Liverpool City Council launch Judicial Review of government decision not to renew its citywide selective licensing scheme

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020 - Liverpool City Council

Liverpool City Council have launched a legal challenge against the government after permission to renew their citywide selective licensing scheme was refused (read here). The council has said their application for Judicial Review was filed with the High Court on 3 April 2020.

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said the council had “a moral obligation” to tens of thousands of residents living within the city’s private rented sector to ensure the pioneering scheme continued.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick turned down the application to keep the citywide scheme going until 2025 despite it being backed by Merseyside Police, Mersey Fire and Rescue Service and the majority of residents who responded to a consultation.

The Mayor has instructed the council to pursue legal action after being unhappy with the minister’s “inadequate reply” when asked to clarify the government’s position.

Over the past five years, all property owners, landlords and managing agents in Liverpool have been legally required to licence any property unless a statutory exemption applied – but the scheme ended on 1 April 2020 after the government turned down a renewal application.

According to the council, 51,764 property licences had been granted to 10,074 licence holders and the council had undertaken over 34,000 compliance checks. They found that 65% of properties were not fully complaint with licence conditions at first visit.

The council say they discovered 3,375 of serious category 1 and lower level category 2 hazards under the housing health and safety rating system, ranging from fire safety to significant damp and mould, serious disrepair and excess cold.

The council undertook over 300 successful prosecutions that led to fines and in one case a custodial sentence for offences including operating unlicensed properties, breaches of licence conditions and failure to comply with legal notices. The council report that over 2,600 legal notices were served and 87 civil financial penalties issued.

Alongside the Judicial Review, the council have said they are actively looking at submitting another application to the government for a substantial landlord licensing scheme.

Until then, the city council will continue to use its statutory powers to provide help and advice for tenants and landlords, focusing on the licensing and inspection of the 3,000 houses of multiple occupation (HMO), as well as investigating complaints and referrals about private sector housing in Liverpool.

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson, said:

The decision not to renew the Landlord Licensing scheme was a disgrace – it defied logic and has put the lives of some of our most vulnerable tenants at risk.

As a result of the scheme, the safety conditions of 3,570 properties were improved but the scale of the issues we found is frightening and that’s why we produced the evidence to show why we need to continue the scheme.

Despite asking for clarity from the Government, who always talk tough on housing standards, their reply has been totally inadequate and on behalf of all those residents who have benefitted from the scheme a Judicial Review has to be issued.

The council has a moral obligation to protect people from rogue landlords. Many in the private rented sector are good landlords but unfortunately there is a sizeable minority that need to be tackled.

Over the last five years our officers have come across people whose landlords are happy to take their rent while allowing them to live in appalling conditions with unsafe electrics, gas supply and no fire doors to protect them in the event that a blaze breaks out.

The Landlord Licensing scheme has enabled us to create a team to be able to hit the streets every day and carry out inspections of properties and bring rogue landlords to book. It is not just about raising housing standards – it is about protecting and saving lives, which is why Mersey Fire and Rescue Service and Merseyside Police have been so supportive.

This Government has already taken away £444 million of our funding since 2010 and has now weakened our power to improve housing standards for those who are part of generation rent to the bare minimum.

All of the talk of devolution away from Whitehall rings hollow when we see ministers in London making vital decisions about cities like Liverpool and other areas they never step foot in.

The outcome of the Judicial Review will be watched with interest by local authorities across the country. Under rules introduced in 2015, all selective licensing schemes covering over 20% of the borough or 20% of private rented homes require approval by the Secretary of State (read here).

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