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We have urged the UK Government to make it easier for councils in England to use selective licensing schemes to improve housing conditions. Selective licensing schemes involve designated areas where privately rented properties have to be licensed with the local authority.
In November 2022 we wrote to Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and argued that selective licensing schemes have a crucial role to play in delivering the Government’s levelling up agenda, especially in delivering the commitment to halving the number of non-decent homes across all tenures by 2030. The letter reflects recommendations in the report ‘A licence to rent’ that was produced by the Chartered Institute of Housing and CIEH.
Poor quality housing is responsible for a high proportion of the deaths, injuries and chronic illnesses that impact life expectancy in the UK. The private rented sector has higher proportions of substandard housing, yet local authorities have limited knowledge of landlords and the properties in their local areas. There is no statutory requirement for landlords to declare their interests, and rogue landlords exploit this to the detriment of their tenants.
Registration and licensing schemes operate in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, whereby all landlords have to register in order to rent out their property. Properties rented out in England are not currently registered or licensed and landlords do not need to declare that they own or manage property, unless they have a house in multiple occupation with 5 or more occupants or there is an additional or selective licensing scheme in place in their local area. Therefore, the vast majority of rented properties in England are not known to local authorities or any other agencies.
There are several ways in which the UK Government could make it easier for local authorities to use selective licensing schemes to improve housing conditions in the private rented sector.
Firstly, the Government needs to ensure that local authorities operating such schemes can improve housing conditions through licence conditions. An independent review highlights a disconnect in the legislation whereby local authorities can introduce selective licensing to tackle poor property conditions but cannot include a directly enforceable requirement relating to property condition as a condition of the licence itself.
Secondly, the Government should use national landlord registration to support selective licensing. The proposed property portal is a step in the right direction. We are unclear though whether it will provide local authorities with the information they need in order to check the suitability of landlords before issuing a licence.
Thirdly, the Government should make it easier to set up selective licensing schemes. We are concerned that some local authorities may be deterred from setting up such schemes by the bureaucracy and expense involved in doing so.