Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai

Local Government and Housing Committee

06/03/2024

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Carolyn Thomas
Jayne Bryant
Joel James
John Griffiths Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Mabon ap Gwynfor Yn dirprwyo ar ran Luke Fletcher
Substitute for Luke Fletcher
Sam Rowlands

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Becky Ricketts Swyddog Polisi ac Ymchwil, Gofal a Thrwsio Cymru
Policy and Research Officer, Care & Repair Cymru
Ceri Cryer Cynghorwr Polisi, Age Cymru
Policy Advisor, Age Cymru
David Rowlands Rheolwr Polisi, Tai Pawb
Policy Manager, Tai Pawb
Matthew Dicks Cyfarwyddwr, Sefydliad Tai Siartredig Cymru
Director, Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru
Serena Jones Cyfarwyddwr Gweithredol Gweithrediadau, Coastal Housing Association
Executive Director of Operations, Coastal Housing Association

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Angharad Era Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Catherine Hunt Clerc
Clerk
Jennie Bibbings Ymchwilydd
Researcher

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:16.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:16.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee. Item 1 on our agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. We have received an apology from Luke Fletcher MS, and he has a substitute arranged, Mabon ap Gwynfor, who is not yet with us this morning but will be with us later. The meeting is being held in hybrid format as usual, and aside from the adaptations relating to proceedings being conducted in that way, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place. The public items of the meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv and the Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation is available. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? No.

2. Y sector rhentu preifat: sesiwn dystiolaeth 3
2. Private rented sector: evidence session 3

We will move on, then, to item 2, our third evidence session with regard to the committee's inquiry into the private rented sector in Wales. So, let me welcome our witnesses for this session joining us here in person: Matthew Dicks, director of the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru, and David Rowlands, policy manager for Tai Pawb. And joining us virtually is Serena Jones, executive director of operations for Coastal Housing Association. Welcome to you all. Thank you for joining the committee today. Perhaps I might begin with some initial questions on policy and vision, and firstly, in your view, does the Welsh Government have a clear vision for the role that the private rented sector should play in our housing system here in Wales? Who would like to begin and answer? I see you're being volunteered, Matt.

Thank you, Chair. Bore da, pawb. Thank you for inviting us along this morning. I think that's a 'yes' and 'no' answer, I'm afraid. You're probably looking for a more definitive answer than that, but I think if we look at what the Government has been doing in terms of legislation and regulations recently, it certainly does get what the private rented sector needs to be, certainly in the short to medium term. So, we're looking at Rent Smart Wales around standards, fitness for habitation, in terms of the contracts, better deals for tenants, et cetera. So, it does have a strategy or a vision in that sense, but, in a sense, that's a response to the context in which we come to this meeting today and the inquiry that you're looking at—what the PRS is for in the longer term. It's almost what the Government has been doing as a response to that context—this massive tenure shift that we've had in the last two decades. So, just some figures for you: in 1991, 21 per cent of the housing stock in Wales was social housing, and 8 per cent was PRS. So, that's moved significantly since then, to 2021, where we have 16.5 per cent in the social housing sector, and 17 per cent now in the PRS. That is a huge seismic shift that informs what we're talking about, effectively, because there's now more reliance on the private rented sector to discharge homelessness duties and find solutions of affordable and social rent.

So, does the Welsh Government have a strategy, longer term, for the PRS in that context? Arguably not. Our argument would be that that should be part of a wider housing strategy, and we certainly haven't seen one of those since the first decade of this century. So, what role does the PRS have in that wider strategy and the provision of a safe, sustainable and affordable home for everyone in Wales? We would argue the starting point for that, as campaign partners with Tai Pawb and Shelter Cymru, would be the incorporation of a right to adequate housing, and what role the PRS has to play in that, and the committee's well aware of our thoughts on the right to adequate housing. 

09:20

Would you want to say anything more about the role that the private rented sector, in your view, should have in Wales?

Ultimately, the PRS is less robust in response to the market. Landlords are either businessmen, running letting agencies, et cetera, or they’re people who’ve invested in assets. So, they’re going to make decisions that are responsive to the market, and the market has been very volatile in recent years. I’m not going to criticise individuals or businesses for making those decisions, but the social purpose of providing an affordable, safe place for home, I would argue, is much better served by the social housing sector, which is more robust and less responsive to the marketplace, because of social rent. So, if that’s the social purpose, is the marketplace best placed to give us what we need in terms of the supply of affordable homes for everyone? It has a role, obviously, but what do we think it’s for? Is it to provide social and affordable housing? Like I say, the response that the Government is implementing at the moment is because we don’t have enough social housing supply, so we need the private rented sector to plug the gap. But is that the ideal position we want to be in? Arguably not. 

What role would you see for the private rented sector ideally, then, Matt, in Wales? How would you characterise it?

Our view would be you need to shift the balance back in favour of social housing. That's the fundamental, core problem with the housing system in Wales and across the UK—there simply isn't enough social and affordable housing to deal with demand. So, we need to shift that balance back.

So, when we look at that shift that you mentioned with the statistics that you stated, Matt, you'd like to see that trend reversed. 

Yes, and this is what an overarching, strategic vision needs to address. What is the sweet spot of the ratio? I chat to colleagues in the PRS about this. This isn't about demonising the PRS. There are some really good private landlords who get the social purpose of what they do, but they have to make commercial decisions. Commercial decisions don't necessarily lend themselves to providing the level of supply of affordable social housing that we need, and they're more beholden to welfare decisions at Westminster. The local housing allowance rate is a problem in terms of bringing in more private rented sector to plug that gap. The PRS has a massively important role in the short to medium term to play, because we haven’t got sufficient supply of social housing, but longer term, our view would be the best way to provide that safety net of affordable and social housing is through the social housing sector—housing associations, local authorities. 

Okay, Matt, that's great. Would either of our other witnesses like to add anything to what Matt has said on those issues?

I'd probably largely agree with what Matt said. I think the lack of vision for the PRS is fairly clear—there isn't one. And I think that reflects what's happening more widely with housing in Wales, and the fact that there is no wider strategy. I think we can see with policies that have been implemented a lot of positive intent, a lot of what we at Tai Pawb would call progressive approaches to deal with homelessness, housing, standards. The challenge really is, without that vision, they're all coming from different places, so they're not lined up from one strategic base, and it means that we're kind of chasing our tail, so to speak, when we're looking at things like supply, affordability, suitability, accessibility, because we're not starting from one overarching vision.

I see. Serena, did you want to add anything, or are you content with what we've heard?

I'd agree with the vast majority of what's been said, so I don't think I've got anything to add to that, thank you.

Thank you, Serena. We'll move on to some more detailed questions, rather than the more general ones we've started with. Sam Rowlands. 

Thanks, Chair. I want to ask some questions about supply, quality and affordability. But before I do, on this issue of vision, if I may, Chair, is there a risk in us just talking about the private rented sector in isolation, because it's so intrinsically linked to different types of housing? Is that a fundamental issue—that it's not necessarily a vision about the PRS, but it's a vision about homes and housing more broadly? Is that the biggest issue, do you think?

09:25

Yes, you've hit the nail on the head there. It's one housing system; it's not the private rented system over here, the social housing system over here, owner-occupier. Every decision made in each of those tenures has an impact on the others. The decision not to invest at a strategic level in social housing supply over the last two, three, four decades means we have a gap in provision of that. Therefore, we rely on another sector—we're relying on the PRS. They are interlinked. And then, you have other decisions, economic decisions, which impact the marketplace, which then have an impact on supply in that tenure, which puts even more pressure on other tenures. So, it's all interlinked. And, yes, the one joined-up strategy of how we need to balance that tenure is key and fundamental to this. We've spoken at previous sessions about what drives that, what drives the vision, or what needs to drive the vision, and, from our perspective, it's that everyone has a safe, affordable and sustainable place to call home. Our view is that we need to legislate for that in order to drive that investment. It may be that, in the short term, we need much more investment into the PRS, in order to meet that vision of everyone having a safe, affordable house, but, long term, our view would be that that investment would be better placed going into social housing, to plug that gap.

Nothing more to add.

I'll just bring Mabon in at this point, Sam, if that's okay.

Diolch—thanks. You touched there on the LHA. Leading on from what Sam said about the whole sector, thinking about the funding of the sector, is the funding structure currently the best way that it can be, the best funding structure possible—that you have funding from the UK Government going to private landlords here, but the Welsh Government doesn't have any control over that? Do you think there should be more devolution around that?

We're talking about the devolution of welfare, then, aren't we, which is a whole new discussion altogether. The reason why we're relying on LHA rates so much is because we haven't got enough social housing. If we had more social housing, we wouldn't have to discharge so many into the private rented sector. The private rented sector is beholden to market forces, but it's also beholden to the local housing allowance, because that's what it's based on. So, if you're at the thirtieth percentile, or you've frozen that for a number of years, then what's the incentive for the private rented sector to rent to social housing tenants, or tenants being discharged from the local authority list? It all impacts. But if you had more social housing, then than is paid down to the Welsh Government, and social rent is cheaper, so it's cheaper for the public purse overall, isn't it? It needs to balance up. I keep saying the answer is that strategic vision about what does that tenure mix need to be. Because if we reduce our reliance on the private rented sector and discharge our homelessness duties at affordable social rent, then we reduce the cost.

I will go into the area I should be fishing around in, which is around supply and affordability. In much of what's been said so far, the word 'supply' has been mentioned. Are we looking at solutions often that aren't actually looking to address the real issue, which is there's just not enough houses out there? If there was one single thing the Welsh Government could do as an intervention in this area around supply, what do you think would be the most effective Government intervention to help deal with the supply and demand issues in the private rented sector?

Do you want to go? I feel like I'm hogging the—. 

No, that's fine. I'll go first. The tenure mix currently, as Matt alluded to, is about 17 per cent in the PRS. So, the private rented sector does currently play a huge part in housing people and supporting people. We know, from our projects in Gwent, Gwent Boost and Open Doors, that, with the right support, landlords can support people in the PRS to access it that perhaps would have struggled previously, whether that's through mental health or other issues. In terms of one intervention, I don't think it's just about one thing. Boosting supply is important, but it's where are the houses, who are they suitable for, are they accessible homes. The EHRC have done a report talking about a hidden crisis for disabled people in Wales. So, I think we need to be conscious of that, moving forward, that it's not just a simple answer of increasing supply, because that won't actually resolve the type of houses that we need. I think it's more nuanced than that.

