Existing Scheme Summary
Hastings Borough Council Selective Licensing Scheme
In November 2019, Hastings Borough Council commissioned a report to provide a review of progress of the current Selective Licensing Scheme to help inform possible options for a future scheme. The scheme expired in October 2020.
What has happened before?
Hastings Borough Council's Cabinet approved the introduction of a Selective Licensing scheme in March 2015 covering all privately rented accommodation in seven wards: Braybrooke, Castle, Central St Leonards, Gensing, Old Hastings, Ore and Tressell. This followed a detailed assessment of relevant evidence and a wide-ranging consultation exercise in 2014. The scheme lasts for five years. It started on the 26 October 2015 and finishes on 25 October 2020.
We chose the seven wards due to strong evidence of significant and persistent anti-social behaviour (ASB) and a clear link between ASB and private rented homes that private landlords were not dealing with satisfactorily. The purpose of the scheme is to help secure a reduction in ASB, whilst at the same time driving up the management of the private rented sector (PRS) and improving housing standards.
Selective Licensing - Outcomes
We looked at the scheme after two years and found the following:
- Reduction in anti-social behaviour
- Improvements in housing conditions for private tenants
- Improved management standards
- Reduction of empty homes
Year 2 progress was reported to Cabinet in October 2017. It is based largely on data supplied by HBC Housing Renewal Service, along with the results of the Hastings Stock Condition Survey 2016 (HSCS) and police data on crime and anti-social behaviour (ASB).
Reduction in ASB
There has been a significant reduction in ASB since 2015. B. Overall, ASB recorded by the police across the Borough has reduced by 43.7% with all 16 wards experiencing a reduction above the Borough average. The progress in reducing ASB across the Selective Licensing area is welcome and largely because of the strength of partnership working between a whole range of agencies.
Selective Licensing is clearly making a contribution to this outcome through reinforcing the responsibility of landlords and managing agents to address ASB caused by their tenants, with particularly success in the Central St Leonards area. There are real concerns that the significant progress towards achieving this outcome over the past three years could well be reduced when the scheme ends in October 2020, as landlords and managing agents will no longer have a duty to deal with ASB.
Improvements in housing conditions
There is clear evidence that Selective Licensing is leading to improvements in housing conditions. It is estimated that HBC intervention at the three year point has led to around 300 improved homes. Selective Licensing and the need to obtain a licence have helped HBC identify high risk properties requiring intervention, often where tenants would not have risked complaining to their landlord.
The report contains a number of case studies that provide good examples of the type of problems that HBC officers are dealing with. Without the licensing scheme in place it is clear that the landlords concerned would not have carried out the essential repairs and improvements, as in most cases the tenants were reluctant to complain about the problems for fear of revenge eviction and losing their tenancy.
Improved management standards
At the moment there is insufficient evidence to show that housing management standards have improved in the private rented sector. Complaints to the Council's Housing Renewal Service measure standards in private rented homes, as tenants will complain to the Council, only as a last resort, if their attempts to achieve a solution from their landlord or managing agent have not been successful.
Except for Ore ward, the increase in housing complaints since licensing was introduced in 2015 suggests growing tenant concerns with management standards. The increase in housing complaints may indicate a growing problem but may also simply reflect a growing confidence amongst tenants in reporting problems. A further tenant survey to assess satisfaction with living conditions is necessary to assess this further.
Reduction of empty homes
The Selective Licensing wards contain 80% of the Borough's long term empty homes. Between 2013 and 2017 the number of empty homes in the seven wards increased by 33%, from 485 to 645. Since 2017, the number of long term empty homes in the area has started falling but at the three year point there are still 590 empty homes across the area, 22% more than there were in 2013.
Options for a new scheme
The PRS in Hastings has more than doubled over the past 20 years and the evidence suggests that it is continuing to grow. The continued growth in the PRS since the making of the Selective Licensing scheme suggests growing landlord confidence in the area.
Considerable enforcement action including prosecution and the issue of financial penalties has taken place with regard to landlords who have not come forward to license their properties. This has helped maintain the profile of the scheme. However, when the scheme ends there could be over 2,000 PRS dwellings without a Selective Licence.
The options appraisal in the report concludes that a limited area scheme based on six wards: Braybrooke, Castle, Central St Leonards, Gensing, Old Hastings and Tressell, would have the most significant impact on the PRS. Based on current experience of discretionary licensing in the Borough, concentrating HBC resources on licensing PRS dwellings in this smaller area would mean a higher level of property inspections, the identification of more health and safety hazards; and eventually should lead to the improvement of more homes, together with better quality management of the PRS.
Discretionary licensing is an important component of HBC's strategic approach towards dealing with unsatisfactory conditions in the PRS, homelessness and empty homes, as set out in its Corporate Plan and Housing Strategy. The report shows the important inter-relationship between the Houses in Multiple Occupation Additional Licensing scheme and Selective Licensing, especially where ownership is split between freeholders and leaseholders.
The way forward
The progress made against the outcomes agreed in 2015 shows that Selective Licensing is making a positive impact on conditions in the private rented sector in the scheme area, especially in relation to ASB. Selective Licensing does not appear to be having a negative effect on the private rented sector in the area, which continues to grow. The HSCS was based on the scheme area and has highlighted significant problems with non-decent homes and Category 1 hazards in PRS dwellings.
The review of evidence shows PRS conditions in Ore ward to be less of a problem. The options appraisal concludes that selecting a smaller area of the six wards of Braybrooke, Castle, Central St Leonards, Gensing, Old Hastings and Tressell, means it should be possible to inspect a larger proportion of dwellings to identify health and safety hazards and secure improvements with the level of resources available.
On the basis of the evidence in the report it is appropriate to seek a Selective Licensing designation in the six wards on the ground of poor housing conditions.
A designation (permission for a licensing scheme) is not being sought specifically on the ground of a high level of deprivation but four of the six wards are in the most deprived 10% and all have a high proportion of PRS dwellings thus meeting the statutory requirements for making a scheme. It is clear that Selective Licensing combined with other partner activity in these wards would help contribute to a reduction in the level of deprivation.
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