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Councils forced to water down licensing on private landlords

Councils have been forced to water down local regulations on licensing private landlords as part of reforms introduced by the government. 

Since 2010, local councils have had the power to licence landlords across an entire borough or jurisdiction in order to combat issues such as anti-social behaviour in so-called ‘hotspot areas’. 

However, under the reforms, which come into effect from 1 April, councils will require government approval before implementing a licensing scheme if they plan to license a large area or proportion of the market. 

When licensing was originally introduced, local authorities had to obtain confirmation from the secretary of state before a scheme could be introduced. But, in March 2010, a General Approval was issued, which removed the need to obtain confirmation before introducing a licensing scheme. 

The National Landlords Association (NLA) has argued that since then there has been a boom in the number of “blanket licensing schemes” introduced by councils. 

PSE has asked the Local Government Association for a comment on the claims, and the decision to introduce the reforms, but at the time of publication had received no reply. 

In a letter to local authority leaders, housing minister Brandon Lewis MP said: “The blanket licensing approach adopted by some local authorities has major drawbacks. This is because it impacts on all landlords and places additional burdens on reputable landlords who are already fully compliant with their obligations, thereby creating additional unnecessary costs for reputable landlords which are generally passed on to tenants through higher rents. 

“To address this issue, it has been decided to amend the General Approval. With effect from 1 April, local authorities will have to seek confirmation from the secretary of state for any selective licensing scheme which would cover more than 20% of their geographical area or would affect more than 20% of privately rented homes in the local authority area. 

He added that guidance for local authorities on how to seek confirmation for proposed schemes above the thresholds will be published shortly. 

Richard Lambert, chief executive officer at the NLA, said: “We’ve argued solidly since 2010 that councils have been abusing their power to push through blanket licensing schemes.  

“Many local councils won’t like this decision one bit because until now they’ve been their own judges, and the only way for landlords to challenge them has been through the difficult and complex route of judicial review.

“Hopefully this now means that councils who are serious about tackling poor property standards and anti-social behaviour will first look to the extensive existing legal powers they already have to combat the issues.” 

(Image:c. Rui Vieira)

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