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Agenda item

Selective Licensing- Overview

(i)       Report of the Corporate Director of Regeneration and Local Services.

(ii)      Presentation by the Strategic Manager Housing, Regeneration and Local           Services.

Minutes:

The Chairman asked the Strategic Manager for Housing to give an overview report on Selective Licensing (for copy see file of minutes).

 

The Strategic Manager for Housing introduced the Project Coordinator, Joanne Thompson who was in attendance to answer Members questions as appropriate.

 

The Strategic Manager for Housing reminded Members as regards selective licensing being “where the whole or part(s) of a county/borough are subject to a designation under the Housing Act 2004”.  She added that such designation would make it compulsory for all private rented accommodation in that area to have a licence from the Local Authority.  Members noted that for County Durham 100 percent coverage would be sought, looking to achieve this through six designated areas.  Councillors noted designations could be made should an area be suffering from one or more of the following issues: low housing demand; anti-social behaviour; poor property conditions; high levels of migration; high levels of deprivation; and high levels of crime.  The Strategic Manager for Housing noted a positive meeting with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) as regards being able to achieve the 100 percent coverage.  She added that while migration was not felt to be an issue, data would be looked at in this regard.  Members noted that in any cases where more than 20 percent designation was being applied for, a business case must be made and the application be made to the Secretary of State.  The Strategic Manager for Housing noted that Local Authorities may only make a designation if an area has a high proportion of the property in the private rented sector.  It was added that 2011 Census data showed 223,803 households in Durham and that the Office for National Statistics data showed 28,142 in the private rented sector representing 12.57 percent, with a prediction to rise to 17.36 percent by 2015. 

 

The Strategic Manager for Housing noted that in some areas, local knowledge had shown several areas of around 60 percent and therefore she felt confident that across the County the average would be greater than 20 percent.  She further explained as regards the work ongoing with partners such as Durham Constabulary, the County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service (CDDFRS) and the Benefits Team as regards gathering data to be able to look at these issues.

 

The Strategic Manager for Housing noted that before proposing a designation a Local Housing Authority must: identify the problems affecting the area to which the designation would apply; provide evidence to support the existence of the problems; decide what other measures the Local Authority, with its partners, would take to eliminate or mitigate the problems; and assess what outcomes would be delivered through the making of a scheme.  Councillors noted a Steering Group would oversee two sub-groups looking at: collecting data and to form the business case; and interim measures, concentrating on the existing three selective licensing areas.  It was noted that the Steering Group included membership from the Council, Durham Constabulary, the Office of the Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner (PCVC) and the County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service.  The Strategic Manager for Housing noted that a further report with recommendations in terms of the business case would be considered by Cabinet. 

 

The Committee noted that Officers had visited both Liverpool and Newham, where 100 percent selective licensing scheme had been developed, with Liverpool’s being pre-legislation and the Newham proposals being via the Secretary of State.  It was explained that Liverpool had noted not to underestimate the amount of work involved, and a map was set out of the properties Liverpool was aware of prior to selective licensing and after to highlight the significant increase.  The Strategic Housing Manager noted that while an upfront resource allocation would be required, it was thought the administration of the service could be self-funding if the licencing conditions were “right”.  It was stressed that good data collection was essential, and Liverpool had taken two years from initial conception to implementation.  Members noted that the Newham submission had been completed by wards, however, for Durham it would be by Middle Layer Super Output Area (MSOA) as this would enable easier comparison to national statistics collated in this way.

 

The Chairman thanked the Strategic Manager for Housing for her presentation and noted the Portfolio Holder for Housing, Councillor K Shaw was in attendance.  Councillor K Shaw thanked the Officers for their work and the presentation to Committee and noted he would be happy to answer any questions from Members of the Committee.

 

Councillor J Atkinson asked as regards any scheme being self-funding, whether this was from any licence fee.  The Strategic Manager for Housing noted this was the case, however the level of fee was not yet known, and that the licensing conditions themselves were being looked at first.

 

Councillor E Adam asked as regards why we did not currently have information concerning the extent of private landlords within the county.  The Strategic Housing Manager noted that no current legislation had any requirements in terms of those landlords to register and while Local Authorities would have some information through some of its departments, such as benefits, it would not be a complete picture.

 

Councillor E Adam noted he was staggered that this was the case and noted the vast difference in the numbers before and after selectively licensing in Liverpool as shown on the maps within the presentation.  He added that the majority of private landlords were not bad landlords and noted that perhaps the approach would represent a “big stick” for some.  The Strategic Manager for Housing noted that there was a need to be able to tackle bad landlords and that while the authority may think it has an idea as regards the scale, the example of Liverpool thinking it may have around 30 percent private landlords with the actual percentage being much higher.

 

The Chairman noted that her work prior to being a County Councillor, she had been involved in selective licensing in the Hendon area of Sunderland.  She explained the amount of work involved in getting the scheme in place.  She added that the benefits and improvement that had been seen had justified the hard work and the resource allocations that had been made.  She added that while the County Council may not have the funding available that the Sunderland scheme had at that time, back in 2010, she felt that selective licensing would still have huge benefits and noted that all Members would know of areas within their Divisions where there are issues.  The Strategic Housing Manager noted that another reason for seeking 100 percent coverage was to not lead to a situation where problems simply moved, into the areas not covered by a selective licensing scheme.

