A new online app aims to help private landlords and tenants resolve disputes over repairs but misses the mark.
Although promoted as a tool that takes the sting out of conflicts arising from dealing with health and safety issues around a private rented home, the app does not resolve any problems.
Devised by the Ministry of Housing and Ministry of Justice, the app asks tenants about how their housing problem impacts their home, health and finances.
Depending on their answers, tenants are told about their rights and how to report the problem to their landlord or local council for action.
The app is part of a Ministry of Justice effort to reduce stress on busy courts by heading off complaints at an early stage.
Vital problems resolved before they escalate, says minister
“We are committed to ensuring that people have access to early legal support as it is vital that problems are resolved before they escalate,” says Justice Minister, Lord Wolfson.
“This pilot will help us understand the role of early legal support and how this can be designed around what works for people who need it. I am delighted that we are able to deliver this work with support from housing ministry and advice sector organisations.”
However, landlords will find the app is no help and tenant-centric. The questions are pitched in such away to identify bad landlords committing offences while offering no assistance to landlords.
At the end, whichever Q&A route the app follows, the main advice is to contact housing charities or a local council to resolve the complaint.
How the app deals with complaints about damp and mould
To find out how the app works, here’s a walkthrough of the questions if a tenant wants some advice about what to do about a damp problem:
Q1 Are you renting in England or Wales?
Q2 Do you live in a private rented house or flat?
Q3 Have you stopped paying the rent?
The response is not paying the rent can make the problem worse and that tenants should pay rent even if repairs are not carried out to avoid the risk of eviction
Q4 What is your housing problem?
Tenants are told to pick one or more issues from this list:
- Gas, electricity, boiler, heating or hot water supply is not working
- Includes heating that is not working well
- Outside doors, walls, roof or windows are dangerous or need repair
- Includes uneven flooring, broken stairs
- Mice or other pests are causing a problem
- Damp or mould is growing inside
- Faulty smoke detectors, fire doors or obstructions causing a fire hazard
- Faulty or missing appliance – Includes washing machines, fridges, cookers
- Plumbing and leaks (inside or outside) Includes toilets, pipes, drains, sinks, showers and baths
The damp or mould option was chosen.
Q5 Has this problem affected your health?
The app suggests the local council could help you work with your landlord to fix the problem and goes on to ask:
- Yes, it’s caused a physical health problem, or made an existing problem worse
- Yes, I’ve been injured by a fall or had an accident
- Yes, it’s caused stress, anxiety or other mental health issue
- No, my health has not been affected
The first option was selected.
Q6 Have you told your landlord or letting agent?
You need to tell your landlord or letting agent in writing. Keep copies of any messages. You may need them if the problem does not get fixed, says the app.
And then asks tenants to select all the answers that apply from::
- No, I have not told them
- Yes, I have told them in person or on the phone
- Yes, I have written a text message, email or letter
Q7 Are you concerned you will be evicted for asking for repairs?
A simple yes or no option.
Q8 Is your landlord or letting agent entering your home without notice?
This includes giving access to tradespeople. No-one should enter your home without you having notice, advises the app.
Another yes or no option is offered.
Q9 Is the problem urgent?
If you’re not able to live in your home, then your problem is probably urgent. Local councils have a duty to respond quickly to urgent problems. You may also be able to apply for an emergency court order to get the work done.
Again, a yes or no answer is called for.
Q10 Have you contacted the local council?
The app says local councils have rules that private landlords and letting agents must follow. They also have the power to enforce rules and get problems fixed.
A yes/no response is requested.
The next page asks tenants to check their answers and to click on.
The final page suggests what action to take based on the answers gathered by the app.
In this case, the advice was:
- Contact the local council if you feel unwell from living in your home and keep sick notes and hospital reports to help your case.
- Write to your landlord or letting agent by email or letter explaining the problem
- Keep paying the rent
- Check your rights as a tenant and your landlord’s responsibilities
- Contact Advice Now, Shelter or Citizens Advice for help and information or complain to your local council