Selective licensing is a contentious topic for many landlords. We receive a number of queries from our members about why it’s being introduced in their area and what the National Landlords Association’s (NLA) position is.
In a three-part series, Gavin Dick from our Policy Team explains what selective licensing is, why it’s used, and how the NLA represents its members on this topic.
What do we think about selective licensing?
The NLA believes that, if selective licensing schemes are used appropriately and in a targeted fashion, they can be an effective tool for councils to improve housing standards. Of course the operative word here is ‘can’, a hammer can be an effective means of driving a nail into a wall. Alternatively it can be a foolproof way of breaking your thumb. It simply depends on how it is used.
For licensing schemes to be effective they have to be implemented properly, fully resourced and enforced; which doesn’t always happen.
A local authority that has introduced a selective licensing scheme will always claim it is a success; they cannot say it was a failure. To do so would indicate that they were wrong to introduce it or failed in any or all of the areas mentioned above. This approach can lead to unfavourable outcomes and it doesn’t address the issues within the private rented sector (PRS).
Isn’t it meant to address anti-social behaviour or ‘rogue’ landlords?
Selective licensing alone will not resolve issues for local authorities. It is what they do around the fringes of the scheme, and how they support it, that will deliver their goals. The NLA acknowledges that criminals operate in the PRS. Landlords are victims as well, as it can be the tenants who are involved in criminal activities. When a local authority prosecutes someone who has been acting in a criminal way, we support the prosecution.
Councils will frequently claim that licensing schemes aid this enforcement activity, but this doesn’t tell the complete story and doesn’t necessarily mean that the local authority is successful as a result of selective licencing. Rather its success illustrates that it has used its powers to root out and remove criminals in the area.
Does the NLA support selective licensing?
Sometimes. Working with local authorities all around the country I see more of the good, the bad, and the ugly practices thrown up by our sector than any environmental health officer. This means that sometimes we see cases where we agree that a targeted licensing scheme may well be the areas best chance of improving outcomes for responsible landlords and tenants – but that doesn’t mean we’re a push-over.
The NLA takes each proposal on a case-by-case basis. We listen to feedback from our members in the affected area and discuss the likely outcomes. However, to just oppose all schemes would put the NLA and its members at a disadvantage, and destroy our credibility with local authorities and Government. When a local authority is asking about licensing or another issue in the future, why would they engage with an obstinate organisation? This would prevent our opposition to a scheme being heard; equally where there are issues with licensing conditions, we would be ignored.
We have a responsibility to our members and all of those other local landlords in need of support to look at the merits of the proposal, the evidence, and make an assessment of the likely impact should the scheme go-ahead.
Would the NLA work with a local authority to achieve a positive outcome?
Why would we not?
If it benefits the PRS and our members, we should work with a local authority or the Government. Dogmatic positions may be great for newspaper headlines or tweets, but they don’t help members when a decision has, effectively, already been made. We need to work with all political parties, even if they aren’t fans of the PRS. Not all local authorities wish to introduce selective licensing; equally others are implementing a government policy and want to work with landlords in the area.
The challenge is deciding if we will oppose the proposal, support it, or find some position in the middle.
Often we need to take a step back and look at how the decision has come about. Is it the political will of the council to see a scheme introduced and have they made a case that meets the (albeit low) burden of evidence? If that exists, then to simply oppose it would be a failing to our members, but it doesn’t mean that we have to agree with everything as we can often improve the proposal by offering constructive criticism, opposition, and alternatives. More often than not this means that we achieve fee reductions, relaxation of terms and conditions, and restrictions on exactly where a licence will be required.
What does the future look like for licensing?
Notwithstanding everything that I have said about working constructively with authorities, the NLA would love to see the repeal of selective licensing. We believe it would be for the best but that option is not currently on the table.
Watching what is happening in Wales and Scotland, the direction of travel is towards more intervention in landlords’ businesses and not less. In Wales Rent Smart Wales is already a requirements, whilst in Scotland all landlords must be registered with their local authority. So too there is a growing clamour for more licensing in England, the Mayors of London and Manchester both favour more regulation – and the opposition in Westminster obviously have some fairly strong views.
I suppose the question for landlords is how much is too much? Or perhaps what should balanced regulation really look like?
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