Private rented sector research (Derbyshire Dales District Council and Amber Valley Borough Council)

Derbyshire Dales District Council and Amber Valley Borough Council commissioned research into the private rental sector in their respective areas.

At a glance

Housing Advisers Programme case study

2021/22 cohort 

Executive summary

Derbyshire Dales District Council (DDDC) and Amber Valley Borough Council (AVBC) (together “the Councils) commissioned Altair Consultancy and Advisory Services Ltd (Altair) to design and undertake research on the private rental sector (PRS) in their respective local authority areas.

Altair undertook a resident survey, a landlord survey, resident focus groups, resident interviews and stakeholder interviews to form the research base for the options appraisal workshop.

The research identified three areas within the PRS that have a significant impact on, property condition, security of tenure and affordability of accommodation.

Altair conducted an Options Appraisal Workshop with representatives from both councils. Altair provided a series of 15 options for the councils to consider. Some of the options discussed at the workshop were already being delivered by one or both authorities and the options workshop was seen as an opportunity to refresh existing approaches and to consider potential new areas of activity. DDDC and AVBC identified the following as priority options to improve the PRS:

  • advice and information
  • multi-agency working
  • DASH and DLC services
  • ethical lettings agency
  • inspections.

The key point for both DDDC and AVBC is that we have an evidenced based set of priorities to guide our interaction with the PRS over the coming years.

Challenge and context

DDDC and AVBC are neighbouring authorities who already share a common allocations policy, choice based lettings scheme and homelessness application scheme. DDDC and AVBC both have complex housing issues within the private rented sector. Issues of quality, price and management continually cause difficulty both in terms of creating homelessness and trying to house people in suitable accommodation.

At the start of the project we had limited knowledge about the extent and nature of the sector and limited capacity to intervene and make sense of information we do hold. We wanted to develop a strategy for understanding and engaging with the sector so that we can improve the quality of accommodation, develop good management practices, reduce the levels of homelessness coming from the sector and create desirable places for people to move in to the sector.

This project is important to DDDC and AVBC because we know the sector needs to change. We need to reduce the number of homelessness cases coming from private rented properties. Corporate priorities around energy efficiency and empty homes also need to be addressed as we take forward MEES and higher premiums for long term empty homes. We also face the challenge of trying to regenerate our market towns and improving the quality of the private sector is a key element of our wider regeneration ambitions.

What we did

Altair’s research involved a mixed research approach including the following primary and secondary research methods:

Policy review:

Altair issued a documentation and information request, which included relevant datasets held by DDDC and AVBC, research undertaken previously, and relevant policies and strategies. The review of the provided documentation was further supplemented with a desktop review of key data sources.

Desktop research and data analysis:

Initial data analysis was conducted to present an overview of the PRS in DDDC and AVBC. This included information (as available) on key players, private renter demographic data, landlord types, size of sector, stock type, and affordability. Further desktop research was undertaken in January, following the anticipated release of latest census data.

Resident online survey:

As part of the data collection and desktop analysis, Altair issued an online tenant survey to hear from those currently living in private rented homes about their experiences of living in this type of accommodation and their aspirations for the future. The purpose of the survey was to obtain the views and feedback of residents. We received 173 responses, split by 51 per cent in Derbyshire Dales and 49 per cent in Amber Valley.

Landlord online survey:

We also issued an online survey for PRS landlords to understand their experience of providing private rented accommodation and their plans for the future. The survey was designed to mirror the questions and themes asked within the tenant survey to compare the perspectives of landlords and tenants on the issues. We received 17 individual responses which covered 20 properties across each of the authorities. It should be acknowledged that, given the small sample of respondents, the results could not be validated to reflect the regional sector as a whole, however the views from landlords aligned with the findings obtained from the other phases of this research.

Focus groups and interviews:

The surveys were followed by a tenant focus group focused on getting input from tenants in the PRS. The first focus group session was attended by 14 residents and the second by seven residents. Additionally, we adapted our approach to conduct tenant interviews due to poor attendance and limited tenant engagement during the second focus group session. In total, eight resident interviews were held, all of whom were from the Derbyshire Dales local authority area. The interviews and focus groups primarily focused on the ‘as-is’ state, including what works well, what challenges there are, the emerging themes and served as an opportunity to discuss potential solutions.

Stakeholder interviews:

In parallel to the online surveys and focus groups, a stakeholder map was formulated, identifying key stakeholder groups for engagement. Altair undertook seven interviews with key stakeholders put forward by DDDC and AVBC, gathering various views on PRS across the two local authority regions. These stakeholders included council officers, resident representative groups and local charities.

Interim report:

Having completed the focus groups, interviews and surveys, Altair issued an interim report to the project steering group highlighting the initial findings of the emerging themes ahead of the options workshop.

Options appraisal:

Drawing from relevant literature and research, Altair developed a set of potential interventions that the Councils could implement to address and improve the issues identified within their PRS. We then undertook a desktop review of other local authorities of a similar size and context to DDDC and AVBC to understand other approaches taken to deal with the challenges identified, and the successes and failures of these approaches. These options were then tested with key stakeholders from DDDD and AVBC in an interactive workshop. Using our Suitability, Feasibility and Acceptability (SFA) options analysis framework, the stakeholders identified the preferred interventions which has informed the recommendations within this final report. The workshop was designed to allow discussion between the stakeholders attending on the SFA scorings of each option, the strengths and weaknesses of the options and any relevant considerations for the councils in relation to implementation.

Final report:

Based on the feedback given from the interim report and workshop, a final report has been produced to present the recommended options to both councils.

What's next

Both DDDC and AVBC received the report at the end of the four year council cycle. We are therefore taking reports to our Members after the May local elections so we can introduce the report and gain approval to start taking up the key messages and actions.

At the same time both councils have received substantial grant funding from DLUCH to support the inspection of private rented properties. The key issue for both councils going forward is that we both have an external report that sets out the options we should be considering to better engage with the PRS.

If we go back to the objectives of the study set out above, we now have a prioritised list of initiatives that we can take forward, relevant to the distinct nature of both districts. Both councils have access to government homelessness grants and refugee funding that we can use to take forward the recommendations in the report.

Lessons learned

The PRS can be a difficult sector to engage with. We tried to establish focus groups using social media and known contacts with landlords and tenants but take up was not as high as we would have hoped for. Data protection was not a particular issue though we did need to complete a DPIA. We offered a small financial incentive for people who took part in the workshops but this did provoke some negative feedback from residents who thought it was a waste of money.

External delivery of the project by Altair worked very well and gave the project a focus that staff within DDDC and AVBC would have struggled to do on our own given other workloads. The validation of a way forward by Altair also gives officers more support when taking forward the recommendations in the report.


Rob Cogings, Director of Housing, Derbyshire Dales District Council: [email protected]