09:30

Can I just come back on that point? I absolutely understand that, and I always try to use the phrase 'appropriate housing' rather than 'affordable housing', because affordability is a factor, certainly, but appropriateness of housing is really important, including affordability within that. Do you think sometimes we just use it as an excuse to slow things down in terms of supply? It feels like there are so many loopholes and things that you have to jump through to get LDPs agreed and housing developments agreed and houses being built. I think we expect report after report after report, but perhaps we just need more houses to be built. Am I wrong with that? Am I perhaps getting too frustrated?

No, you're not wrong at all. We need lots more housing of all types and with the right tenure mix. It comes back to your previous question about how interrelated all these tenures are. You can't mess about in one area and not expect repercussions to happen in other areas. In terms of the overarching question you asked, I think the biggest intervention at the moment to increase supply in the PRS, or to maintain supply in the PRS at the level we need, would be certainty over the LHA rate. That's one of the big mechanisms being used across the UK, because there's insufficient supply of social housing, in order to bring PRS homes into use. It's been unfrozen for a year, but we don't know what's going to happen after 2024-25. Maybe we'll hear something later today. That would then encourage more landlords into the PRS, or maintain the PRS, which would then have an impact on the marketplace and would drive down rents for the whole PRS market, which would then make it more affordable for young professionals, for people wanting that in-between accommodation that the PRS is for. I'll come back to that fundamental point: what is the PRS for? What do we want it to be? Is it that wider mix of supply and affordable housing, or is it just about providing the wider mix of housing for young professionals, for other types of people who want to use the private rented sector? You're right, we need to build a heck of a lot more homes, but the vision needs to be, as David was saying, about what types of home we want to build.

I don't know, Serena, if you want to comment on any of those points at all.

Thank you, yes. It's back to—we've rehearsed this topic over and over again—the mix. Due to the balance that has happened over the last few decades, the pressure that that has caused, we need an absolutely massive investment in social housing in order to be able to support the rebalance. I appreciate the conversation here is focusing on the private rented sector, but as an interrelated system it's an incredibly important part of the puzzle. We see people accommodated in the private rented sector who would absolutely qualify for social housing but are unable to access it because of scarcity, and that is a considerable problem that does need to be addressed. I think it is that interconnected nature. It's interesting that the question is coming up about who is the private rented sector for. I think that is an important question to consider and to reflect on, but it's the same question that's being asked in the social housing sector too as scarcity drives further and further into that system. So, that just demonstrates, I think, just how interrelated these areas are.

Clearly, the Government would probably sit here and say that the reason why they're struggling with the volumes in the social rent sector is constraints around the public purse and challenges there. But in terms of the build-to-rent sector, you've got institutional investors out there who have fairly large pots, and those pots have probably grown significantly with interest rates at the moment. So, I just wonder whether you think there's anything that the Welsh Government could or should be doing to encourage those institutional investors to spend that money here in Wales and invest in a build-to-rent market to increase that supply. Is there anything you think Welsh Government should be doing more of? Matt.

09:35

Again, if it's their vision that they want to grow the private rented sector and they see it as a central part of the vision to provide a safe, affordable home for everyone, then they need to think about levers that can draw in that investment—

Do you think that they just don't see it as a valuable part of the mix?

I don't know. They're certainly addressing issues in the private rented sector to try and bring more homes into use, particularly through the lease scheme, which we may come on to. I think from what you hear from the Minister and the Government, their vision is more of increasing the supply of social housing to meet that affordable housing demand, but you have to get that mix right. What is that ratio? I'd pay a lot of money to the person who can come up with the sweet spot that gives us that ratio, and then we know exactly what we need to do.

But what is the incentive for a private investor to invest in the private rented sector? The market is more in student accommodation, it's more in Airbnb, holiday lets et cetera, et cetera. What's the incentive for them to build rented accommodation in Cardiff, Swansea or Wrexham that has a mix of affordable and market rent properties? It's such a volatile market. The sector is so beholden to the market. We've got lots of private rented landlords pulling out of the market because of the high interest rates et cetera. So, what's the return on investment? I'm not sure many investors will see it as a safe bet at the moment in terms of that wider spread of the private rented sector. There are specific elements of value, but that's not going to give us what we need in terms of supply, I don't think.

Okay. David, do you want to say anything further? No, fine, okay. Serena, anything from your side? No, okay. Lovely. And then the last one from me, and I do have some thoughts on the comments you've made there, Matt, but I don't want to go down a rabbit hole. It's fine, I'm conscious of time. So, my final question on this point, then, is about what you think Welsh Government's priorities might be for reducing disrepair and environmental hazards in private rented housing. Is there anything you think they should be focusing on to make those spaces better for those tenants? David.

If you don't mind, I'll go. Our Gwent project identified a few things in conversations with tenants' groups. A couple of things that were particularly relevant here were greater investment in the environmental health teams so that enforcement—. We can have the regulation in place, but, actually, if there are not the teams and staff to go in from local authorities to inspect properties, make recommendations and hold the minority of bad landlords to account, then the legislation isn't going to make the difference. Similarly, there was support for investment in tenant groups, so that tenants could have a form of advocacy, support and voice in terms of some of these matters, in holding bad practice to account, really.

Okay, thank you. Serena, I think you wanted to comment as well.

Yes, thank you. I was going to make that point regarding local authority environmental health teams. It's really important that they have sufficient resources to be able to manage their duties and obligations, and we know that they are very stretched at the moment. There is also an issue around access to justice for people. There's an issue around that functioning public law system that needs some attention, I think, in terms of helping individuals respond to any challenges that they're experiencing.

I'd also say that we are fairly new into fitness for human habitation legislation; we are still in very early days around that environment. We will expect to see case law set around how that's being implemented, obviously both in the social housing sector and in the private rented sector in Wales, because of the unified obligations and responsibility. So, there is something about staying close to how that is actually working in practice and what we're discovering as a result of that, which I think it will be important to pay attention to.

Before Matt perhaps jumps in—I don't know if you do—I'm just wondering how much these points are challenges for local authorities, especially with their environmental health teams, because if they do find an issue in a property, and somebody needs to not be in there, there's nowhere else for them to go. It goes back to that supply issue, where it's very difficult to find somewhere else for them to go. But if that supply was much higher, then there's much more incentive, I guess, for the landlord to ensure that their properties are in a good shape. I don't know how much of that is true; I suspect it may be. But if I was running a council and I was trying to find more properties, it's nearly impossible at the moment, isn't it? But, Matt, do you want to comment? Sorry, Serena.

09:40

I was just going to—. On that point, a meeting I was at recently had an environmental health team representative in there, where they had identified category 1 hazards in some properties that residents were in—families—but those families would rather have stayed in those category 1 hazard properties then move into bed-and-breakfast accommodation where they'd have arguably even more difficult conditions, and certainly constraints around cooking and visitors et cetera. So, you're absolutely right, that is a considerable problem.

Well, only to make the wider point: enforcement focuses minds, doesn't it? The legislation and the regulations are in place through Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 in terms of the hazards, but colleagues have made the point about the lack of resource within local authorities to enforce that. That's been an issue with Rent Smart Wales all along, really, and wider enforcement across the housing piece in terms of enforcing 106 agreements, for example. So, it's local authority capacity, but, yes, you're right, Sam, if it focuses minds for landlords to be better, then that has to be a good thing.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning, first of all, both of you. Matthew, in the written evidence, you recommended that Welsh Government should make landlord insurance a mandatory requirement and that this would remove the need for tenants to pay for the deposit. Perhaps you could expand a little bit on that.

Yes. So, apart from other aspects like the LHA rate et cetera, the biggest barrier to accessing the private rented sector for many potential tenants in that space where they're looking for affordable housing specifically is (a) deposits, so often a month's deposit in advance, plus a month's rent, which is pretty much unaffordable for many people, particularly in the more urban conurbations, where rents are higher; but also the routine credit checks, which households will have poor credit ratings et cetera.

So, the mandatory insurance—average cost around £170 per annum from our investigations into it—would remove the requirement for that deposit, and less so for credit checks. So, it would provide a safety net for both tenants and the landlords, because they could claim for disrepair et cetera off that insurance. So, it opens up more supply or more access for tenants who may not be quite at a level where they can access social housing, but still need that affordable housing piece through the private rented sector.

Brilliant, that's really helpful. Thank you for that. I just wonder if any of you have a view on rent regulation, and if so, what model would you support?

Did you want to come in first, Serena?

Thank you. I have spent a bit of time looking through information regarding regulating rent. Obviously, in the social housing sector, we have an environment within which that is regulated. I don't know if the committee are aware of the 2022 research from the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, but if not, I can forward a link to that. But that makes it pretty clear that rent controls can have negative, positive or neutral effects, and it does depend on your modelling assumptions. So, I'm not here to offer you a particular solution to that, or which one I think could be the right one, but very clearly, it's an incredibly complicated area that requires a lot of careful consideration—that's my view.

If you could forward us that link, Serena, I'm sure that would be welcome, thank you. [Interruption.] Joel—yes. I'll just bring Joel in—

Thank you, Chair, and thanks ever so much for coming this morning. I just wanted to have a quick question about the mandatory landlord insurance. Wouldn't that have a counter-effect in the sense of pushing more landlords out of the market, then, if they've got to do the mandatory insurance? Wouldn't that have an impact on insurance premiums? If it was mandatory, then, surely, those premiums would go up. And likewise, if it was for, say, social housing or affordable housing, insurance companies then would charge higher premiums than, say, a privately rented—.

09:45

Yes, it could well do. There are always unintended consequences to doing good and right things, I would say. Now, could the Welsh Government get involved in that space? Possibly. We talked about underwriting investment into the private rented sector investment et cetera—could the Government do something to support the sector on that or support the insurance industry on that? I'm not sure what that would look like, but it could be investigated.

But the driving force behind our thinking on that is that we haven't got sufficient supply. We've got 11,000 people living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, because they can't access the PRS because of many things. So, that is specifically focused on a specific element or a specific barrier to accessing the PRS. But, yes, it needs further thought and investigation, you're right, but it's a solution to solve a specific problem at a specific time.

