiers should no longer be treated as posing health and safety risks. Instead, they should be treated as consumers of housing with enforceable rights to ensure minimum standards are adhered to. The state needs to accept its role as the primary enforcer of those standards.

The report also calls a cultural change, so that those responsible for the health and safety of occupiers become pro-active in fulfilling those responsibilities.

It recommends a new Housing (Health and Safety in the Home) Act which is tenure neutral, modern and relevant to contemporary health and safety issues, and which encourages and provides resources for pro-activity by statutory authorities.  In particular, the Act should:-

  • Strengthen duties on local authorities to review housing and enforce housing health and safety standards
  • Introduce a legal duty to review and update all guidance relating to health and safety in the home every three years
  • Provide routes for occupiers to require local authorities to carry out housing health and safety assessments
  • Remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing enforcement action being taken against local authority landlords and remove unnecessary procedural barriers which undermine the current regime
  • Consolidate and up-date existing law
  • Place clear responsibilities on bodies for breaches of fire and building regulations
  • Provide routes for occupiers to hold landlords and managers to account for fire safety provisions
  • Strengthen remedies against retaliatory eviction

The report says the Act, either working alongside or incorporating a Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, would not only improve health and safety outcomes for occupiers, it would signify also that society accepts responsibility for those standards.