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MPs push for DCLG decision on selective licensing

Stuart Spear30/11/2017 - 11:05

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Man found living under the stairs
Man found living under the stairs

Pressure is mounting on housing minister Alok Sharma to make a decision on borough-wide licensing after a London raid on rogue landlords has prompted parliamentary debate.

Led by MP for East Ham Stephen Timms a recent debate on private landlord licensing raised concerns about the DCLG delay to renew the London Borough of Newham’s borough-wide landlord licensing scheme first introduced in 2013.

The debate was prompted by a fact-finding raid held this month in Newham when invited members of the GMB Union were witness to a young man living in a 1 metre by 2 metre space under the stairs. The rest of the house had 11 sleeping spaces with rooms crammed with bunk beds.

With the licensing scheme set to expire at the end of the year Newham council applied for the scheme’s renewal for another five years in July. With the clock ticking it is still waiting for the DCLG decision despite guidance saying that it should respond within eight weeks of the application.

It is hoped the DCLG decision will finally bring clarity to councils wishing to adopt borough-wide licensing.

During the debate Mr Timms argued strongly for the scheme’s renewal pointing out that what Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, saw on the raid with his colleague was ‘heart breaking’ with ‘families living in a single room with one toilet in the corner, bunk beds stacked six to a tiny room, floors lined with mattresses and dozens of people using one kitchen.’

The scheme gives the council additional powers because failure to comply with the terms of the licence constitutes as an offence. Worst offenders can be banned from being landlords under the scheme.

Mr Timms told parliament that the powers had enabled the council since the scheme’s launch to ban 28 rogue landlords, 752 arrests for criminal offences, the recovery of £3.1 million of due council tax and the prevention of £300,000 in housing benefit.

The council has also been able to apply 61 rent repayment orders resulting in a further £380,000 in reclaimed benefits.

Mr Timms also pointed out that borough-wide licensing facilitated joint working with agencies such as the Home Office, Immigration Enforcement and HMRC.

Responding to the renewal request Mr Sharma told parliament that he was expecting ‘to receive advice from officials very shortly’ and that he would be making the decision ‘expeditiously once the submission is with me’.

However, he warned that the selective licensing scheme had been set up for landlords in specific areas where there are serious problems and not for the entire private rental sector.

Mr Sharma said: ‘The legislation is very clear that licensing under part 3 is selective, any scheme must be targeted to address specific areas that are experiencing specific problems that pose risks to tenants and their community.’

While he did not rule out that this could be a whole borough the legislation requires ‘there must be clear evidence to demonstrate the need for licensing’. The borough must also show it is part of the council’s wider strategy to eliminate problems it is facing.

‘This legislative framework ensures that selective licensing is not simply a means of raising revenue from landlords,’ said Mr Timms. Parliament heard that landlords are required to pay £400 a year to cover the scheme’s administrative costs.

The DCLG decision expected in the next few weeks will shed light on what level of evidence is required and whether boroughs like Newham pass the threshold.

Commenting on his fact-finding trip with council officers Mr Roache said: ‘Our visit to Newham was a real eye-opener, we all know the housing market is broken, but finding people living in cupboards marks a new low.’


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