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Stop the excuses! Lack of enforcement by councils blasted by trade body

A leading trade body says the argument that councils have insufficient powers to tackle rogue operators isn’t supported by the facts - or the figures.

In an article in the latest issue of the Local Government Chronicle, John Stewart - policy manager of the Residential Landlords Association - says that over two-thirds of councils across England and Wales undertook no prosecutions against private landlords last year.

Even amongst those councils with selective licensing schemes some 42 per cent had not made any prosecutions.


In addition, Stewart argues there are over 150 acts of Parliament containing well over 400 regulations which affect the sector - enough powers, he says, for local authorities to take action if they wished.

He also argues that in 2017-18, the latest year for which there is data, some 89 per cent of councils said they had not used their newly-received powers to issue civil penalties of up to £30,000 on landlords, despite them being able to use such funds to finance further enforcement. 

It’s a well-argued piece - we reproduce it below.

Over two-thirds of councils across England and Wales did not undertake any prosecutions against private landlords last year, according to freedom of information data gathered by the Residential Landlords Association.

And of those with selective licensing schemes in operation, which some argue raise standards, 42% had not made any prosecutions.

It is often said that such low levels of enforcement against criminal landlords are a result of councils not having enough powers to deal with them. Yet our analysis showed there are over 150 acts of Parliament containing well over 400 regulations which affect the sector, making this argument becomes hard to sustain.

In 2017-18, 89% of councils also said they had not used new powers to issue civil penalties of up to £30,000 on landlords, despite them being able to use such funds to finance further enforcement. To make matters worse, 53% of councils said they had no enforcement policy in place – a requirement to use such powers.

The true problem faced by councils is a lack of resources allowing them to use the powers available. The association has analysed the government’s local authority revenue expenditure and financing figures for England which show that since 2009-10, spending by councils on housing standard activities fell by around a quarter, from £44.5m to £33.5m in 2017-18.

For many councils the way to plug the gap has been to introduce costly selective licensing schemes, which the association opposes. 

They give a false impression to tenants that because a landlord is licensed it means all their properties are up to scratch. The criminal landlords never willingly identify themselves. And we end up in a bizarre situation of good landlords, paying for licences, subsidising action against the crooks.

Whilst the government has recently made £2m available for councils to support efforts to tackle problem landlords as part of its rogue landlords enforcement grant, one-off pots of money do not give councils the certainty to let them plan long-term enforcement.

That’s why the government should use the spending review later this year to bring forward a multi-year funding package to support councils in using the wide range of powers already at their disposal to root out criminal landlords.

Such funding should go hand in hand with the development of new ways to identify crooks. For example, rather than licensing councils could use the powers they already have to ask residents on their council tax returns what tenure their property is and, where rented, who their landlord is. This would be more comprehensive than licensing, and make it more difficult for crooks to evade scrutiny.

Good landlords and councils have a shared interest in kicking out those who bring misery for tenants and undermine the sector. What councils need are the resources to do so, and policies that seek to work with the majority of decent landlords in a positive way.

- by John Stewart, policy manager, Residential Landlords Association

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    Perhaps, just maybe, some councils have realised that they can quickly shut down private letting in their area which will cause a disaster for them to sort out?

  • S l
    • S l
    • 09 March 2019 00:29 AM

    I like to think that the Council have the common sense not to abuse their power and just think of revenues by prosecuting landlords. Instead, they have the ability to think and support the prs and guide them through the maze of rules and regulations which the council had created knowing it is not fair and not right to sue considering that majority of prs landlords are well meaning and willing to work with the council to get up to date with the rules and regulations created by the council themselves. These articles keep looking at means of revenues with words to divert the attention away from their real intentions.

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    The whole letting field is getting like a thick fog where if you have wandered off the road you can not find your way back on to it. If you are wandering events come to you and then go away and you are alone in the fog again. There is an endless obfuscation of common sense backed up with costs for everyone involved, councils, tenants, landlords and agents.

    I would happily support licensing if it was something that required a trade qualification achieved by examination and carried disqualification rules but it doesn't. Even a mundane driving licence is far better than and landlord licence. The current ll licence is pure BS. The same goes for electricians part P. An electrician has to do a trade exam. That exam certificate is something real. A piece of council paper with a moral printed on it is only handy for the WC.

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    I have come across many Enforcement Council Officers who nothing about building construction or have a background in anything to with building maintenance... they should have some qualifications. I consistently have to explain and the stock answer is HHSRS or outdated recommendations by you know who... which are recommendations not the bible! And outdated. The fire service say one think the police say fit 5 lever mortise locks and the Council get a book out!


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