 

Councillor P Howell noted from his own experience he had been surprised, similar to Councillor E Adam, in that there was no national register for private landlords.  He noted that good landlords were equally frustrated with bad landlords and they tended to give all private landlords a bad reputation.  Councillor P Howell asked as the move to selective licensing progressed would this in turn mean that resources would move over too, away from the Landlord Accreditation Scheme.  He noted his personal experience of the scheme related to the issue of the accreditation stickers, where stickers had been issued though he had not had a visit from Officers as regards the quality of his property.  The Strategic Housing Manager confirmed that if the application for 100 percent coverage was successful then the accreditation scheme would be replaced.  She added that she would feedback to relevant colleagues Councillor P Howell’s experience of the scheme.

 

The Strategic Housing Manager added that the licence fee would look to help fund the requisite checks and explained that in Liverpool where the number of properties had been much greater than anticipated they had a “self-declaration” process, with drop-in and audit visits to help promote accurate declarations.  It was added that for Durham it could depend upon the numbers of properties involved, once the numbers of properties was known.

 

Councillor D Hall noted the potential data sources as stated by the Officer and asked if consideration of the landlord deposit schemes as another potential source of information had been considered.  The Project Coordinator noted that it would be perhaps that there would be a need for different licence conditions in terms of different areas.  The Strategic Manager for Housing noted that indeed five or six areas may have different reasons, however, if low demand could be demonstrated across all areas, this could be a condition.

 

Councillor S Dunn asked as regards a definition of MSOAs and why the submission would not be based upon wards. 

 

 

The Strategic Housing Manager noted that nationally data was gathered in MSOA and therefore this led to easier comparison in terms of comparing issues such as health, and comparing to our neighbouring Local Authorities and statistical similar Local Authorities.  She added that the information could be translated to wards if Members found this useful, the information being very similar in comparison.  The Project Coordinator noted this should be possible once colleagues from IT had integrated a number of systems.

 

Councillor A Patterson thanked the Officers and the Cabinet Member for their hard work in this area and their attendance at Committee to give Members this information.  She noted she supported the 100 percent coverage as proposed and asked if any of the information relating to the challenges Newham had faced in submitting a bid to MHCLG could be informative to Durham in preparing its business case.  The Strategic Manager for Housing noted there was some information that had proven useful, as well as the positive discussions with the MHCLG themselves as regards the proposed 100 percent coverage.  She added that the key to being successful would be the work done up-front in terms of the business case.

 

Councillor R Crute noted the “buy-in” from other areas of the public sector, Durham Constabulary, County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service and the Office of the Police Crime and Victims Commissioner and asked if they had been suitably convinced of the benefits of such a scheme that they had considered a resource contribution towards bringing the scheme in, noting a comparison with spending such as within Public Health where a spend of £1 could be demonstrated to have a benefit of £2.50 for example.  Councillor R Crute noted he too did not want any selective licensing scheme to be a “big stick” that punished all landlords and noted that Durham needed and wanted good landlords.  He gave an example where he had witnessed advertisements within Belfast Airport for properties in Easington.  The Strategic Manager for Housing noted that there had not yet been the input from partners at this point.  Councillor K Shaw noted that initial discussions with the PCVC had been positive, with recognition of the issues.  He added that in terms of Newham, one of their large issues was that of overcrowding.  Councillor K Shaw noted that it was felt for Durham issues may relate to empty properties and absentee landlords.  Councillor K Shaw noted if he was a landlord he would welcome selective licensing, with information from Liverpool noting an increase in reputation for landlords, increases in house prices, and improvements in many areas, with anti-social behaviour reduced by 40 to 60 percent. 

 

Councillor R Crute noted that Members would be aware via their local Police and Communities Together (PACT) meetings that many private landlords do want selective licensing as they see the benefits for themselves as well as for the Local Authorities and its partners.  The Strategic Manager for Housing noted that Liverpool had asked their landlords to respond to the scheme and that the majority had welcomed it.  Councillor P Howell noted he endorsed the comments of Councillors K Shaw and R Crute and added he felt the benefits of a 100 percent coverage selective licensing scheme would be far better than any accreditation scheme.

 

Councillor J Atkinson added he agreed with the comments made so far by other Members and asked as regards the “business case sub-group”, whether there was landlord representation.

 

The Strategic Manager for Housing noted there was no direct representation on the sub-group, however, there were focus groups for the existing selective licensing areas and their input would be included.  She added that as part of the formal business case there was a requirement for a process of consultation.  The Chairman added that this should include involvement of Local Members.  Councillor K Shaw noted that while the accreditation scheme had its successes, it was a voluntary scheme and that it did have an associated cost.

 

Resolved:       

 

(i)              That the Economy and Enterprise Overview and Scrutiny Committee note the report and presentation.

(ii)             That the Economy and Enterprise Overview and Scrutiny Committee include within its work programme for 2019/20 a progress report in relation to the business case for introducing Selective Licensing.

 

Supporting documents:

 

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