I'm fine, thank you, Chair, but I don't know if you wanted to come back on my second question. 

Yes, in terms of rent control, which is effectively what we're talking about, the first point I'd make is that we already have rent control—it's called social rent. The problem is that we don't have sufficient supply of social housing, so, therefore, we're reliant on the market and the private rented sector market to plug that gap. The evidence, as Serena was saying, suggests that the unintended consequence is to push more private landlords out of the market—. Scotland, which has had rent controls in for the last year or so, has seen amongst the highest rent in the private rented sector or the highest rent increases that we've seen. We've done some work in the last year with colleagues in Northern Ireland and between 40 per cent to 60 per cent of landlords there were saying that they would exit the market if rent controls were brought in. So, I think that's probably the last thing we need to encourage at this stage, given the supply issues that we're having.

That said, there can be arguments made for intervention at, what I'd call, a hyperlocal level, so where there are specific—you know, not your wide and regional rent markets, but your hyperlocal, where there are specific problems about, for example, key workers having problems renting at the salaries they're looking at. So, there could be an argument for short-term intervention there. But if there were any intervention, I think our view would be that it has to be linked to that relationship between income and affordability, so that the lowest 25 percentile of income related to the affordability of rent. Because you could set a cap at 30 per cent and someone may be paying 20 per cent, but does that 80 per cent cover their other costs of living, if their income is too low? So, if you're going to do it, you need to look at it in that context rather than just looking at the lowest percentile of rent and affordability.

I suppose there are just a couple of things that I'd add to that. One is that there is a lack of understanding, really, in terms of the equalities impact of rent control. A lot of that depends on the system or method of use, but what would the impact be on families, for instance, that want to stay in a property for longer, whereas rent control would allow a higher turnover of tenancies to allow prices to go up? Accessible housing also is an issue—we already have a lack of accessible housing. In terms of community gentrification of areas, that can have an impact as well. 

I think that the bit that I took from the research that Serena mentioned—the CaCHE report—is that with rent control on its own, we don't really know what's going to happen because there are so many different methods—it's really hard to understand the unintended consequences. But, actually, if you look at affordability measures—alongside things looking at supply, suitability, a raft of things to get that—then that's more likely to have an impact. And we at Tai Pawb, and probably Matt would as well, around the right to adequate housing—introducing something like that, which would provide a holistic starting point for talking about these things, would be the way to go, really.

Okay Jayne, thank you very much. We will move on, then, to Mabon ap Gwynfor. Mabon.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Dwi'n mynd i gyfrannu yn Gymraeg. Allwn ni wirio ei fod yn gweithio? Hapus?

Gaf i fynd yn ôl at un pwynt, cyn fy mod i'n dod at y pwyntiau cychwynnol? Ddaru Matt, dwi'n meddwl, sôn am Rent Smart Wales. A gawn ni jest deimlad gan y tri ohonoch chi: ydych chi'n meddwl bod Rent Smart Wales yn gweithio?

Thank you, Chair. I'm going to contribute in Welsh. Can we just check that it's working? Everyone happy?

Can I just go back to one point before I come to my initial points? Matt, I think, talked about Rent Smart Wales. Can we have a feeling from the three of you on whether you think Rent Smart Wales is working?

09:50

Does anyone else want to—? I'm happy to come in. Again, 'yes and no', I'm afraid. Funnily enough, I was doing some work for a presentation I'm giving later about professionalism. So, obviously, we're the home of professional standards for the housing sector across the UK, very focused on the professionalism agenda at the moment, given all of the negative stories about damp and mould et cetera, and the role that professional standards play in that. And there's a lot of evidence from a similar scheme in Scotland, the LETWELL scheme, which is the regulation of letting agents, about mandatory continuing professional development having an impact on outcomes and tenants' experience. So, the evidence is there.

In terms of Rent Smart Wales, I've not seen any data or evidence collected to give us that causal link between better outcomes for tenants and better standards specifically, but, ultimately, as the home of professional standards, we believe in good CPD and good professional development, and Rent Smart Wales mandates that from letting agents and landlords who are registering. So, the assumption has to be that it is. I still wait to see evidence collected on that. But, if it's similar to what's happening in Scotland, then it will have an impact on outcomes. 

I suppose more specifically—I'll talk specifically; there's an instance here—there's the opportunity for Rent Smart Wales to perhaps do more. So, as an example, the recent White Paper on homelessness reform talked about opportunities for different sectors to link in with the housing options—so, the PRS linking with housing options, for instance, when a tenancy is coming to an end in the PRS. There's not really been anything concrete in that. The conversations that we've had with private landlords is that they would welcome opportunities to use things like Rent Smart Wales, that, if a tenancy was coming to an end, they could refer into Rent Smart Wales and then that would kick off a chain reaction, if you like, so that housing options could get in touch with a tenant at an early stage. The landlords we spoke to were very much in support of that and felt that, actually, it could be done quite simply through the systems that they already have in place. So, we probably would argue that it could perhaps do more and be encouraged to do more. 

Diolch. Ydy Serena eisiau—?

Thank you. Would Serena like to come in?

Diolch. Thank you. I suppose just to bring—. Obviously, as a social landlord, we don't have very much contact with Rent Smart Wales, for obvious reasons. But I suppose just to bring in—. And I don't disagree with the points made by colleagues earlier, but, in terms of an example that might point to whether or not Rent Smart Wales is able to fulfil its complete obligations or complete expectations, there was a situation in one of the local authorities that we work in where a private landlord was planning to dispose of around 140 properties. We worked collaboratively with multiple housing associations to understand what we could do in order to mitigate any increased risk of homelessness to many of those households; many of those properties were occupied, although a significant number weren't. And it was really clear that that landlord was compliant with all the obligations within Rent Smart Wales, but, those properties, many of them had significant category 1 hazards and were in hazardous conditions that required a huge amount of investment to bring them up to social housing standards. So, there is a disconnect between—. An obligation had been achieved in terms of the certification required to be licensed under Rent Smart Wales, but the actual delivery on the ground, certainly in this portfolio, didn't match the expectations. So, I thought that was useful just to bring as an example. 

Mae hwnna'n ddefnyddiol. Mae hwnna'n dod â fi ymlaen i'r cwestiwn nesaf. Dwi'n gwybod, yng Ngwynedd, mae'r awdurdod lleol yn cychwyn ariannu i brynu tai i mewn o'r sector breifat nôl i'r sector gyhoeddus. Ydych chi'n meddwl bod hwnna'n ffordd ymlaen, yn enwedig pan fo landlord preifat eisiau cael gwared ar ei bortffolio neu eisiau cael gwared ar eiddo, fod o'n syniad i gymdeithas tai neu i lywodraeth leol brynu'r tŷ yna nôl i'r sector cyhoeddus, gan warchod ac amddiffyn hawliau'r tenant ar yr un pryd. Ydy hwnna'n ffordd ymlaen? A faint o hwnna sy'n digwydd, ydych chi'n meddwl, yma yng Nghymru? Serena.

That's useful. That brings me on to the next question. I know that, in Gwynedd, the local authority is starting funding to buy in housing from the private sector back into the public sector. Do you think that that is a way forward, especially when a private landlord wants to get rid of their portfolio or property, that it's an idea for a housing association or a local authority to buy that house back into the public sector, protecting the rights of the tenant at the same time. Is that a way forward? And how much of that do you think is happening in Wales? Serena.

09:55

Shall I respond? Is that okay?

So, the—. We're really grateful to Welsh Government for the transitional accommodation capital programme, because that's been really instrumental in supporting exactly that activity: purchasing, acquiring, properties that were privately rented, bringing them back into—bringing them into the social housing sector, or, in many cases, bringing them back. Because we're often trying to acquire properties that were sold through right to buy, right to acquire legislation or rights previously. So, where we have an existing footprint in a locality, purchasing back those properties that have previously been sold and privately rented makes absolute sense.

So, that transitional accommodation capital programme—or TACP, as the acronym goes—has been exceptional for that. We've also bought properties from private developers—so, brand-new properties—and then made those available. I think there is a question that we need to ask ourselves when we're faced with those questions, which is whether we are—. Because there are some similarities to mortgage rescue in this context, but whether or not we are—. We need to be sure that we're rescuing the tenant or the contract holder rather than considering rescuing landlords, and I think, sometimes, there is a bit of tension between those two spaces, which needs to be considered.

But, in the first year of TACP funding, 936 homes were bought by the social housing sector in Wales, and that is a considerable number, and we need more certainty with that funding stream, and we certainly need more certainty than just a one-year budget cycle. It's a real problem across the whole of the development environment, actually, both in acquiring and new build developing, that the life-cycle of those is much longer than a budget-setting cycle. And I know that's a kind of systemic issue, but it is a real challenge that we face, because we purchase multiple properties and then we have to get them up to the required standard. And we are absolutely right that there are many private landlords who are very good landlords operating, providing brilliant quality properties and services, but there are also those that aren't. And one example from that example that I mentioned earlier is that just two properties that were purchased out of the ones that were being disposed of by that large private landlord cost £150,000 to bring up to Welsh housing quality standard and fitness for human habitation obligations, so the grant level also needs to be at a level that not only supports the acquisition, but also the refurbishment.

So, it's an excellent addition to the landscape and we've got some great examples of where we have used both TACP funding for—. Particularly where there's an individual who's got—. We had one example where there was an individual who had a disabled son, adult disabled son, living in the house. They'd had multiple adaptations in the property, they'd lived there 19 years. The landlord, this was their sole property, they were selling for their retirement and, you know, we were able to—. They would have become homeless. The complexity of the needs of the son meant that there was no suitable alternative appropriate, and it was brilliant that we could progress that, keep that household in situ.

It does raise a challenge about allocation processes. So, we're kind of reverse assessing, really, in terms of people who are living in those properties, but, absolutely, this is a great addition to the landscape.

Nothing on that. I was going to make a quick point about Rent Smart Wales and what we were talking about there, but we may come on to it later, about data and about the lack of data around Rent Smart Wales. But we may come on to it, particularly—

Yes. Okay. But nothing to add to what—. I think Serena's covered it extensively there, so—.

Diolch. Ac yna mae yna rai cymdeithasau tai ac awdurdodau lleol mae ganddyn nhw bortffolios yn y sector preifat hefyd, yn enwedig yn Lloegr. Beth ydy'ch meddyliau chi ar hyn? Ydych chi'n meddwl bod hwnna'n ffordd ymlaen?

