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Licensing does improve housing standards

Selective licensing schemes improve housing conditions and can even reduce anti-social behaviour.
24 January 2019 , Katie Coyne

Selective licensing schemes improve housing conditions and can even reduce anti-social behaviour, according to a joint report published today from CIEH and the Chartered Institute of Housing.

While not a 'quick-win' approach they deliver 'significant benefits' that cannot be measured by prosecutions data alone. The report suggests that the government should look at ways to be more supportive of local authorities implementing licensing.

Tamara Sandoul, CIEH policy manager and joint author of the report, called Licence to Rent, said: ‘These schemes are much more effective than we imagined.’

She added: ‘While not the only tool available to local authorities, selective licensing schemes are effective at improving housing conditions and local outcomes and evaluations data supports this.

‘Most schemes we studied inspect every property in the licensing area and therefore uncover poor conditions without the tenant needing to complain to the council.

‘It is this approach that leads to very high numbers of serious hazards and defects being identified and addressed in licensed areas.’

The report found between 69% and 84% of properties in the licensing schemes measured needed work to bring them up to a decent standard.

CIH head of policy and external affairs Melanie Rees said: 'Our analysis shows that while selective licensing isn’t a quick win, it is an effective way of boosting standards in areas where they are particularly bad – and there are some easy ways for the government to make it even more effective.'

Landlords were also much more willing to bring their properties up to a decent standard once the licensing scheme had come in.

The report found: ‘Although the exact mechanisms are unclear, this observation is backed up by the large numbers of works being done to remedy hazards and defects, without formal action being taken by the local authority.

‘We therefore consider that the success of selective licensing schemes cannot be measured in prosecutions data alone and needs to take into account the number of properties or management practices improved.’

Barriers to implementing selective licensing schemes are high upfront costs, a high level of bureaucracy, and prescriptive advertising standards. The report suggested local authorities should consider using civil penalties to rebalance resources for enforcement.

A wide variety of schemes of varying sizes were included in the report: 20 councils out of 27 that have schemes in operation. Is this accurate?

What makes a licensing scheme successful are: strong political support from local councillors and willingness to commit budget; a proactive stance to seek out non-compliance; effective partnership working; and clear understanding of outcomes and goals.

The report recommendations for the government included:

  • Commission good practice guidance to ‘address areas where significant variations exist between schemes and to provide local areas with better information’
  • Consider the introduction of a national landlord registration scheme to support and complement selective licensing schemes
  • Provide more support to enable councils to make better use of new enforcement powers, such as civil penalties.
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