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More than one and a half million children in England live in cold, damp or mouldy private rented homes, Citizens Advice reveals

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  • New research from Citizens Advice finds millions of people are living in damp and draughty rented homes – and it’s affecting their health.
  • 30% of renters say they can’t heat their home to a comfortable temperature, increasing to 45% of disabled tenants.
  • Some private sector tenants are paying an extra £950 a year just to keep warm.
  • Citizens Advice is calling for minimum energy efficiency standards to be raised. This will slash bills and help reduce the public health concerns caused by cold, damp and mouldy homes.

Shocking new research from Citizens Advice shows 1.6 million children currently live in privately rented homes with damp, mould or excessive cold. The charity’s analysis suggests more than half of private renters in England – 2.7 million households – are struggling with one or more of these issues right now.

The problem is especially bad in the least energy efficient homes. Citizens Advice can reveal private tenants are 73% more likely to be living with damp if they live in a property with a Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of D-G rather than A-C. While tenants are 89% more likely to experience excessive cold in a D-G rated property than A-C. EPCs measure how efficient a property is – with EPC A being the best rating.

Tenants in the private rental sector are some of the worst affected by the cost-of-living crisis and they’re paying for poor insulation. The average private sector tenant in England is paying £350 more a year on heating because of poorly insulated and damp homes, while those in the least efficient properties are paying an extra £950. With energy bills set to rise again in April, those in the least efficient homes could pay a terrifying £1,190 more a year to keep warm.

But it’s not just bills, living in poor quality housing has an affect on people’s health. Forty percent of renters say they have felt stressed as a result of damp, mould and excessive cold, with 36% saying it made them feel anxious.

“I was so worried about both my sons’ health” – Laurie’s story

Laurie, a single parent with two sons under five, moved into her rented home in April 2022.

A few months after moving, Laurie noticed mould and damp in the property. She raised the issues with her letting agent, who put a vent in the roof and told Laurie to keep the heating at a certain temperature. Something Laurie, who was on a prepayment meter, could not afford to do.

Laurie said:

“It was really starting to affect my mental health. I started to think there was something wrong with me.

“The agency made me think the issue was with me, and the condensation was due to ventilation issues. I’ve dealt with condensation in previous houses, but nothing like the mould and damp in this house.

“I was so worried about both my sons’ health. They’ve been so poorly and I’ve had them both in hospital with chest infections. They were never sick like this before.

“My youngest son was waking up in the night, absolutely freezing. I’ve had that worry of ‘are they going to freeze to death because it’s that cold?’”

Bring the private rental sector in line with the social housing sector

Citizens Advice is calling on the government to bring regulation of the private rental sector in line with social housing by following the lead set by Awaab’s law. A piece of legislation which will place strict, legally binding timelines on social landlords to deal with serious issues such as damp and mould.

However, this can’t happen in isolation. The government must follow through on its promise to make sure all new private rental properties are upgraded to a minimum EPC C by 2025 and existing tenancies by 2028.

Landlords are currently only required to bring their properties up to an E rating. What’s more, landlords currently don’t have to make any improvements if it’s going to cost them more than £3,500. This cap on landlord investment needs to be increased from £3,500 to £10,000.

Together, these steps will ensure homes are fit for purpose and ensure no tenants are paying with their health for living in a damp, cold and mouldy home.

Gillian Cooper, Head of Energy Policy at Citizens Advice, said:

“Every week we hear stories of people living in cold, damp and mouldy properties they can’t afford to heat properly.

“It’s shameful that more than 20 years since legislation came into force to reduce fuel poverty and improve the energy performance of homes, people are still suffering.

“Improving energy efficiency in privately rented homes has never been more urgent. It’s the step needed to keep people’s essential bills low, while also helping to protect their mental and physical health.”

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