Thank you. And then, there are some housing associations and local authorities that have private rented sector portfolios, especially in England. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think that's a way forward?

10:00

I don't know whether Serena wants to come in on that, as a landlord.

I apologise—my translation service didn't come through for that point. I apologise.

Mi wnaf i ailadrodd. Mae gan rai cymdeithasau tai ac awdurdodau lleol bortffolios yn y sector rhent preifat hefyd, yn enwedig yn Lloegr. Ydy hynny'n ffordd ymlaen i ni yng Nghymru? Oes gennych chi unrhyw syniadau ar hynny?

I'll repeat. Some housing associations and local authorities have PRS portfolios also, in England especially. Is that a way forward for us? Do you have any ideas on this?

Shall I come in?

Do you want to come in, while we perhaps try and address the problem?

Yes. Again, it's all about balance, isn't it, and what social landlords are for. Many social landlords, housing associations, have got into the private rented sector as a way of creating more finance to cross-subsidise other areas of the service, but I suppose then there are questions for landlords to answer about, okay, how much does that private rented element draw services—repair services et cetera—away from the social housing stock, which is the core purpose, and related to the private rented sector, and then what levels are they going to set rent at in terms of the marketplace, generating the additional income without the additional cost or too much cost, and at what level the rent would be affordable in terms of their core social purpose, which is to provide affordable and social housing.

So, the transfer housing associations—and I believe that some of them now are looking at building to raise funds, and they're saying they're using those for social housing—do they do much homeless prevention? Do they use officers for that? Because I know that social landlords do use their housing support grant to ensure that people stay in their homes longer as well, and they can help them as well. So, they do, I think, more besides just being a social landlord, whereas, those that have become transfer landlords, do they behave differently?

Do stock transfer landlords behave differently to traditional—?

No, they all have the same requirements in terms of the regulatory agenda. So, all housing associations are governed by the same regulatory standards.

Okay, so they help with the homelessness support as well. Okay.

Yes. All housing associations work in that space in terms of providing support, yes.

Right, thank you. Okay. Thanks for clarifying that. Thank you, Chair.

Mabon, do you want to put the question to Serena again, because I think the translation should be working now?

Gawn ni weld os ydy o'n gweithio. Fe wnaf i roi ryw frawddeg ynglŷn â fo. Sôn roeddwn i fod yna rai cymdeithasau tai ac awdurdodau lleol, yn enwedig yn Lloegr, wedi mynd i mewn i'r sector rhent preifat hefyd ac mae ganddyn nhw bortffolio preifat eu hunain—meddwl beth ydy eich barn chi am hwnna fel un ffordd ymlaen. Ydy hwnna yn rhywbeth y dylid edrych ar?

We'll see if it works now. I'll just say. I was just mentioning that there are some housing associations and local authorities, particularly in England, who have gone into the PRS and they have PRS portfolios—I was wondering what your views were on that as one way ahead. Is that something that we should look at?

Diolch. Thank you. That did come through. Yes, there are some social landlords who have got market rent properties, and we have got—. In Coastal we have some intermediate rent properties, and we might come on to that point later in terms of the UK Parliament's forthcoming renters reform legislation. But I would say—. For us, as an organisation, we have decided not to pursue that as an option, and partly that is to do with that the amount of complexity you have across your portfolio can generate real difficulties, and I think we're a bit of a stick-to-the-knitting kind of housing association who want to focus on our primary objective. We do have some diversification in terms of a bit of commercial portfolio for retail, leisure et cetera, but not in that market rented sector. And I think it would be helpful if—. There are a number of housing associations that do have those portfolios. I think they work when they are more at scale. I think it's difficult to do in a small way. But I think it would useful to try and get some evidence from one of those associations that are running a portfolio like that, to understand the opportunities and the challenges.

I'll just ask you some questions on discrimination. So, Tai Pawb's written evidence recommended that Welsh Government should do more to assist refugees to access the private rented sector. 

10:05

Yes, sure, no problem. So, I suppose, just to clarify to begin with, by refugees, you mean people who've been granted leave to remain, to stay in the UK by the Home Office/

Yes, just for clarity purposes. So, we've undertaken a number of pieces of research over the last year or so for different projects, really, and this is also backed up by research in England—that the majority of refugees actually experience homelessness once they've had their status granted. And there's a number of reasons for that and barriers that are stopping them access the PRS. I suppose the first one is the short notice period of up to 28 days maximum of trying to find accommodation from the accommodation that they're in currently. Inability to work means that refugees can't build up savings or a credit history. A lot of landlords in the PRS and agents require credit checks, employment checks, or references from employers. And, again, those act as barriers for people to be able to access the PRS. And then there's a lack of deposit or guarantor system in place, which is a real barrier to people getting onto that housing ladder. 

For us, obviously, the 28 days is important, and I know there are changes happening within that, but the impact of this leads to expensive stays in temporary accommodation. It delays people accessing opportunities to rebuild their lives. So, we would see opportunities to look at guarantor schemes or deposit schemes from the Welsh Government as really positive in this area. 

Okay. Anybody else want to comment on that? No. Okay. Do you think that there's also some discrimination for people who have got pets that want to access the private rented sector as well? People need pets for support as well. Serena's nodding; would you like to come in on this?

Thank you. Yes, I was interested, particularly, to read the submissions from the pets organisations, and I think it's a point that was made in one of the previous sessions as well regarding people with disabilities and their relationship with pets. Pets are an incredibly important part of a family and households, and I know that this has been an issue in the social housing sector as well as the private rented sector. And it is contentious. It does raise some challenges, particularly where you've got blocks of flats. There are some challenges around it. But, ultimately, I think it's really important that residents are able to have pets in their homes, and that supports them living a good life according to their expectations and ambitions. So, I think it's a really important part of the changes.

How do you think this could be overcome, then—by, maybe, insurance or policies such as that, because to get a deposit can be really hard, can't it, a larger deposit?

Yes, I noticed in the submissions that, actually, the fear of the impact compared to the actual impact isn't always in the same place. So, I think there is considerable anxiety that there will be more disrepair issues. And, to be fair, when we do have difficult housing conditions issues at properties, they are sometimes with pets, and issues around being able to manage pets. But that shouldn't be—. The fact that it happens on a small number of occasions shouldn't dictate an entire policy landscape, and I think, sometimes, the fear is worse than the reality.

Okay. Thank you, Serena. And, just moving on, what's your view on the Welsh Government legislative consent memorandum on the Renters (Reform) Bill, which will create new criminal offences for discrimination in relation to children or benefit status?

Anything that brings around change in this area we would welcome. We've all seen the adverts on Facebook community groups, or whatever, and it's disappointing every time to see them. I think a survey by Shelter Cymru found that 37 per cent of landlords in Wales say they do not, or prefer not, to let to tenants on benefits. And I think it was something like the equivalent of 75,000 tenants across Wales that have reported discrimination when they tried to find their current homes. So, this is a significant issue. 

I suppose a couple of other things were that it comes back to the enforcement side of things as well. So, it's not just about having the legislation in place; it's being able to make a difference with it. And that also comes back to some of the conversations we've had earlier around supply. Our work in Gwent has identified, speaking to some young people, that they just feel the PRS is out of their reach unless they earn more than £26,000 a year. To me, that's a significant amount of money. So, if you've already got a system where people feel that if you don't earn £26,000, you're not going to be able to access the PRS, then unless you look at improving the supply and enhancing the supply, you're not going to have a difference, because there's always going to be a survival-of-the-fittest approach.

10:10

No, nothing to add to what David said.

Okay, thank you. Serena, did you want to come in on that? Is there anything—?

Yes, thank you—just a couple of points. One is that, as I mentioned earlier, we do have an intermediate rent product—that's not the greatest word—the Welsh Housing Partnership, and that does require people to be in employment. It's intended to hit that group of people who don't qualify for social housing, but they don't have sufficient income or savings to be able to purchase their own home. So, there are some products that are specifically designed, and so we'd need to consider those in the context of this Bill that's coming through, obviously, particularly where it applies criminal offences as a result.

The other issue I just wanted to reference is children. I know that, when we look at that, we're looking at children under 18, but there is an issue with adult children living in properties, particularly where properties are age restricted. That might be extra-care, retirement housing, or sheltered housing. So, there is a real challenge for us, sometimes—sometimes around succession, but also around the mix of the scheme. So, we'd need to understand if the legislation is specific in terms of under 18 or whether it captures adult children in that context as well.

Thank you, Serena. Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Chair. I know Matthew briefly touched on data collection, so that was what I was going to ask, really. I know, in the written submissions, you mentioned the paucity and the lack of information, of data collection there, in term of RentSmart Wales in particular. I just wanted to get your views in terms of what the Welsh Government should be doing to prioritise that data collection—so, basically that, really, I suppose, and what you think, then, in terms of Rent Smart Wales. Because I know one of the issues there is, in terms of landlords, they register to become a landlord, but then if they leave five minutes later, they don't deregister until five years or whatever’s up, when they have to reregister. I just wanted your views on that.

Whenever we come before this committee, we always get to data at the end, don't we, or the lack of it, or the opaque nature of the data that we have. There are three key elements from our perspective, I think, in terms of what we're talking about today. So, firstly—Serena alluded to it—we have the regulations and legislation in place, but still we're finding landlords who are meeting Rent Smart Wales requirements, but the conditions weren't great. So, that's why we've backed the National Residential Landlords Association's call for a more granular house condition survey, à la what's happening in England. So, we've been calling for that for a number of years. I think that would shift the dial on understanding the standards of our private rented sector stock better.

Back to Rent Smart Wales, the huge problem there, I think, is, like you say, they register every five years. So, at any given point, it doesn't tell us about what the churn is, in terms of landlords leaving the sector. So, the latest figures, officially, show the PRS sector has increased. But, actually, that's not what our anecdotal evidence tells us. Again, there's the example Serena gave, and I can give examples of big, multi-portfolio landlords pulling out en masse in certain towns and cities across Wales. But that's not indicated in the data, because it's only set every five years, so that doesn't tell us what's happening.

