WITH the average rent in London now hovering around £1,100 a month, unscrupulous landlords are turning to unlawful practices in a bid to cash in on vulnerable people.

The ‘beds in sheds’ issue is a problem which has surfaced in recent years across outer London. In fact, it’s become such an errant concern they are now referred to as ‘England’s modern day slums’.

To give an idea of the scale, last July a plane equipped with thermal imaging equipment soared over Slough. The findings suggested that, in one area alone, there were around 6,000 suspicious outbuildings.

Closer to home, just this month a landlord was caught renting out an illegal outbuilding in his back garden in Hayes as a place to live after a dramatic dawn raid bby Hillingdon Council and the UK Border Agency.

A married couple in Uxbridge were also prosecuted last September for similar offences and ignoring health and safety requirements. They were fined over £58,000 as a result.

So, just what are these outhouses and why are they such a big problem? They can be anything from a garage to a temporary garden structure that is being used as a home without the council’s permission.

It’s not just the landlord’s encouragement of a hidden population that poses a problem.

People often find themselves living in appalling conditions without adequate heating, electricity and water supplies. The structures can also be poorly-built and wildly unstable.

With the cost of living in London now soaring to unprecedented levels, it’s believed more people are turning to illegal outhouses as a last resort.

This is a particular problem in Harrow, an area where around 4,000 people are currently waiting for social housing.

The council there has found evidence of migrants living in horrendous conditions and is investigating claims of families paying illegal landlords £50 a week each to share a mattress in a dingy outbuilding.

Ealing Council has set up a special team to investigate suspected illegal outhouses. Southall is a targeted area.

The easing of working restrictions this year for Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants has led to further concerns that rogue landlords will abuse the immigration system for their own profit.

Hillingdon has stepped up its clampdown on illegal outbuildings. Last April, it received a £180,000 grant from the Department of Communities and Local Government to tackle the ‘beds in sheds’ problem.

Cllr Keith Burrows, cabinet member for planning, transportation and recycling, said at the time the money would be used to help identify deceitful landlords who are putting vulnerable people at risk.

The consequences for landlords are substantial. Anyone violating the regulations faces a court appearance and severe financial penalties.