Does Selective Licensing Work?

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It’s driving up the quality of rental accommodation and reducing anti-social behaviour. Or it’s destroying Blackpool’s rental market and placing an unfair burden on the majority of landlords. Everyone has an opinion about selective licensing – but who’s right?

In 2012 Blackpool Council introduced a scheme which aimed to improve the South Shore area of town. Known as selective licensing, the scheme means that any landlord within the boundaries of the licensing area (between the Promenade and Seasiders Way, the northern perimeter of the Pleasure Beach and Chapel Street) is required to obtain a licence in order to continue renting the property. To obtain a 5-year licence landlords need to demonstrate that they are meeting a number of criteria which include installing and maintaining smoke alarms, making repairs within a reasonable time, and ensuring electrical appliances rented with the property are safe. So far so reasonable, but it is the additional conditions that have caused consternation amongst landlords. They must take “reasonable and practicable” steps to prevent or reduce anti-social behaviour (ASB). And they have to pay between £670 and £935 (with numerous discounts and penalties for early/late payment) depending on the number of rented units within each property.

The landlord reaction

The licence fee is the immediate and most obvious bone of contention. It is seen as ‘money for nothing’, a fee for which landlord’s receive only burdens and no benefits. But there’s frustration too that landlords are being blamed for a problem that is not their doing. On the one hand every landlord is blamed (and charged) for the lack of care shown by a few. On the other, as one local blog commentator asks, “How can a landlord control anti-social behaviour when the courts usually decline to allow landlords to evict under s8?” The National Landlords’ Association takes a similar view: “The issue of ASB cannot be addressed by licensing – as it does not deal with the underlying issue of ASB.” And far from helping to regenerate areas, the NLA believes that if selective licensing pushes too many landlords out of the market (a trend already noticeable in Blackpool), councils run “the risk of creating ghost areas as community services and shops are reduced.” Additionally, there are concerns that selective licensing schemes may push up rents, and that they may succeed in reducing ASB within their boundaries only to push it somewhere else. They are costly to operate (for landlords and councils), and as more schemes come into being there are worries that banks will pull out of lending within selective licensing areas (NatWest has already done so in some cities), further jeopardising regeneration.

Evidence of success?

In September 2013, The Gazette published an article which identified that “since selective licensing was introduced, the number of criminal incidents [in the licensing area] has dropped to 333 compared to 720 the previous year, and 59 cases have been referred to the anti-social behaviour officer.” The article quoted Coun Gillian Campbell, cabinet member for housing on Blackpool Council, as saying: “Nearly all the landlords have now got on board with the scheme and the area now feels cleaner and refreshed.” Similar schemes are operating in a dozen other areas across the UK. Letting Agent Today found enforcement action in Leeds “had forced a minority of landlords to ‘sell their properties and leave the area’. The Council also said there was less churn in the area, with evidence of less anti-social behaviour: complaints about fly-tipping and graffiti had fallen. “Newcastle too reported that a number of landlords had sold their properties, and that ‘more reliable’ landlords were now carrying out refurbishment works.”

Expanding the scheme

Blackpool Council certainly feels the South Shore example is one worth repeating. On 27 April 2014 Blackpool’s second selective licensing area came into force. The Claremont area covers rented properties between Talbot Road and Gynn Square along the Dickson Road corridor. Speaking to The Gazette, Councillor Campbell said: “What we hope to do in Claremont is have a similar positive effect and make a real difference to people’s housing conditions by making landlords responsible for the behaviour of their tenants and the condition of their properties.”

Have your say

Is selective licensing a price worth paying for improving the quality of rental accommodation in Blackpool? Or does it place far too great a responsibility on landlords for the behaviour of their tenants? Let us know what you think.