The other one is the WHO12 data, which is the number of people discharged into the private rented sector as part of the homelessness duty, which was collected before the pandemic but hasn't been reinstated, I don't think. So, again, that gives us a more strategic understanding of how reliant we are on the private rented sector to fill that homelessness discharge perspective into social and affordable rent. But, yes, it's the data, isn't it?

10:15

We would support the need for some kind of regular survey of household conditions in the PRS. I suppose what that would need to be linked to is the purpose of the PRS as well—so, what data are we collecting and why. There's no point in just collecting data for data's sake; it's actually having a vision, having an understanding, and then collecting data that supports policy action as a result of that. And that comes on to the other point, which is about data analysis. So, there's no point in just collecting the data unless we are then going to analyse it and do something with it that can proactively make a difference. I think the example I gave earlier on on homelessness and referrals probably fits that well, where there's data that kind of exists and there are opportunities to link it together, and that's where we could make a difference—not just collecting the data, but doing something with it.

Okay, Joel. Thanks for that. I'll just bring Mabon in briefly, and Sam.

I'll ask this in English. The vast majority of private landlords in Wales are small—they own one, maybe two properties—but there's a large percentage of rented properties in Wales that are owned by large landlords, and they own dozens if not a few hundred. We've seen recently some venture capitalists come in to buy up property as investment opportunities. So, on that top end of the landlord spectrum, those that own a lot of properties, do you think that's healthy? Is that a good thing, because we're going to see more people come in and buying, potentially, especially in the larger urban areas, property as investment opportunities?

Well, anecdotally, that's shifting. So, lots of single-home 'accidental' landlords, or whatever we want to call them, are dispensing of their properties, and often they're dispensing of their properties to the larger letting agent firms et cetera. Given the vagaries of the market at the moment, the pressures on the market—and this comes back to the point Sam was making about whether we need to encourage investment capital—the biggest returns for private rent are students, holiday lets, Airbnbs, et cetera. So, when those properties are going to these letting agencies, they're going to look at how they max out the return on their portfolios, and they're more focused on business decisions. And that's not a criticism of them; they've got businesses to run. But, it's not providing us the mix of tenure we need because many of those single-home landlords would be letting out their home that they've inherited, or whatever, to a long-term tenant over a long period. That's less likely to happen with the bigger letting agencies because they're running businesses, in the end, and, again, that's not a criticism of what they're doing. So, how do we do it? We need those properties to come into the market, but we need to find a way of making sure there's a balance with it. And this is where I come back to that overarching strategic point about, 'Do we need the PRS to be supplying that type of property, or do we think that's more in the social housing or affordable housing sector?'

Within that, what do you think is the role of houses in multiple occupation, then? Are we seeing that playing its role fully, or is that just a way for some investors to get more money off the back of people who can't pay, maybe, full rent?

Well, that's becoming increasingly impossible, to discharge homelessness duties into HMOs because the HMO allowance, or the shared housing allowance and local housing allowance don't cover hardly any properties. So, that's more about the student sector and the young professional sector—the sort of thing that I did when I was at the start of my career journey, sharing with other professionals. It comes back to that question: what is it for? What's the sector for within that wider strategic vision of what housing supply we need to provide in order to meet everyone's requirement to have a safe, sustainable, affordable home?

Thanks, Chair. Just reflecting on the hour-long evidence that we've received, I guess, for some of you, you've probably sat in front of this committee, or similar committees, or had similar sessions in the past, and I just wonder whether, collectively, as Members of the Senedd and Government as well, we've just got so used to the issues that it's a shoulder-shrugging attitude, sometimes, to dealing with them. I just wonder is there a risk that we're not grasping the nettle on dealing with the housing issues that we're seeing, because we've heard an hour of what sounds like a really tough picture out there, which I guess has got more difficult over recent years. I don't know, just any thoughts on—. I'm opening it up a bit here and being a bit philosophical. But at what point do the frustration and the difficulties spill over into action, and at what point do you as organisations push harder on some of this? It's all very polite, it's all very nice, it's informative information, but in terms of actions off the back of this, what are your thoughts on my ramble?

10:20

It's the fundamental question, isn't it, Sam, I think. Let's just have a quick look back at history. Addison, in the early part of the twentieth century, under the Attlee Government, Macmillan under the last Churchill Government, the number of homes that they were building at the time was because good housing and a sustainable home was a national mission. It was the central national mission, or one of the central national missions of each of those Governments, and that's what delivered it at the end of the day. That's what delivered the priority, that's what delivered the investment, and that's what created the space in which to build and invest in good housing—not all of it great, of course, but at the level, pace and scale we needed it at the time. We're in that time again. We're in 1919, we're in 1947, we have a deep, systemic and structural housing emergency—11,000 people in temporary accommodation, 3,000 of those kids, 139,000 people on social housing waiting lists in Wales, 39,000 of those kids. This can't go on. Yesterday, we had a report that 55 kids in temporary accommodation died in England in the last four years. That's not acceptable, and that's because we have a systemic and structural housing emergency.

The discussion we're having today is indicative. We're talking about the PRS, but it's not just about the PRS. The issues in the PRS are a result and a symptom of the whole housing system. There are lots of systemic decisions that have been taken over the last several decades and structural problems, economic issues that are stopping building, et cetera, that we need to address, but unless Governments make it a foundation mission—and we would argue the starting point for that is a right, enshrined in law, to force Government to do that—then we'll just come back in a couple of months' time and discuss what we do with the social housing sector, or what we do with the owner-occupied sector.

And the last point: growth is the narrative of all our politicians at the moment. There's no better way of driving economic growth than house building as a national mission. It worked in 1919, it worked in 1947, and it worked in Churchill's Government. This isn't a political thing, it's just common sense.

Thanks very much. That is all we have time for. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy, but thank you all very much, Matt, David and Serena, for joining committee and giving evidence this morning. Diolch yn fawr. Committee will break briefly until 10:35.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:23 a 10:39.

The meeting adjourned between 10:23 and 10:39.

10:35
3. Y sector rhentu preifat: sesiwn dystiolaeth 4
3. Private rented sector: evidence session 4

Welcome back, everyone, for our fourth evidence session on the private rented sector in Wales. I'm very pleased to welcome, joining us here in person, Becky Ricketts, policy and research officer for Care & Repair Cymru. Welcome, Becky. And joining us virtually is Ceri Cryer, policy adviser for Age Cymru. Croeso, Ceri. Thank you both very much for giving evidence today. Perhaps I might begin with some general questions on policy and vision. In your view, does the Welsh Government have a clear vision for the role of the private rented sector in Wales?

I'm happy to start. I think the Welsh Government do have a clear vision for this. I think this is evidenced by multiple policies. We've seen see the Renting Homes (Wales) Act, we've seen the Minister for Climate Change commit and recommit to the importance of maintaining the private rented sector in Wales. I think there's maybe something to be said for potentially how the private rented sector is perceived, potentially, by some of the general public. I think it's quite important to remember that as we go through these proceedings. For Care & Repair, obviously we believe that no older person in Wales should live in a home that is cold, that is in disrepair, that is unsuitable, that is unsustainable for their needs, and that's across all tenures. Although we do work predominantly for owner-occupiers, we have seen an increase in the number of people who live in the private rented sector coming to Care & Repair for support.

I think, in terms of stability, for us there’s a question around how the private rented sector provides that stability and that safety of tenure that we would want every older person to be afforded. Overall, we think there’s an opportunity, potentially, for a bigger lean away from the reliance on private landlords and into long-term housing opportunities for a wider range of the population. Things like minimum income requirements to be able to rent in places like Cardiff is a real, real challenge—it’s about £30,000 per annum to be able to pass checks to be able to privately rent. If you are an older person on a basic state pension, or even the new state pension, the weekly income, and therefore the annual income, to be able to afford to privately rent is not enough for you to be able to do that. So, it’s a real challenge. And I think, particularly as we see an ageing population of older people come through, we will see these challenges in people being able to afford to privately rent really start to come through to the fore.

As I said, we do have clients on a fixed income, so there is a challenge in them being able to afford rent, but also rent increases, bill increases and other things that we’re seeing. And just to give a bit of data, Care & Repair data shows that the average age of our private rented sector clients who we see is 71, compared to 75 across all of our tenures. But the oldest client that we saw in the last year living in the private rented sector was 100 years old, which is an incredible age to still be living in potentially insecure housing. So, for us, the housing system and the housing requirements are changing quite rapidly and the housing sector, I think, needs to look at how we change to keep up with that and keep up with the population changes that Wales is seeing, particularly the ageing population.

10:40

Thanks very much for that. Ceri, did you want to come in on that?

Yes. With a shortage of social housing, and fewer people able to afford to own their own home, then renting privately is often the only option. So, the private rented sector has an important role in Wales's housing system, which is recognised by the Welsh Government. However, the private rented sector alone can't meet the needs of our growing older population and an increase in appropriate social housing must be part of the solution to make sure that every older person has a safe place to grow old. Of course, it's harder to plan for private sector housing, as it's fragmented, whereas local development plans may contain plans for social housing developments.

To echo what Becky was saying, the housing needs of people may change as they get older, so it's important that older people have access to a range of good-quality housing options and services that meet their needs. The impact of people living longer on the availability of accessible homes and the management of home improvements are key issues. In terms of affordability, in Age Cymru's national survey, which we carried out last year, we heard from older people who had concerns about the affordability and the high cost of renting, and the implications are that some older people are unable to retire and need to continue to work to pay their rent. And for those on fixed incomes, they may be unable to afford rent increases. So, that is a problem that we're hearing about.

Thanks for that. Just building a bit on what you've both said already, do you see a bigger role for the private rented sector? Do you think it could be making a bigger contribution towards meeting housing needs? Do you think that that should be part of the Welsh Government's vision for that sector?

It's an interesting question. I think the private rented sector will inevitably begin to make a bigger contribution towards housing need. But I think, in that, we need to understand whether that is out of want or necessity. And when I say that I mean is it because more people want to live in the private rented sector because they see flexibility as a bonus for them, or is it because there is no other option. The other options are to buy your own house, which we know for some generations can be really challenging; the social rented sector, and I think in the previous session we heard a lot of challenges around the quantity and availability in the social rented sector; or temporary accommodation, which we'd never, ever want to see people in. So, I think when we talk about that, there's a real challenge that we need to really maintain as to whether the increase in people utilising the private rented sector is because they want to do that or because they have to do that.

