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Licensing pushes up prosecution rates

Tom Wall23/07/2015 - 07:31

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East London councils are cracking down on rogues
East London councils are cracking down on rogues

Councils using East London magistrate courts have prosecuted 256 landlords - more than councils in 66 other local justice areas combined.

Newham Council in East London, which implemented the first ever borough-wide licensing scheme for landlords in 2013, is thought to be responsible for many of the prosecutions.

Russell Moffatt, Newham’s housing operation manager, said licensing all landlords allowed his officers to target the rogues.

‘Nearly all private sector properties are now licensed which enables officers to focus resources on those properties and landlords of most concern,’ he said.

Mr Moffatt added other authorities in the area were following Newham’s lead.

‘East London authorities have seen the success of Newham’s scheme and are now in the early stages of introducing their own. If all boroughs took a tough approach, rogue landlords would have nowhere to go and this would help protect tenants and ensure there is fair playing field for the good landlords,’ he said

Other east London councils including Waltham Forest and Barking and Dagenham have moved to license all landlords. Croydon, Enfield and Redbridge have plans to introduce similar schemes.

However Stephen Battersby, CIEH vice president, said overall local authorities were not taking enough action against rogue landlords.

‘There is still under-enforcement overall as most local authorities are averse to this action for a number of reasons, not least is some confusion caused by the better regulation agenda and the regulators code. There seems to be a desire always to get improvements by persuasion almost regardless of the attitude and record of the landlord,’ he said.

Local authorities in 11 magistrate court areas - including Doncaster, Wigan and Corby - have only carried out one prosecution each since 2006.

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Corby said it had only ever needed to prosecute one landlord. ‘Other landlords have either complied with legal notices served on them or we have managed to resolve the matter informally by getting them to carry out the required works at an earlier stage,’ it said.

It added that the modern housing stock of Corby meant there were fewer prosecutions for poor conditions.

‘As well as the good work our officers do in working with landlords, Corby is a moderately small borough and it’s make-up consists of a large percentage of new builds which contain no hazards, and so naturally we would expect a lower issue with housing offences and therefore prosecutions,’ a spokesperson said.

Doncaster said it would be focusing on enforcement in the future to drive up standards in the private rented sector.

Peter Dale, Doncaster’s director of regeneration and environment, said: ‘We have reviewed our enforcement strategy over the last 18 months, reviewing policies and procedures to reflect the best practice, and this has increased our focus on using enforcement as a tool to drive up private sector housing standards in the borough.’

He added officers were making more use of notices and the council had recently secured three convictions for housing offences.

‘This review has seen us increase the number of legal notices served by 60 per cent and resulted in three successful prosecutions with more in progress. We have also recently designated the first selective licensing area in the borough, and this is now operating in Hexthorpe.’

Wigan said it had actually prosecuted three failures to comply with Housing Act notices as most issues were resolved informally.

‘The vast majority of housing standards complaints are resolved informally. We have always prosecuted a failure to comply with a statutory notice, but landlord compliance rates have improved year on year, which is why the number of prosecutions are so low,’ said a spokesperson.

Bob Mayho, CIEH principal policy officer, said there were a number of different reasons why there seemed to be relatively few prosecutions compared to the levels of disrepair in the sector.

‘This is a perennial question. A number of factors must come into play: availability of resources, local council priorities, bureaucracy associated with enforcement of housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS), level of fines dispensed by magistrate courts, fines not returning to council coffers,’ he said.

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