Commons Gate

The Draft Housing Bill

ODPM Committee 16 Jun 2003

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Witnesses: COUNCILLOR PETER MOLE, Cabinet Member for Housing, and MR JOHN ROBINSON, Director, Development & Enterprise, Gateshead Council; MR KAMAL FAIZI, Divisional Director, Regeneration & Sustainability, and MR IAN DICK, Environmental Health Services Unit Manager, Newham Council, examined.


Q5 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): How far does the Bill fall short of what you want?

Mr Robinson: Generally, there is the Housing Benefit issue ----

Q6 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): I was talking in terms of you asking for a national scheme. I take it that your criticism is that this is not really what you are looking for?

Mr Robinson: It does not actually fall short by too much because, in fact, the Secretary of State will have powers to apply the scheme to high demand areas in special cases. It is just that question of whether those powers are taken now or whether we wait until later. As it stands presently, as I understand it, powers will not be available to authorities like Newham when the Bill becomes law.

Mr Dick: I think we would prefer a system where we could opt into the powers, but at the moment there is a presumption that in high demand housing areas there is no need for a licensing system, the Secretary of State could grant it in special circumstances. We feel there should be a presumption that licensing should be available in both high and low demand areas. There is a further issue about how markets are distorted. For example, in London if one borough decides to do licensing and another borough does not then you are going to have local distortions of the housing market and, therefore, that is another argument for saying we would like some sort of universal system which means that the responsibilities of licensing are shared across regions and across sectors since housing demand does not really know boundaries of local authorities or sectors.


Q22 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): We are going to touch on the conditions of property but can I ask Gateshead what physical conditions would you like to see included in the licensing scheme? Perhaps, Mr Robinson, you might like to say a bit more about that. Will the housing health and safety rating system be adequate in this respect?

Mr Robinson: The procedures that are proposed under that system are fine in themselves, it just seems to us if you are going to license a landlord to let property and to let a particular property, it ought to come up to a certain standard. The Bill provides for gas appliances to be properly tested and electrical appliances. It seems to us that there should be a linkage to general repair levels as well because otherwise effectively the council are condoning the renting out of a property that is in poor condition. Yes, certainly in Gateshead where we have a strong enforcement line on dealing with these conditions, we could use the existing and proposed powers to deal with those problems.

Q23 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): You think the physical conditions which might be contained in the licence would also be linked to the new system?

Mr Robinson: We think so, yes.

Q24 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): What about HMOs, how will the new system affect the physical conditions of HMOs?

Mr Dick: If we have an HMO licensing system, at the moment Newham has a registration scheme which we run, I think, relatively successfully. It has actually been a great boost to our regeneration programme. I think there we have successfully linked in standards of amenities and the standard quality of the accommodation safety to a whole regeneration package for landlords. We have got a lot of them working with us because they can see the benefits of that to their own capital assets. I feel that in the system as proposed it is quite easy to link in standards of quality and safety with the registration, even if you have to phase it in, as we do in Newham, so that you have to give landlords an opportunity to bring properties up to standard over a period of time. That is fine because you can risk assess the needs but I think it is very important - and we would support Gateshead in this fact - that you have to have some sort of minimum quality standard. I think we still have far too many properties that are unfit for human habitation which we are putting people in at the moment because we have no other housing. I do not think that is acceptable at this time and I think we have to move towards a linkage with minimum quality standards. I think that can be done with the proposals for the registration system.

Q25 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): What about local authority HMOs? There has been some criticism that local authorities' own standards do not come up to the best that might be expected.

Mr Faizi: If we had local authority HMOs in Newham - which we do not - we would expect them to have to comply to exactly the same standard. As part of our submission we made it clear that that these standards and the enforcement action should apply right across the board, including the registered social landlords.


Witnesses: MS TERESA PERCHARD, Head of Social Policy and MR ADRIAN DAVIES, Manager, Brighton Citizen's Advice Bureau, Citizen's Advice Bureau; DR MICHAEL BILES, Ombudsman, Independent Housing Ombudsman, examined.


Q61 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): We have touched on this question of tenants and references which is part of the question I was going to ask. The CAB in particular seem to look upon the proposed licensing system as an ideal way of improving properties and it might very well be that, but local authorities nevertheless will want to use the system for that purpose. There is also the other side of the coin which is the behaviour of tenants and the landlord's responsibility to see that the tenants which they put in their properties respect the quality of life of the people who live in the neighbourhood around them. Is that as important to you as the quality of the properties?

Ms Perchard: It is clearly part of the policy proposals here that landlords will be expected to take more responsibility for the behaviour of their tenants. When we move into the area of anti-social behaviour it is by no means the case that that is confined to tenants. As I said, the behaviour is affecting a community and so that is where we look to local authorities to have an impact on people who are home owners. Our anxiety in this area is probably more to do with what support will be available to landlords to help them fulfil this function. It is quite a demanding expectation for some landlords and many landlords in the private rented sector are quite absent as well, leaving day to day property management issues largely to agents. What we also see through our work in areas like New Deal for Communities is that the response to anti-social behaviour in the community needs to be very broad based. It is not just about evictions or removing people from property. It can be about providing more support to individuals, to children, more services in the community and a broad based response is often what is needed to rectify the issue rather than displacing it to another part of town. That is something that my colleague from Brighton may be able to enlarge on.

Mr Davies: What we are talking about is the local authority offering some kind of support to landlords under this particular clause of the Bill. My colleague talked about New Deal for Communities, and we have had very successful implementation of some anti-social behaviour orders in our New Deal for Communities area in east Brighton because the local authority put a support mechanism for individuals in place, so if someone has been identified as exhibiting anti-social behaviour they get to look at what some of the root causes of that behaviour are and to see what support mechanisms are needed for the individual, but we cannot expect private sector landlords, who often may not be present, or their agents acting on their behalf, to do that. We are concerned to make sure that there is some kind of support from the local authority.

Q62 Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): In so far as you do support increasing regulation of landlords, what effect do you think that might have on the supply of properties? Is there a danger that some properties might just be abandoned by landlords and left to rot because they are not prepared to comply with the regulations or say they cannot afford to?

Mr Davies: A city like Brighton and Hove seems to defy those rules of the market because the demand is so high. What we are finding is that people want to live in the city and that is driving prices up. Prices have more than doubled in five years. At the same time that is driving wages down so the gap between people's earning power and the percentage of money that people are spending on their accommodation is increasing.

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