Selective licensing should be retained and a national register of landlords created, recommended an independent review on the use and effectiveness of selective licensing commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Selective licensing was introduced under the Housing Act 2004 to help local authorities tackle concerns over anti-social behaviour and low housing demand in designated areas and, as of 1st January 2019, selective licensing schemes were operating in 44 local authorities. The conditions for designated areas were expanded in 2015 to include include poor property conditions, high crime, high levels of deprivation and high migration. In designated areas, a valid licence must be held by the landlord or managing agent of all privately rented properties (with limited exemptions). Compliance with the scheme is enforced by local authorities, who inspect properties in the area, which is funded by licence fees.
The review found that “selective licensing can be an effective policy tool with many schemes achieving demonstrable positive outcomes”, but also indicated that when selective licensing was implemented in isolation, the effectiveness was often limited. “Schemes appear to be more successful as part of a wider, well planned, coherent initiative with an associated commitment of resources – a finding entirely consistent with the aims of the Housing Act,” noted the review.
The overall recommendation of the review was that selective licensing should be retained, however, the report’s authors put forward a number of recommendations to improve the effectiveness of these schemes. Recommendations included expanding the mandatory licence conditions to include a standard requirement on property condition that covers the absence of serious hazards; adding purpose-built student housing and non-profit charitable institutions that are not registered social housing providers to the exemptions; streamlining the licence application process for landlords by allowing local authorities to ask only those questions that they consider relevant to their specific scheme; and consider expanding the range of offences which can trigger a landlord failing the “fit and proper person” test as part of an application for a licence to include breaches of planning law.
The review also recommended the introduction of a national register for landlords, which would identify both themselves and their properties. The review noted that problems for authorities considering or operating a licensing scheme were often related to a lack of data and difficulty identifying rented properties. A national registration scheme “would help greatly in resolving such problems in addition to other, wider advantages such a scheme could offer”.