THE Government’s decision to turn down Liverpool’s application to continue operating a city-wide landlord licensing scheme pretty much gives rogue landlords license to blight tenants’ lives, say the city authorities.
City Mayor Joe Anderson is writing to the Government to express “grave concerns” at the decision, after communities secretary Robert Jenrick MP rejected the city’s application to keep the scheme going for five years from April 2020.
This was despite it being backed by Merseyside Police, Mersey Fire & Rescue Service, and most residents who responded to a consultation on the scheme.
According to the Government, Liverpool’s application “did not demonstrate robust evidence to support the existence of low housing demand across the whole city”; a view rejected by the council, which is asking for more detail on the decision was reached.
“This decision is not only ill-thought through and short-sighted, it also puts the lives of some of our most vulnerable tenants at risk,” said Anderson. “This decision flies in the face of the Government’s tough talk on housing standards, particularly around fire safety in rented properties.
“Over the last five years our officers have come across people whose landlords are happy to take their rent while allowing them to live in appalling conditions with unsafe electrics, gas supply and no fire doors to protect them in the event that a blaze breaks out.
“The Landlord Licensing scheme has enabled us to create a team to be able to hit the streets every day and carry out inspections of properties and bring rogue landlords to book. It is not just about raising housing standards – it is about protecting and saving lives.”
Government approval is needed for landlord licensing schemes covering more than 20% of a council area. Liverpool wanted to continue with a citywide scheme due to the size and scale of the issues it says it faces with the private rented sector in the city, which accounts for up to half of housing in some areas and covers 55,000 properties in total.
The decision will “severely hamper” attempts to drive up standards in the private rental sector and keep vulnerable tenants safe – particularly in relation to fire safety in rented properties, the council claims.
Overall, 70% of inspected properties in Liverpool have been found to be in breach of their licence condition since the scheme was launched in 2015, uncovering serious hazards such as fire, electrical safety and excess cold.
The council has carried out over 37,000 compliance actions, issued more than 2,500 legal and fixed penalty notices and prosecuted almost 250 landlords.
The impact has meant that Liverpool alone has been responsible for 389% of the 460% national rise in prosecutions between 2012 and 2018.
Without the scheme, the council says it will not have the same powers to gain access to properties to carry out inspections and enforcement, and the capacity to carry out proactive enforcement will be “severely diminished”.
The council is asking for detailed clarification on the reasons for the rejection of the application to renew the scheme, and the evidence that the Government relied on. The council also said it will consider a legal challenge to the decision.
“We’ve made massive progress and led the way nationally in tackling poor housing conditions and bad property management, but we believe we need to continue with the scheme beyond 2020 to continue making a difference and drive up standards in the sector,” said Councillor Lynnie Hinnigan, deputy mayor and the city council’s cabinet member for housing.
“Every single penny we get is ringfenced for the landlord licensing service, with our team out on the streets every day inspecting properties, chasing disrepairs and taking landlords to court when they don’t sort out the problems. It is devastating that our ability to protect our most vulnerable residents is being taken away from us.”
Anderson added: “This Government has already taken away £436 million of our funding since 2010 and is now weakening our power to improve housing standards for those who are part of generation rent to the bare minimum.
“All of the talk of devolution away from Whitehall rings hollow when we see ministers in London making vital decisions about cities like Liverpool and other areas they never step foot in.”