Two thirds of private renters are unaware that their local council can help them with certain problems with their landlord, letting agent or home, a report by Generation Rent has found.

Research by the campaign group highlights the importance of the government’s recently announced plans to introduce a property portal to raise renters’ awareness of their rights and improve enforcement powers for councils.

Half of private renters (49%) have experienced damp and mould in their rental property, but with just 21% having received a government guidance booklet from their landlord, many renters are unaware of the support they are entitled to from their council.

In total 69% of private renters were unaware that the local authority could help them with certain problems with their landlord, letting agent or home.

Last week’s Renters Reform White Paper sets out plans to require landlords to join a property portal which should allow tenants to check their compliance, and new powers for councils to enforce new decent homes standards in private rented homes.

Generation Rent’s work will help councils understand their local private renters and how to use these powers most effectively.

Working with five councils and private renters living in those areas, Generation Rent has published a Private Tenant Engagement Charter and is urging councils to adopt it.

Generation Rent carried out surveys, focus groups and telephone interviews with private renters in partnership with the following councils:

  • Dundee City Council
  • East Suffolk Council
  • Gedling Borough Council
  • London Borough of Newham
  • Newport City Council

Renters were asked about their living situation, their relationship with their landlord or letting agent, problems they had experienced with their home and their experience of dealing with the council. More than 650 completed a survey and 35 took part in a focus group or telephone survey.

The findings indicate that relying on landlords to provide tenants with information about their rights is flawed, and there is a role councils should play:

  • 21% said they received the Government How to Rent Guide (or the Welsh or Scottish equivalent) when they started their tenancy
  • Only 33% received the Energy Performance Certificate
  • 4 out of 5 respondents would welcome more guidance from their local authority about their rights as private renters

The lack of awareness of rights and how to exercise them results in tenants putting up with poor conditions:

  • 49% of respondents dealt with damp and mould in their rental property
  • 27% experienced concerns about their health while renting
  • 80% have never contacted the local authority about an issue with their home or their tenancy
  • 26% stated that they feared being evicted by their landlord if they did contact the local authority

As a result of the project, the partner local authorities have made commitments to introducing different forms of formalised communication with renters, and these are set out as recommendations in the Private Renter Engagement Charter, including:

  • A Private Tenant Forum to allow renters to talk about issues they are having and get support with resolving them
  • An online one-stop-shop and a local Private Tenant Pack
  • Communicate directly with renters using available data such as landlord licensing and Energy Performance Certificates
  • Training for local councillors in renting issues and drop-in sessions with officers

Alicia Kennedy, Director of Generation Rent, said: “Private renters are at a greater risk of living in an unsafe home than any other tenure, and they are least likely to understand their rights and who can help them deal with problems. The government has proposed the introduction of a new portal to inform tenants, as well as new powers to raise standards.

“Local authorities will continue to play a critical role, but to make best use of these new tools, our Private Tenant Engagement Charter will help them better understand of renters who live locally.

“The pioneering councils we have worked with have helped shed light on a huge section of their residents who don’t get enough attention, and we’ve found that wherever you are in the country the same problems persist.

“Every council can improve private renters’ lives by taking just a few steps to make them more visible and make sure they are listened to.”