Mayor of Newham hits out at Government's restrictions on property licensing as milestone reached with borough's scheme

27 March 2015 in Community safety and Council and democracy and Housing and Mayor
Two years after becoming the first local authority in England to introduce borough-wide private rented sector licensing, Newham Council has licensed 100 per cent of its rental properties.
But just as this key milestone was reached, the Government announced proposals that aim to restrict councils from introducing similar schemes, without any formal consultation. From 1 April, any council looking to introduce a licensing scheme covering more than 20 per cent of their area, or 20 per cent of local privately rented homes, will need to obtain permission from the Communities Secretary. Responses from an informal government review of the private rented sector last year found a clear majority of respondents did not want restrictions of this type introduced.

Newham’s scheme was introduced in 2013 to combat anti-social behaviour, improve housing standards and curb overcrowding. In that time, more than 35,000 properties have been licensed. This corresponds with the number of private rented properties in the borough identified in the 2011 census.

The scheme has enabled the council to ban 25 landlords - responsible for 150 properties - who failed to meet the “fit and proper” threshold. They now have to employ a reputable letting agent or property manager to run their housing portfolio properly. In addition, over 1,000 landlords have given the council cause for concern and are on special 12 month licences. The council has also taken 472 prosecutions against private landlords with the highest fine so far reaching £30,000.

In this growing sector, 40 per cent of Newham’s housing stock is now privately rented. Newham Council sought permission from the Secretary of State to begin licensing in a single ward in February 2010. A three year pilot saw a reduction of anti-social behaviour in the ward by 64 per cent while the rental sector continued to grow. Borough wide licensing was subsequently introduced because the evidence showed anti-social behaviour was connected to the rental sector throughout Newham.

Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham hit out at the announcement from housing minister Brandon Lewis saying: “These overly bureaucratic measures from the government will strangle councils’ ability to tailor licensing schemes to local needs. Local authorities and residents are in the best position to determine whether a property licensing scheme is needed for their area, not Whitehall. Strong evidence is already required to introduce borough-wide licensing so this is redundant legislation, creating more hoops for local authorities to jump through.

“Good landlords have nothing to fear from private rented sector licensing and we have the support of many local landlords and agents. Our focus has always been ensuring tenants are living in safe conditions that they are secure in their legal rights and the borough’s streets are not blighted with anti-social behaviour. The housing minister wants to introduce this restriction with no formal consultation. I have written to him setting out my concerns, asking that these plans are stopped and a consultation opened to allow interested parties to contribute their views.”