An Englishman’s home is his castle. The phrase seems appropriate, for better or worse. Castles did not tend to be comfortable places to live. Neither are many of our homes, according to housing charity Shelter.

A Shelter survey has found that 43 per cent of respondents live in homes which do not meet at least part of the charity’s new Living Home Standard.

Shelter applied five criteria: affordability, decent conditions, space, neighbourhood and stability – the extent to which people feel they could make the property a “home”.

Affordability was rated the most important aspect of an acceptable home. Most problems ultimately stem from not being able to afford somewhere better.

Eighteen per cent of homes failed Shelter’s criteria for decent conditions. Renters were twice as likely as homeowners to live in places which fail this part of the standard.

Renters in social housing – often former council accommodation now managed by housing associations – fared particularly badly on space.

One in five of the people in these homes said they had too little room.

For many who rent from private landlords, a lack of control over how long they could stay in their home is a major issue.

Shelter has called for five-year rental contracts to protect tenants. Chief executive Campbell Robb wants the government, businesses and other charities to help increase the number of properties which meet the Living Home Standard.

He says: “The sad truth is that far too many people in Britain right now are living in homes that just aren’t up to scratch, from the thousands of families forced to cope with poor conditions, to a generation of renters forking out most of their income on housing each month and unable to save for the future.”

Penrith-based Eden Housing Association has nearly 1,800 properties in north Cumbria.

John Clasper Chief executive John Clasper welcomes the Shelter survey as useful publicity to highlight housing problems.

He says: “The issue for us is one of lack of support in terms of affordable rented housing. The government’s emphasis is on home ownership. Housing associations try to provide decent affordable rented accommodation. There hasn’t been enough investment in that.

“Supply doesn’t meet demand. There are lots of people wanting decent accommodation. People register with us. They see an empty home and they apply for it if they’re interested. We’re still seeing a high number of bids per vacant property.”

What should be done to improve the quality of housing?

“A general policy across the country won’t work. Each area has different issues. Here we need more investment in affordable housing. Home ownership isn’t for everybody.”

John insists accommodation standards have improved across the housing association sector.

“There has been regulation for some time about that. Only a very small proportion of homes in the housing association sector don’t meet those standards, which cover things like structural integrity and being heated for a reasonable sum of money.”

He does feel that overcrowding is an increasing problem, tied to financial struggles.

“People can find themselves in overcrowded accommodation. In the last couple of years people might be receiving less benefit payments than they were because of the bedroom tax.

“That can lead to people [unofficially] renting out part of the property or moving in with friends.”

The bedroom tax, officially known as the under-occupancy penalty, was introduced in 2013. This is a cut in housing benefit for people in a council or housing association property who have what is classed as a spare bedroom.

Robert Betton Many people are trying to downsize to avoid this penalty. Some have been helped by Robert Betton, an independent Carlisle city councillor for Botcherby.

“A lot of people are wanting to move from a three-bedroom to a two-bedroom, or from a two-bedroom to a one-bedroom,” he says.

“Some want bigger properties. Families grow. People have said they want to move to a three-bedroom, or even bigger. But they can’t because it’s not there.

“If there’s no new housing, where are people supposed to go? There should be more social housing getting built. What are developers putting back into the community?”

Many new housing developments have to contain some properties for sale as so-called affordable housing. But this is still too expensive for many.

“Where are you supposed to go if you don’t have the money? Renting privately is very dear and conditions might not be up to standard.”

Councillor Betton says that most of Botcherby’s rental properties are of a decent standard, and any issues are usually quickly addressed.

He recalls a house owned by housing association Riverside

“The property was damp – the wallpaper was coming off. I got in touch with the housing association. Now they’ve addressed it, which is great.

“Riverside has invested massively in Botcherby. I’m pleased about that. They’ve spent millions on roofs, frontages, kitchens, doors. The same for Impact and Two Castles.”

Housing associations may be improving their properties. But what about private landlords?

John Clasper says: “There are regulations that local authorities have to ensure that private rented accommodation is of a decent standard. But they might lack the resources to manage and inspect to ensure they’re keeping on top of that. I don’t want to generalise. But with some private landlords and investors, the bottom line is what they’re in it for. It should be about ethical lettings, whether private or housing association.”

Judith Bulman Judith Bulman and her husband Philip run The Bulman Partnership. This Carlisle-based residential lettings and block management company has earned a good reputation.

Judith says: “I want properties to be in a good condition. What’s the point of not having them in good condition? It just causes problems.

“I can give landlords advice about a property. If it’s in a poor state, if it needs redecorating or if it’s damp, I would say it isn’t in a letting condition. I wouldn’t want to have a property like that. You have some private landlords who let out rooms who might be a little bit less scrupulous than me. Landlords have got to be made more aware. People’s expectations are so much higher than they used to be.”

Judith feels soaring property prices mean more people will be renters.

“Because people in general don’t have deposits to buy housing, they rent for a longer period of time. A lot of people are going to be lifelong tenants.”

As for the issues of housing quality highlighted in the Shelter survey, Judith says: “That seems more like London and other big cities. I don’t think we have that kind of problem.”

But the question of affordability, for renters and buyers, is applicable in Cumbria.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “We’ve set out the most ambitious vision for housing in a generation, doubling the affordable housing budget to £8bn to deliver 400,000 more quality homes.”

We shall see whether this will be enough to fulfil Shelter’s aim: that people should “thrive” in homes, not just “get by”.