In recent days, I have been contacted by a number of residents, some by email and others on Facebook, in relation to an Independent article from last year linked to the 2016 Housing and Planning Act.
The tragic incident at Grenfell is in all of our minds currently and all of my thoughts go out to those involved, the victims and their families. Without question, what unfolded at Grenfell should never have happened and a comprehensive review and investigation is needed to understand what went on and lessons will need to be learned.
Following this incident, I have been surprised by the immediate move by some to politicise this terrible incident and the lives lost. Many people have linked a parliamentary vote in 2016, which I voted on, as an indication of blame for Grenfell.
The Independent who published this article last year, have confirmed in a subsequent article yesterday, that the vote on an amendment in 2016 as part of the Housing and Planning Act, would have had no impact on Grenfell as this was a vote to amend legislation on private landlords. This is absolutely true, although I am also keen to address this particular vote.
The Housing and Planning Act was first brought to the House of Commons in 2015 and looked to address issues including housing, estate agents, rent charges, planning and compulsory purchase. As is typical of any parliamentary legislation, this Act received significant scrutiny and debate and numerous amendments were proposed.
The amendment put forward as highlighted by the Independent, would require landlords to make homes fit for human habitation. This legislation already exists as part of the 1985 Landlord and Tenants Act, whereby it requires that homes are fit for human habitation.
The 1985 act lists the following as considerations for when a house is unfit for human habitation: repairs, stability, freedom from damp, internal arrangement, natural lighting, ventilation, water supply, drainage and sanitary conveniences, and facilities for preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of waste water.
The proposed act would not have been an overnight solution to the minority of landlords who allow their tenants to live in unacceptable conditions. That said, it is important that tenants are aware of the protections in place for them and that it is unacceptable for their Landlord to allow them to live in unfit homes.
If as a tenant your home is unfit you should raise this with the environmental health department of the council. They have powers to take action if they believe the problems with your property could cause you harm. In addition to this, if your home is unsafe, the council should undertake a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) assessment and they must take action if they think your home has serious health and safety hazards.
It is my belief that housing is currently one of the key issues of our age. It is vital we ensure we have the right regulation in place to protect tenants while at the same time providing an increasing supply of housing to meet the growing housing need. There will always be debate about the right mechanism to achieve this and that is healthy.
However, I am completely clear in my view that rented properties should be well maintained and safe for tenants and the legislation in place provides this protection.
I wish to assure you that in my role as your MP, I will continue to feed into government the views of Southampton residents on housing issues to ensure this is being tackled effectively. I will also continue to assist residents who have raised issues with me about private rented housing, social housing and the lack of housing.
In relation to Grenfell and the concerns of local people about high rise flats in Southampton, I have made contact with Hampshire Fire Authority and the Chief Executive of Southampton City Council to ensure that the concerns of Southampton tenants are addressed and that all options are explored to ensure this does not happen again.