I think, for us, the Welsh Government's vision for the private rented sector should really be to reduce the reliance on the private rented sector. Privately renting should be a choice available, if that is what suits the older person's needs at that time, but seeing the private rented sector as a long-term solution to the housing crisis is just inherently unsustainable. In Care & Repair, we want to see something that creates equity in housing, that prioritises long-term living, that removes that insecurity that people are feeling in the rented sector and maintains that high quality that people need and people deserve, whilst still being affordable and still being able to be something that people can feel confident living in with the incomes that they have, with the outgoings that they have and with the commitments that they have. 

10:45

Thank you very much. Did you want to add anything further, Ceri?

Yes. Likewise, we've heard about fears around security of tenure and fear of being made homeless. We've also heard from landlords who have spoken to Age Cymru's information and advice line who have said that they're selling up due to increased costs. And we've also had calls where people have been given notice to quit due to landlords selling up.

Thanks, Ceri. We'll move on to other committee members. Firstly, Sam Rowlands. 

Thanks, Chair. Good morning. Thanks for taking the time to be with us here today. I just want to pick up, Becky, your point that I think you mentioned on affordability for renters, particularly for older people. I'm aware that the state pension, since 2010, has increased by 60 per cent; inflation has increased by 42 per cent since 2010. So, state pensions have increased significantly higher than costs. But you said that affordability is still an issue for older people despite the state pension increasing so significantly. Could you just talk to that point a bit more and some of the issues that, perhaps, some older people are facing in terms of affordability? And then perhaps also just considering that, I think, last year, state pensions increased by 10 per cent and they're going to be going up by 8.5 per cent this year as well, so, again, quite a significant increase, are there just not enough increases? Or perhaps you want to talk to it more broadly. 

I think there are a few things there with that. The annual average income of somebody on a basic state pension is about £8,000 a year. So, it's £156.20 a week. To do some crude maths, it's about £650 a month—ish. And that's just the basic state pension. So, that is people who are about 77 and over at the moment. Trying to find a home that is within that budget is increasingly challenging, which is why Care & Repair are seeing definitely an increase in the number of people who are coming to us for income maximisation support—so, looking at how they can increase their income through things like pension credit or things like attendance allowance. Because the majority of our clients are retired, so they're not able to increase their hours at work or take on a second job to increase their income. I think maybe that's a separate conversation altogether as to the fact that people might need to do that to pay for housing anyway. But it's that fixed income issue that we really find difficult. 

I had a case study. I went out to visit a gentleman in Ceredigion a couple of weeks ago. Luckily, he lives in his own home. He lived with his wife, but his wife passed away a few years ago and, alongside his and her pensions and then their private pension, when she passed away, the household lost £1,700 a month because she passed away. And luckily, if you live in your own home and you've paid off your home, that is potentially manageable. Obviously, with inflation increases and things that we're seeing, that is still a real challenge, but for someone who was privately renting to lose £1,700 a month in income, it will inevitably have an impact on their housing. For him, as I said, he lives in his own home, so that's okay, but if he were renting, he would almost certainly have ended up homeless in terms of being able to afford that house. So, I think it is a real challenge and it's not just, you know—. Yes, we've seen an increase in the percentage of state pension because that is being protected, but it's also the increase in all of those other things that go around it as well. And it's not just once you're in a house, it's maintaining that cost when you're in that house. So, it's the bills, it's the repairs, it's the inflation, it's the food, it's the travel, it's the increased heating that older people need to make sure that they don't face additional health conditions that are kind of afforded by cold housing. I think, on paper, it's one thing, but when you go out and you speak to people who are in these situations, it is a really, really difficult listen.

10:50

Okay. Thanks. Ceri, is there anything you want to add from your side at all?

Again, our survey last year, that was one of the main issues for those people who were identified as being in the private rented sector. So, some of the things people were saying were: 'Rents are so high, it's impossible just to live on a state pension without working to supplement it', or, 'I have no idea when I'll be able to retire. If I do, I will not be able to afford to pay the rent.'

And some callers to our information and advice line—we get a lot of calls about helping with benefits and things like that—but some of them have moved in with relatives because they can't find affordable rent. I think one caller had been sofa surfing for two years and some families are building annexes for their loved ones. And we've heard that the local housing allowance doesn't cover rent, so we welcome the announcement by the UK Government to end the freeze on the local housing allowance and to uplift it.

People can ask for discretionary assistance, but that's time limited, and there is still a gap between people who are eligible for pension credit and those who claim. And also, we're aware of the work that Welsh Government has done in highlighting this issue, and also the Welsh benefits charter.

On that question I asked in the last session as well, the fact that housing is largely devolved, but benefits are not a devolved matter, do you think that's sustainable? Ceri.

I know that, for instance, Welsh Government were calling on the UK Government about the local housing allowance, so I suppose that is something, I guess, where communication is just so important, really, where benefits are devolved—sorry, are reserved. 

All right. Thanks, Chair. And then, just trying to press a bit further on this issue around affordability, because I obviously appreciate you must have lots of older people coming to you, seeking support and help around affordability. I'm just trying to get my head around this, why the income they received actually increased more than the levels of inflation over the last 14 years, but, I guess, inflation's a fairly crude number because it's taking lots of other things into account. Is it rentals in particular, in your experience and the information coming from your older residents or older tenants? Is it the increase in rentals specifically that is much more significant than other increases elsewhere? Is that the issue?

Yes. Rental increases, we know, in so many cases, have increased above the rate of inflation. From personal experience, the house that I've just left has increased by £350 a month in rent, which is, I would say, definitely unsustainable. I think rent is definitely one part of it, but I think, then, there are so many other kind of checks and balances that need to go into that. So, for example, guarantor systems can be quite challenging for older people—you know, potentially having to rely on daughters or sons or people around them to be guarantors, or to potentially pay deposits for rental contracts. Obviously, again, we've seen an increase in energy bills and gas bills and things like that, so that's also having an impact. For people who have £156.20 a week going into their bank account, seeing a lump sum of rent is incredibly difficult, sometimes, to balance and to manage.

So, obviously, we do what we can in terms of affordability and supporting people with income maximisation, but tenants are sometimes at the discretion of their landlords; if their landlords want to increase rent then that is something that they can do. Sometimes the options for renters, and older renters in particular, are, 'Do I stay here and do I take the increase or do I try and find somewhere else?' When you're already an older person and living on a low income, thinking about going through the upheaval of trying to find somewhere cheaper, which might mean you move away from your support networks—doctors' surgeries, shops, local family, whatever it might be—to find somewhere that's within your affordability range, is kind of a bit of a moral quandary. So, sometimes it's weighing up, 'Do I take the financial hit and do what I can?' or is it, 'I move and try and find somewhere else, and if I don't find somewhere else, what are my options after that?'

10:55

Okay, thank you. Was there anything you wanted to add to that, Ceri?

Okay, thank you. And then the final question from me is in relation to the quality of the houses or spaces that tenants are living in. There's data that suggests that disrepair and environmental hazards are more common in the private rental sector than other tenures. So, I'm just interested to know how that's affecting older people in particular that you may support, and what more might be able to be done to improve the quality of those private rented homes.

I'm happy to go first, Ceri. For us, obviously, disrepair is literally the bread and butter of Care & Repair. It is what we do. We look at housing disrepair, hazards, falls and trip risks, health conditions with housing and things like that. As I said, we're seeing a steady increase in the number of people coming to us that do privately rent. It was about 2,000 people that came to us in the last calendar year. It is a real challenge for older people.

There are a lot of issues, I imagine already raised, around concerns with retaliatory evictions and people being concerned that, 'If I raise an issue to a landlord they don't want to deal with, they won't want me to be a tenant anymore.' We've had some concerns raised from clients, particularly when raising things for disrepair and adaptations, that that might alert the landlord to something, that they have a disability, or it might worry the landlord that they might not be able to pay rent. So, for some people, sometimes, they do face that issue of keeping quiet about disrepair. We are completely about prevention. We are about getting to tackling a housing disrepair issue as soon as possible as quickly as possible, to make sure that that housing issue doesn't grow into something that then becomes more expensive, more time consuming, more challenging to tackle, because that poses, obviously, a risk to the landlord, a risk to the house, and also a risk to the tenant.

There's been a lot around housing quality. In my previous role as a student representative, I did a lot on student housing and it was the same issues coming up again. So, I think it's not just something that affects older people. It's something that affects everybody, but older people in particular are affected by disrepair; are affected by poor EPC ratings; are affected by damp and mould and cold; are affected by rotting floors, poor ceilings, poor lighting, bad electrics and the health implications that come with that.

Actually, we did some research into EPC ratings from a sample of our clients and we found that there were about 40—which doesn't sound like a lot, but 40—homes that were privately rented that didn't have the minimum EPC E rating. So, there are older people living in homes across Wales that are not meeting those minimum requirements for EPC ratings, which, when you consider the cost of energy and keeping a home warm—. There are older people literally, in some cases, throwing money down the drain because their home does not meet that minimum requirement, which, for us, is kind of a real worry.

A little bit separate to that, but we did it for all of our tenures, so that's just the private rented sector, but across all tenures we have more older people living in EPC G rated homes than EPC A, which again is a big worry for us. So, the concern there now is: do we let those older people renting homes that do not meet the minimum EPC requirements continue to live there? Do we let them stay there, knowing that that home is not meeting the requirements, or do we support them to find additional housing when we know that that is already a challenge, to move house and find somewhere else? Or do we let them know that this is an issue for them to raise with the landlord and, potentially, be faced with eviction?

So, it's a really difficult situation that we're in at the moment. But, yes, housing disrepair is definitely something that we're seeing across the board. But I know, particularly in the private rented sector, because of those worries of informing landlords, or not wanting, potentially, to alert landlords to declining health or a disability, that sometimes there are clients that prefer not to mention housing disrepair for self-preservation reasons.

11:00

I'll bring Mabon in, and then you, Carolyn, but if I just ask, firstly, Becky, in terms of a reluctance from older people who are suffering ill health to bring that to the attention of the landlord, is there a specific reason for that? Is there a fear that the landlord is going to say, 'This property is no longer suitable for you and you will have to leave'? Is that the point?

