Bringing public health thinking to Private Rented Sector support

It’s hardly news that pressures for tenants living in London’s private rented sector continue to increase. What is news is that Hackney’s public health team are trying to do something about it.

We’re definitely not the first service to offer support to private tenants, but examples from health services are rare and the majority of focus is on those living in social housing- this is justifiable but still misses very large sections of our communities, and those who don’t enjoy the benefits of a social landlord.

The Private Rented Sector is Hackney’s only area of housing growth, and the waiting list for social housing is long. In 2011, 30% of properties in the private rented sector were affordable to households receiving housing benefits. In 2016 it is just 3%. Conditions are increasingly variable too- whilst there are plenty of tenants satisfied with the state of their home, the horror stories are all too frequent.

To provide some support to these tenants, and to identify problems earlier, we’re recruiting a new member of staff to coordinate our efforts. This person doesn’t need to be a seasoned public health practitioner or housing officer, but should care passionately about addressing social inequality and understand the challenges for tenants and landlords in the private rented sector.

I’ve become obsessed with the concept of staff who ‘walk through doors’, those who visit residents in their own home. Across the public sector partnership there are many services that do this as part of the day job- social care, residential Environmental Health Officers, the fire service, children’s centre staff, health visitors and more. By seeing people’s living conditions they can provide rich insights to other agencies, and in return receive information about risks their service can address. I think my colleagues are looking forward to this role getting started, so I’ll stop talking about walking through doors.

We want to build a network of these agencies, sharing their priorities and pressures to improve the way issues are raised and resolved. We’ve had several examples where our residential EHOs have identified tenants with mental health issues but not known who to contact. We want to resolve this across all services.

The council’s Private Sector Housing team is already making great efforts to move from reactively responding to tenants’ complaints to proactively identifying properties in the borough that are likely to suffer from unhealthy and dangerous conditions. This needs excellent use of data, and we want the new role to both support existing approaches and to identify new ways of improving our knowledge of the private rented sector.

It feels right that Public Health allocates resources across the services that can have the most impact on the underlying causes of health inequity. Now that the service has returned to local authorities there is a fantastic opportunity to really influence the drivers of ill health, and this new role is just one part of our wider plans to embed public health in local public services. For more information and to apply, please visit our website.

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