Hounslow Council drop plans for additional licensing scheme following threat of legal challenge

Saturday, September 7th, 2019 - Residential Landlords Association

Hounslow Council has u-turned on plans for a licensing scheme for landlords following representations made by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) and Safeagent (formerly the National Approved Letting Scheme).

On 9 July 2019, the council’s cabinet agreed to proceed with plans for an additional licensing scheme. The scheme designation was made on 1 August 2019 and was due to come into force on 1 November 2019. A licensing consultation had been undertaken earlier in the year (read here).

The new borough-wide scheme applied to all Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) occupied by three or more people, with a flat rate application fee of £1,250 per property for up to five years.

The RLA threatened the Council with judicial review on the basis that their licensing consultation was flawed in a number of respects, including:

  • It failed to provide any information upon which the plans for the scheme were being made.
  • No information was provided to prove the ineffective management of Houses of Multiple Occupation for which such schemes are generally used.
  • It failed to outline, as is required by law, how such a licencing scheme would be consistent with the council’s housing strategy and what conclusions the council had reached about potential alternative ways of addressing the problems this scheme was seeking to address.
  • Whilst the consultation proposed that the scheme be adopted across the whole Borough it made reference to applying it across a smaller area without giving respondents to the consultation any information about what this might look like. This gave the clear impression that the Council had made up its mind before the consultation began.
  • Although much of the information about the above was presented to the Council’s cabinet, these papers could not be found on the council’s consultation page for respondents to access.

After raising these concerns, we understand the council’s lawyers have now contacted the RLA to confirm that it will not take forward the decision by the Cabinet to introduce the additional licencing scheme, and will now reconsider the way forward, including carrying out a new consultation.

David Smith, Policy Director for the Residential Landlords Association, said:

We welcome today’s news. Hounslow Council had failed to consult on its plans properly. We are glad that they have had the courage to admit this and think again.

Rather than seeking to re-consult on its proposals, the Council should consider the reality that they can already access a wealth of information on landlords from council tax returns, tenancy deposit schemes and the electoral roll. Rather than tying good landlords up with red tape whilst the criminals continue operating under the radar, the Council needs to develop proper enforcement strategies focussed on rooting out those who bring the sector into disrepute. Licensing does not achieve this.

Isobel Thomson, Chief Executive, safeagent, added:

This is a victory for common sense – we are pleased Hounslow Council took on board the issues we raised about the validity of their proposed scheme. It is important that Councils do not just automatically view licensing as the panacea for all ills in the PRS. There are other existing options at their disposal which could be used more sensibly and would not involve the cost or the level of administration that licensing does.

Any landlords who have already submitted licence applications under the new scheme should now be entitled to a full refund.

A free guide containing more detailed information about property licensing in the London Borough of Hounslow is available here.

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