Plans to tackle rogue landlords in Enfield, North London, have been put on hold for ten months because of delays in Westminster.
Enfield Council put in an application for a selective licensing scheme to the housing secretary Robert Jenrick at the end of February following a “really vigorous process” of local consultation, and talks with officers in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
From the start of the application on 21 February the turnaround time for a decision is eight weeks – and the council believes ten months is excessive even factoring in COVID-19 disruption.
Enfield council has also been told that the MHCLG team assessing the application recommended approval in mid-August, so it now just needs the secretary of state’s rubber stamp.
Nesil Caliskan, leader of the Labour-led Enfield Council, said: “The feedback we've had is ‘it's on the minister's desk’. So I'm beginning to think that it's a political decision, that he's just not signed off for that reason. But it's really, really problematic. It's cost us loads of money to do the process.”
She added: “We've got a really poor private sector. A lot of our issues around the quality of housing are in the private sector. So we just cannot improve standards without it.”
Caliskan warned that at one stage during the pandemic 50,000 people in the borough were unemployed and an anticipated £13m will be cut from the council budget due to council tax support alone. This doesn’t factor in other lost revenue due to the pandemic.
Under the proposed scheme, aimed at tackling poor housing quality, the five-year licence will cost £600, or £2.22 a week. The scheme will be self-funding so will not incur the council additional costs, and will create 70 jobs.
Three Enfield MPs - Kate Osamor, Feryal Clark and Bambos Charalambous - wrote to Jenrick in September to urge him to approve the scheme but have not had a response. Clark recently wrote again, saying: “I cannot stress the importance of this scheme for the borough of Enfield and my constitutes. The scheme has the potential to transform the lives of many of my constituents once implemented.”
Long standing issues of poor quality housing
The pandemic has highlighted the negative impact of cramped and poor quality housing nationally. However, Caliskan said the council was already keenly aware of the inequalities arising from poor quality housing, and that these were “longstanding issues” in the borough that led to the start of the process back in 2018 to implement a selective licensing scheme.
She said these are: “The quality of housing we know fundamentally affects health outcomes and life outcomes, inequalities.
“We commissioned a poverty and equality report last year, which we're particularly proud of, and there are a number of recommendations, one of which is the landlords licensing. But it's pretty clear from that report that poor quality housing is one of the biggest determinants of life chances.”
Caliskan said the scheme has local support, and while a previous attempt to introduce a licensing scheme attracted strong criticism and ultimately failed, there is a clear need for it in the borough and the debate had “moved on”. The success of the selective licensing scheme run by their neighbour Waltham Forest that was renewed in May, Caliskan said, shows that these schemes work.
At the time of going to press MHCLG did not comment.
EDIT: On 24 December an MHCLG spokesperson said: "We are in regular contact with Enfield Council and we will issue a decision on the application soon."