I think that could be part of it. I think it could be that if landlords are aware that somebody living in their home has declining health, then, potentially, from a financial perspective, a landlord could be concerned that they're no longer able to pay rent, because if they're working and have to retire, they might lose their income. It could be that they're worried about having to—the landlord, this is—maybe worried about the need, later down the line, to fit adaptations in their home. And if that's not something that they want to do, can afford to do, or whatever it might be, that there's a reluctance to do that, and that by raising that as something that the tenant needs, there are worries about retaliatory evictions. Obviously, this is not something that we allow landlords to do, but it still is a concern that I think older people do hold. 

So, I think there's definitely a few things there. I think adaptations—I know we'll come on to it—is probably a big one, and just not alerting landlords to the fact that—. I think if you let somebody know that their health is declining, that immediate thought is, 'Okay, well how are you going to pay the rent, and if you can't pay the rent, what am I going to do in terms of supporting you to live in that house?' 

I've got two supplementaries, briefly. The first one is: in the social housing sector there are standards that they must achieve, and those are set by the Government and they're increasing again. That's not true in the private rental sector. Do you think that's right? Do you think there should be more standards for the PRS that they should reach?

Yes. I think by having more robust standards, it will give confidence to those that are renting that the home that they are renting meets their needs, is of a quality and of a standard that you would want to live in yourself and that you would expect. 

I think the difficulty with the private rented sector is that the majority of landlords are one or two-property landlords. And I think with that comes a little bit of a challenge of differing standards and landlords maybe having different views on what 'adequate' means or what 'good' means, or what adaptations they want in their own homes. So, I think that is definitely part of it. 

I think having such strict and robust regulations naturally has its positives, and probably its negatives in terms of some landlords not wanting to be regulated in that way. But then there is the discussion of if there are landlords that don't want to have their properties regulated in the same way as the social rented sector, then are those landlords providing homes that are of the suitable quality that people need?

And finally, quickly, coming on from that, I've got cases in my constituency, for instance, where an elderly individual is in a private rental house and they've got leaking windows, draughty windows, mould. Environmental health have come out, told the landlord to do something about it; two years later that work is still not done. So, enforcement seems to be a problem. I'm just thinking of your views on that enforcement. Is there enough being done, enough resources in enforcement, or is there something else that should be done on that side of it?

Two years is an incredibly long time to be living in a home that has leaking windows and is of a poor quality. That is a worry, particularly for an older person who may have additional health concerns or health needs. That poor-quality housing has, undoubtedly, had a worse effect on their health.

I think, in terms of enforcement, it's something that, whilst we as Care & Repair don't have a great deal of involvement in, I think that could, potentially, provide, again, a little bit more reassurance for tenants that they've gone through all of the steps necessary to get this raised, to get this resolved. They've gone through the informal channels, they've gone through maybe letting agents, and then they've gone through the environmental health and enforcement route, and I think you're right, at what point is it that the health and well-being of that person comes before that enforcement—'We've gone through all of the channels and it's taken two years, and we're still not there.' So, in those two years, it's thinking about, okay, the quality of the home hasn't been addressed and is now being addressed, but what is the two-year impact on that person living there? What are the repercussions of that? And also what is the recourse that they will get for, essentially, being let down or failed for those two years?

11:05

Am I right in thinking that the private sector landlords can access grants, based on the tenant's needs, to improve—?

Yes. So, landlords are able to access disabled facilities grants. So, these are grants for larger adaptations in the home, so things like wet rooms or ground-floor adaptations and those sorts of things. And those are accessible to the landlord—they come at no cost and they don't have to pay that back.

I think one of the challenges here, and it's something that we may touch on later—we've had a case study come through from one of our caseworkers who had a tenant who was eligible for a disabled facilities grant, and the work was carried out for a utility room to be converted into a ground-floor wet room. The work was done—and this was all done under occupational therapy assessments and things like that—and the house was then promptly put up for sale and the tenant evicted. So, the work was paid for by a DFG, approved by the landlord, but the tenant who warranted the DFG in the first place didn't actually see the benefit of that.

No. So, one of the things that we really are calling for is that tenant protection around DFGs. There's a potential for people to benefit from DFGs. It's a health-based, occupational therapy assessment before a DFG is granted. So, it's around tenant protection—if that work is done, it's making sure that the tenant benefits from that work being done, because they're the ones whose needs warranted that change in the first place.

Diolch, Cadeirydd, and thank you for that. I think you've touched on how difficult some of this is, and I think it would be worth having those case studies that you have mentioned, because I think it would be really good to have them and we could take up.

In terms of the DFG, how well is it known to landlords themselves about being able to access that as well, or the tenant, perhaps to help put their minds at ease if they did ask for it?

Yes, it's an interesting question. I think there's definitely work going on. So, Care & Repair and Tai Pawb at the moment are creating a training programme for landlords around adaptations, which will include things like grant availability and DFG access and things like that, to inform landlords of what is available to them. So, I don't necessarily know that the knowledge is there, and when we talk about adaptations and disabled facilities grants, I think the first kind of thing that comes to mind is, 'Oh my gosh, they're really expensive', not necessarily understanding that they are grants for a reason—that they are there to provide support to the person living in the home. And, obviously, again, they're not something that's paid back by landlords.

I think, around our rapid response adaptations programme—I'm going to call it 'RRAP' because it's much shorter—the education and tenants' rights around having access to RRAP is probably something that we would recommend to have mandatory training on, on Rent Smart Wales, again to widen the knowledge base that adaptations are something that are available, that Care & Repair can provide those to older tenants—non-means tested, so at no cost to the tenant and therefore no cost to the landlord. And I think for us, because this is funded by the Welsh Government as well, it's something that we carry out on thousands of properties every single year. Rapid response adaptations programmes—they're done from the point of referral to the point of completion; they're done on an average of 11 days, so less than two weeks from the point of referral. So, I definitely think there's a real opportunity for an education piece for landlords, and also for tenants, around what are the adaptations and what are the grants and the support that's available for tenants. Because I think, predominantly, obviously, we work for home owners, and therefore the ability to fit adaptations is much quicker and generally much more streamlined. Because for any adaptation, and DFG things that we fit, we have to get permission from the landlord first before we undertake any work, which can sometimes cause a little bit of a blockage, I think, particularly if there is reluctance from the landlord. And sometimes it could be something, you know—'I don't want the internal look of my house to change', or 'I don't want ramps on the front of my house'. It's these sorts of things.

But I think there is an education piece for landlords and for tenants around the mutual benefits of allowing adaptations, in terms of being able to have, maybe, a more long-term tenant, because they feel supported and want to stay in that home for a longer period of time, because they know the landlord is empathetic to their needs. Obviously for the landlord it's good, because they have a longer term tenant. And when that tenant does move on, there are always people that do have additional access requirements, that will need adaptations, that look for adapted properties. You know, the number of adapted properties versus the number of people that need adaptations—the difference is exponential. So, to go back to your original point, we would definitely recommend an additional training opportunity for landlords to undertake, on Rent Smart Wales, as part of their licensing conditions.

11:10

I just wanted to say in terms of the quality of rented accommodation: of Age Cymru survey respondents who were living in the private rented sector, nearly a quarter of them, 23 per cent, told us that their house was in need of repairs. And we heard about poor conditions of some houses around health and safety, about ripped carpet on the stairs that caused a fall, and leaks in the flat, ceiling coming down, and also outside repairs to water pipes to the property that made accessing the property hazardous, with access really reduced to a steep, narrow path with no handrail, with a 4 ft drop on one side, and the tenant had no water for two weeks.

But we also see issues in social housing as well around disrepair and delays in adaptations, through our HOPE—helping others participate and engage—project. And poor-quality and inaccessible housing is often the root cause of falls in homes, and so adapting them to make them suitable for the needs and capabilities of the older person reduces disability and risk of accidents and increases independence and improves health and well-being.

We've also heard about measures being needed to improve the energy efficiency of properties. And picking up on the Welsh housing quality standard, which obviously has led to improvement in social housing, we note the intention is for the Welsh Government, in their consultation on the Welsh housing quality standard—that was back in May 2022—in time, it's anticipated that the standard will apply to other types and tenures of housing, and this will be kept under regular review. So, it'd be interesting to know, perhaps, the timescale for that.

Thank you, Chair. And, yes, that's really interesting. Some of this is around the adequate housing issue, really, isn't it, for trip hazards and other things that you see that would help anybody of any age, really, as well.

Just going back, the social housing you mentioned—you just talked about adaptations, maybe, to social housing, and sometimes the delay in that as well. I was just wondering about sometimes the delay when you have—. Because I was thinking, first of all, around communication—about in hospitals as well, people who are doing assessments if you have gone into hospital. Perhaps there's something there that people should be aware of—perhaps they already are—about the private rented sector being able to have the adaptations done, and maybe putting people's minds at rest. But I'm just trying to think about—. I know that Care & Repair are brilliant at doing work really, really quickly, but it's just trying to ensure that that work then is carried out. Because I've heard in the past around—I think Care & Repair have been ready to do the work, but there's been a delay in hospital getting people out, which has meant, then, sadly, that somebody's no longer able to go into that home that the adaptation has been done for as well. So, there's still perhaps a bit of a system approach as well that needs to be taken.

11:15

Yes, definitely. We talk about the links between housing and health a lot. So, Care & Repair have a specific hospital to a healthier home programme, and this operates out of, I think it's five university health boards across Wales, and this is around basically tackling environmental issues that prevent hospital discharge. So, we could go into a home and move furniture or fit adaptations, those sorts of things, to help somebody leave hospital. So, I think that that project has saved around 25,000 bed days, to help with hospital discharge. But I think you're right, sometimes it is a knowledge piece around that there is that support available, to support in hospital discharge, and making sure that people are discharged quickly and on time, but into a home that is secure, and then the work that is done prevents additional hospital readmission. So, as I said, there is work being done on that, and we do have specific hospital to a healthier home caseworkers that work on this. But I think there's still, potentially, some opportunity for good-practice sharing between health and housing colleagues, around how we utilise good hospital discharge practice to support good health, and how they merge and have mutual benefit.

And just finally from me, Becky mentioned earlier, I think, just about the numbers of older people that will be renting in the future, and perhaps some of those older people might never have owned their own home. Do you think that there are any additional measures that will need to be put in place to ensure that the private rented sector can meet the needs of older people?

