A Third of Councils are Considering Compulsory Landlord Licensing
Eight out of 10 councils expect their authorities to take a more proactive stance in relation to the private rented sector in future, according to research by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) and the Electrical Safety Council, and nearly 95% think they have "an important role to play" in this sector.
It's unsurprising that councils are starting to engage more actively with the private rented sector. Besides the sheer scale of its growth – the most recent census, published by the Office for National Statistics, shows the number of private renters in England and Wales increased by 88% between 2001 and 2011 – the ability to discharge the homelessness duty through private sector accommodation, new energy efficiency responsibilities in the energy bill, and changes to the single room rate (which may drive demand for homes of multiple occupancies) are all conspiring to increase the significance of the sector for local authorities.
The 178 councils that responded to our survey identified several reasons for their position. Gas and electrical safety, fire safety and management standards emerged as the top concerns driving councils to take more action.
Phil Buckle, director general of the Electrical Safety Council, said: "Despite the fact that electrical accidents are the number one cause of domestic fires in Great Britain, most landlords are not legally required to have their electrics checked or provide their tenants with safety certificates – a requirement for gas certificates has been compulsory since 1998. With increasing numbers of people renting privately, it is imperative that proper regulations are in place to ensure their safety."
The findings come in the wake of the Newham council's launch of England's first council-wide, compulsory licensing scheme for private landlords. The scheme, which came into force in January 2013, covers about 40,000 private tenancies.
Our research shows that councils were interested in many different forms of engagement, including voluntary accreditation schemes and better training and support for private landlords. However, a third of council respondents said they would consider introducing compulsory licensing in their local area in an attempt to reduce health and safety risks in properties and to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords. In response, Newham mayor Sir Robin Wales said: "We welcome these findings, which strongly support Newham's pioneering private property licensing scheme. Our scheme shows that Newham is leading the country when it comes to tackling bad landlords who flout the law.
"We want to ensure that private sector rented properties are well managed and meet a good standard. We also want to deal with the crime and antisocial behaviour that is sometimes associated with bad private sector rented housing. There are good landlords in Newham and we want to work with them. Unfortunately there are also some unscrupulous ones – which our licensing scheme is robustly tackling."
It is positive to see local authorities taking a more active interest in their private rented sector. The approach taken in different areas of the country will necessarily differ, depending on the local balance of housing stock and specific needs of the community. However, with more and more people turning to the private rented sector to meet their housing needs, it seems inevitable that this will become an increasing concern for many more local authorities in future.