A new report has outlined the gruelling conditions that people living in poor-quality housing in the North of England have faced during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The report found that the lockdown has only exacerbated housing issues such as disrepair, cold homes, and a lack of space, which has had a negative impact on residents’ physical and mental health.
While poor-quality housing is a national issue, it is particularly acute in the North of England due to the region’s high numbers of pre-war, low-value homes – it is estimated that over a million owner-occupied homes and 354,000 private rented homes in the region now fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard.
The Northern Housing Consortium, which supported the report, has warned of a ‘bleak winter’ for the region as people face the prospect of spending more time indoors over the next few months, with many areas of the North now living under the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions.
The consortium of Northern housing associations has called on the government to take immediate steps to support residents this winter and place a longer-term focus on improving the North’s existing housing stock.
Tracy Harrison, CEO of the NHC, said: “This report shows that – far from being safe at home – too many Northerners have spent lockdown in homes that have harmed their health.
“The immediate priority must be strengthening the safety net to keep people afloat this winter – but in the longer term we must learn lessons from lockdown and renew our housing stock so that everyone in the North has a decent place to call home.”
The research, carried out by the University of Huddersfield and funded with support from the Nationwide Foundation, interviewed residents across the North of England from May to July 2020, months after lockdown restrictions were first introduced.
The research found that poor housing conditions across the region worsened during lockdown as many residents experienced issues with their homes such as damp, mould, and leaks.
Residents in the private rented sector had unique challenges as they were found to have under-reported repairs their homes needed out of fears their landlord would evict them or increase their rent. The report warned that there is likely to be a backlog of ‘major repairs’ to deal with over the coming months as a result.
The research also revealed home energy costs to be a major source of anxiety for Northerners, as some residents faced new-found financial precarity and were forced to prioritise paying for rent and heat over food.
The affordability of energy will become a greater issue over the winter months as homes become even colder and people spend more time at home, the report concluded.
Professor Philip Brown, professor of housing and communities at the University of Huddersfield, said that the COVID-19 crisis has amplified many of the North’s pre-existing housing issues, adding that ‘rundown properties are resulting in rundown people’.
“The impact of poor-quality housing on people is enormous,” Professor Brown commented. “The report is released at the very time those people we spoke to were most afraid of. It is increasingly cold, many properties will still be in poor repair, living costs are increased and people are grappling with increased financial insecurity.
“Those with the power to bring about change must take urgent action to reduce this insecurity and prevent adding to the numbers of people already homeless in the North.”
The research was part-funded by the Nationwide Foundation’s Transforming the Private Rented Sector Programme, which aims to improve the quality of homes in the sector and make them more affordable, secure, and accessible.
Bridget Young, programme manager from the Nationwide Foundation, said the research ‘adds to the growing body of work that evidences the state of the UK’s private rented sector; a sector that is too often expensive, poor quality and risks being damaging to health’.
The NHC’s report is just the latest to have explored the plight of poor-quality housing and the disparity of people’s experiences during the COVID-19 lockdown in England.
Shelter recently found that only one half of private renters felt safe in their homes during lockdown, while a Place Alliance survey found that newest homes have been the least comfortable to live in during coronavirus restrictions.
An Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “We are working hard to improve the quality of housing across the country, giving councils powers to deal with dangerous damp in rented homes, and given renters with the rights necessary to take their landlords to court should they fail to provide decent living conditions.”
The spokesperson also highlighted the introduction of the Green Homes Grant, saying it could lead to ‘hundreds of thousands of homes’ being warmer and safer this winter.