It's difficult to hear you say that there will be older people that will have never owned their own home. That is, sadly, the reality, but I think it is a bit of a worry. I think with this we would always just come back to that idea of prevention. Recognising that we have an ageing population is the first step, but then it's recognising, potentially, what this current population of older people have needed to help plan for the future, so that we don't see some of the issues that we're now seeing around a lack of housing that's affordable for people on a pension, or people that need specific adaptations in their home and not having access to those. With a greater number of older people in the private rented sector will come a greater number of people needing adaptations in the private rented sector. So, again, it comes back to that information piece and that working with landlords to help them understand—and for us as well, I think—that there will be generations of people coming through that will need these adaptations. So, understanding that and recognising that there will be older people asking for these sorts of things, and these are the things that are available to help support you in fitting these, for us, is quite important. We know that adaptations, in some cases, can be quite expensive, and this is why we're working with Tai Pawb to create this training programme for landlords, to bring together all of the different support that is available, to give them all of the tools, to then make these adaptations or be prepared for when these adaptations are asked for, so that they know where to go to get that support, and that they know the sorts of things that will be asked for, and also the benefits that that has, not only to the tenant, but also to them as landlords as well. As I said, there are people who are desperate for accommodation that supports their physical access needs. So, having those in place, or having landlords willing to make those adaptations, will in very small part support the housing crisis that disabled people are seeing. 

11:20

Thank you, Chair. So, you've already touched quite a lot on barriers for older people trying to find a suitable home in the private rented sector. Is there anything else that you think we need to cover? 

I think the only other kind of thing that I would bring up, potentially, is the impact of second homes and the impact of holiday homes, particularly in rural areas. So, I for the last couple of weeks have been travelling around speaking to some of our clients, and I spoke to a wonderful lady in a tiny village in Ceredigion, and it's about 14 houses, and she was one of about 14, and she said every other house around her has either become a holiday let or a second home for somebody, or is now a rental property that she herself would now not be able to afford to move into if the didn't already live there. 

I think a lot of older people have lived in the same home for decades—40, 50, 60 years. They are marital homes that they've lived in for generations, and they've raised children and grandchildren there. And I think, particularly when we look at strategies around transport, rural Wales, the Welsh language charter and all of these things, housing is also linked to those in the sense of having housing that is accessible in those areas that suits the people who live there. Some people don't necessarily want to move from their small village; it is something that has a real community feel that they've grown up in, they know well. But if their services or other things that they need access to aren't there any more, then they do have to move. So, I would definitely say that the impact on housing that the second home crisis has had is probably something that is affecting people's ability to rent in these areas that they want to. 

Again, coming back briefly to things like services, access to medical surgeries, access to transport, access to social clubs or warm hubs—all of these things—it's becoming much more of a challenge because these services are becoming much more centralised around key areas. We don't want older people to feel cut off because of where they live. I think I worry that that might start to happen.

I remember we had some homes in the social rented sector—council houses—and the ones in rural locations were harder to let. It's not that people didn't want to live there, in lovely communities, but it was just they were worried about access to shops and transport, so I totally understand what you're saying. Do restrictions on having a pet impact older people? 

It's not something that we have specific evidence on. I think that there's something to be said around the importance of particularly older people having company in that social isolation, but I don't think it's something that we have had raised with us specifically an issue. But I can come back to the committee if we do have any evidence on that.

I think Ceri may want to add something on that, Carolyn. Ceri. 

Yes. In terms of barriers to private rented, we've been made aware of credit checks for being able to prove that they can pay the rent, or needing a guarantor. Older people may not have a guarantor, and some callers we've spoken to have been asked for three months' rent as a bond. So, if they are on a fixed income, they may not be able to afford it, and this may also be the case for people who perhaps have had a change of circumstances—perhaps have become separated or divorced, and may be on a fixed income. So, that kind of bond could be a real struggle, really. 

In terms of I think the point that Becky was making about the importance of access to communities, really, quite often we'll see that retirement housing, for instance, might be on the outskirts of town, so it's important that there are good public transport links and good access to communities. So, these are the sorts of things that we would look at as suitable housing options for older people in general, rather than differentiating by tenure per se, and also the housing needs of people may change as they get older, so it is important to have a good range of housing options to meet their need. Some older people may wish to move into one- or two-bedroomed accommodation, or have rooms that are all on the same level. Certainly, specialist retirement housing, including sheltered accommodation and extra-care housing, can offer basic support for many older people, allowing them to live independently for longer, and can provide community living and associated benefits as well.

But, yes, it's important that people have access to communities. Talking about the tourism areas, sometimes some of the facilities may not be there all year round for people—perhaps shops may close out of season, and things like that. So, again, it's access to facilities and communities that are so important, really.

11:25

Do you believe that the Welsh Government are doing enough to ensure that there are enough private rented homes that are accessible and adaptable for disabled and older people? Do you think more can be done?

I think that there is always an opportunity to extend the number of houses that are available to a person. I think, particularly when we talk about the private rented sector and adaptations, as we talked about, there are a lot of barriers. I don't think there is ever an option to force landlords to have adaptations fitted in their home. I don't think that is ever an option, and I think it's about how we work with landlords to see expanding the people who can and are able to rent their home as a positive thing. We've talked a lot about physical adaptations—so, your handrails and your grab rails. I think a part of this as well is looking at the rental availability for people maybe living with sight loss, or living with impacts of stroke or dementia. So, there are now regulations in place around landlords fitting things like mains smoke alarms, so they have to be connected to the mains. Obviously, that is great for you and me, but, for people who maybe have sight loss or hearing loss, those sorts of things, the ones kept to the ceiling, might not suit their needs.

So, again, it's about what small adaptations we can make that enable people with hearing loss to still live safely. There are small bits of hardware available. It could be a vibrating wristwatch, it could be a little pad that goes under a cushion, or a pillow for somebody that's asleep at night and maybe wouldn't hear an alarm going off. It's things like that—the landlord is meeting their legal obligation in terms of providing a mains smoke alarm, but it's providing those small bits of hardware that allows somebody with hearing loss to live comfortably in their home, and so they have the same access to that house as anybody else because of these small bits of hardware. They still feel safe to live there. So, I think there's something there around—. Again, it's an education piece around landlords having done everything they need to by the book, but going a little bit above and beyond will give more confidence to people who maybe, otherwise, would be turned away or feel less confident in renting. Having something like that provided would just give them a little bit more reassurance, I would say.

What about new builds to rent, to try and encourage builders to invest in properties that are for a variety of people?

I think there's maybe something to be said here around accessible housing registers, and having records of what houses are accessible and trying to match, where possible—because everybody's needs are different—tenants to those specific properties, and ensuring that those houses are lived in by people who will get the greatest benefit. But also, particularly with new-build properties, you do have an option to really look at people's needs and make those homes generational homes, make those homes easily adaptable for people's changing needs.

Lifetime homes, exactly.

Yes, I was just going to say, actually, about lifetime homes, that making them suitable for people of all ages would be easier and less costly to adapt if people's needs change.

11:30

Just the one question. You've actually answered one of the questions that I was going to come on to, but if I can go back to the enforcement question, I think, Ceri, earlier on, mentioned the issue that there are houses that some people live in with no carpets, or broken windows, and what have you—in a real poor state of repair. So, I'm just wondering what the issue is there, because, currently, it seems to me that the Government are trying to find grants to give landlords in order to bring their properties up to a certain level of repair, but, in my mind, that's transferring public wealth to someone to improve their assets and, therefore, the landlord has an improved asset and they've benefited from it. Instead of that carrot-type approach, should it be more of a stick approach, and more of an enforcement issue and say, 'You're not allowed to rent out your property until it reaches a certain standard'? Do you have a view on which it should be?

I think there's potentially an option for both options. I don't think it's a case of one of the other. I definitely think that there is room for both. By incentivising landlords to bring their homes up to an adequate standard, it's beneficial for the tenant, and that is the primary, if we want people to be living in homes that are of a habitable quality. When you have homes that don't have carpets, or leaky windows, and these sorts of things, that inevitably has an impact on the health of that person. So, sometimes, providing these grants may allude to the things that you said in terms of transferring wealth, but is that at odds with or in addition to the health impacts that that will have? We've had a case where an older person has fallen down the stairs and they've broken multiple bones, had a bleed on the brain, all of these things, and the cost that that has to the Welsh NHS in terms of treating that person is huge, and it's through nobody's fault, because it's an accident, and that's what happens, but if there are things that can be provided through grants that prevent that sort of thing from happening—. Yes, I think it could be seen as Welsh Government providing grants to maintain landlords' homes, when that is what landlords are supposed to be doing, in some people's eyes, but, I think, sometimes, without that grant, would that have a greater health risk to the person living there? So, I think it's weighing it up.

I don't necessarily have a view in terms of the stick option, simply because we don't necessarily deal a lot with enforcements. Ceri might have a different view on that. But, in terms of the carrot, it's looking at the benefit of those grants and those payments, and the health implications if they weren't provided.

Just to say that, in terms of the person who had the ripped stair carpet and leaking ceiling, they were then waiting to be rehoused by the council. That was the kind of outcome of that one. But we heard of a case through Age Cymru's HOPE project—Helping Others Participate and Engage—whereby a tenant had no hot water in their flat for eight months, and they needed help with contacting their landlord to repair and, eventually, replace the boiler. So, the HOPE independent volunteer advocate contacted the letting agency and eventually a handyman was sent round to the property and the issue was resolved, and an agreement made to replace the boiler. So, it is that intervention that helped get that issue resolved.

I know that time is running away. The mention of letting agencies there just prompted my thoughts. I don't know if you have any evidence, or any trend that you're seeing in terms of older people, and the, perhaps, distant landlord issues as well, and having to work through letting agencies, and if there are any specific issues that the people you represent or support have with that link with, or without, those letting agencies. Are there any barriers in terms of technology as well? Are they seeking requests via e-mail and that type of thing, which may be an issue sometimes? I could be making this up, but is there any evidence that suggests that's the case?

11:35

From Care & Repair, again, it's not something that I have evidence to hand to. We do have a really good relationship with our caseworkers, so there is a possibility for us to go back to our caseworkers and ask that specific question and get some evidence to the committee, but it's not something that I have evidence with me of at the moment.

I wonder if Ceri has anything from your side. Ceri.

No, apart from the case that was mentioned. I could ask our information and advice team, but I don't have any evidence to hand.