- Meeting of Environment and Living Scrutiny Committee, Tuesday 25th June 2019 6.30 pm (Item 5.)
To consider the attached report.
Contact Officer: Lucy Eaves (01296) 585028
House in multiple occupation could often be occupied by the most vulnerable in the community. The risk of fire, public health issues and overcrowding was greater than in other types of accommodation and resources were, in the main targeted at those which represented the highest risk.
The Housing Act, 2004 had first introduced the mandatory licensing of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). The Act also provided for licensing to be extended by local authorities to include HMOs not covered by mandatory licensing, known commonly as additional licensing.
The Council had introduced an additional licensing scheme in September 2014. The additional licensing scheme had designated the whole of the District and the additional component was the inclusion of properties where there were three or more occupants, as opposed to the mandatory threshold at the time of five. Additional licensing schemes had to be reviewed to ensure that they continued to be of benefit to occupiers and the community. Such a designation could last for a maximum of five years and AVDC’s additional licensing scheme would expire in September, 2019.
In order to make a new designation, the Council had to collect evidence to support its case, apply to the MHCLG, undertake consultation and then wait three months for the designation to come into effect.
On 1 October, 2018, mandatory licensing had been extended to include properties with one or two stories, so that the standard test would now simply include a threshold of properties accommodating two or more households and five or more persons in total. In addition to the standard test, there were additional mandatory tests which remained unchanged, namely:-
· Buildings converted to self contained flats comprising three or more self contained flats.
· Buildings converted to be a mixture of self contained flats and non self contained accommodation.
Finally, changes introduced in October, 2018 had included new conditions for national minimum sleeping room sizes and waste disposal requirements. These would all take effect when existing licenses expired and were renewed.
It was reported that none of the other Buckinghamshire Districts currently operated additional HMO licensing schemes and there was therefore the opportunity for the new Buckinghamshire Council to bring forward a scheme for either all of, or designated areas of the County in due course should it choose to do so. The Committee report gave details of the differences in the standards tests for the old mandatory scheme, the current additional scheme and the new mandatory regime.
Of the 163 properties currently licensed by AVDC (mandatory and additional), only 43 would not be covered by the newer mandatory provisions... These were predominantly three/four bedroom, three/four person properties with concentrations in the wards of Buckingham North (14) and Buckingham South (7).
Members were advised that there were two broad options:-
Option 1: That the Council allows the additional licensing scheme for the Vale to expire in September, 2019, without commencing the process to re-designate part of or all of the District. As a result of the legislation change, and without the existence of an additional licensing scheme, 43 of the properties currently licensed under the additional scheme, would no longer be licensed at all.
The Council could however still take action against landlords in respect of properties outside the requirements of the mandatory scheme by using the powers contained in the Housing Act, 2004. Additionally, the Housing and Planning Act, 2016, also included powers to deal with rogue landlords. This would satisfy the MHCLG’s requirement that local authorities should have considered what other courses of action would be available to deal with issues not covered by additional licensing schemes.
Those properties that would no longer require a license represented a lower risk and did not tend to be properties that required intensive enforcement activity. There was no reason to believe that this would change just because the additional licensing scheme was allowed to expire. Less than 3% of the complaints received last year related to those properties currently additionally licensed HMOs which would no longer be covered by mandatory licensing. Of these three complaints, one had related to the HMO exceeding its additional license conditions concerning the number of residents (meaning that it would become mandatorily licensed anyway). The other two complaints had not required any enforcement action.
The highest risk HMOs tended to be converted, older, three storey properties with more than five residents. These types of property would be covered by the new mandatory regime, but were often unlicensed. Anecdotally it was believed that less than half of the HMOs across the Vale were actually licensed and therefore resources would be better targeted at identifying and enforcing against unlicensed HMOs rather than additionally licensing lower risk properties.
There were transitional arrangements in place for existing additional licenses outside the scope of the new mandatory provisions, which meant that they would not automatically fall away in September, 2019. Instead they would run until the expiry of their five year additional license. This meant that conditions attached to these licences could still be enforced. Only seven of the 43 affected licenses expired before January, 2021, with many running for much longer.
Option 2: For the Council to proceed with exploring whether there was enough evidence to justify a specific area of the Vale for additional licensing (as opposed to the whole of the Vale), focusing on local intelligence and data matching of other Council held assets.
If the Council were to proceed, it had to be convinced that there was a justified case to do so and also it would be necessary to follow the consultation process. It could be that during the course of this fresh consultation exploration exercise there was justification to designate the whole of the Vale for additional licensing. However it was thought that this was unlikely because of the shift in regulatory focus by the Government.
The process required to apply to the MHCLG (even if it commenced before the expiration date) might not be completed before the expiry of the current additional scheme. Given the amount of work required to prepare for vesting day for the new unitary authority, it was felt that resources could be better used elsewhere.
Committee Members had an opportunity comment/seek clarity on a number of issues, including:-
· Members were anxious to ensure that any decision not to renew the additional scheme would not result in any vulnerable individuals falling through the net. Members were assured that officers had and were continuing to work with other agencies working in this field (such as social care, HMRC, Bucks Fire & Rescue and a modern slavery task force) allowing for the sharing of intelligence to identify unlicensed HMOs.
· It was confirmed that the Council would continue to be vigilant and it was indicated that officers across the environmental health sector were working together to identify potential problems. For example, the Council carried out numerous food outlet inspections each year and checks ere being made where appropriate on the use of accommodation above such outlets.
· The proposal not to pursue the additional licensing arrangements would allow greater scope to identify and concentrate on identifying HMOs that were not licensed at all, were likely to have poor standards and require enforcement action.
· Any proposal not to renew the additional licensing regime would afford the new unitary authority the opportunity to consider a whole County approach.
Members concluded that in the light of the information available, it would not be appropriate to pursue renewal of the additional licensing regime and accordingly it was,
(1) That non renewal of the additional licensing regime for HMOs after the expiry of the existing scheme in September, 2019, is supported.
(2) That it be noted that the private sector housing unitary work stream would commence work on collecting management data to inform the new Buckinghamshire Council’s approach to additional licensing designation post vesting day.