London Borough of Southwark

If you need help understanding the property licensing rules in Southwark you have come to the right place! We are experts in housing regulation and have produced this free guide to help you understand the council’s property licensing schemes.

If you find that you need a licence for your rented property our support doesn’t end there. Our Landlord Suppliers Directory (view here) lists companies that offer a licence application handling service. You can also find companies offering a wide range of other goods and services to help you manage your property portfolio and achieve compliance.

To help set the scene, the London Borough of Southwark is in South London covering an area of 11 square miles. It is bordered by the boroughs of Lambeth to the west, Croydon and Bromley to the south, Lewisham to the east and with the River Thames to the north. According to the 2011 Census about 24% of the housing stock was privately rented which is marginally below the London average of 25% (1 in 4).

Do I need a licence to rent out my property?

A lot has recently changed in the London Borough of Southwark.  

On 1 January 2016, Southwark Council implemented a borough wide additional licensing scheme together with a selective licensing scheme that covered part of the borough. Both schemes ended on 31 December 2020. The council is consulting on new additional and selective licensing schemes from 15 February to 28 June 2021 and you can find out more information on the council’s website.

There is currently just the mandatory HMO licensing scheme operating in Southwark, a scheme that applies across England.

We have described the mandatory HMO licensing scheme and also outlined the two schemes that recently ended.

1. Mandatory HMO licence

You will need a mandatory HMO licence if your property meets the standard test, self-contained flat test or converted building test HMO definition in section 254 of the Housing Act 2004 and is occupied by five or more people.

But what are these tests and what does this mean in practice? It means you need a licence for any house or flat that is occupied by five or more people who are not all related and live in the property as their main home. For example, it includes:

  • Shared houses and flats occupied by students and young professionals;
  • Properties converted into bedsits with some shared facilities; and
  • Properties converted into a mixture of self-contained and non self-contained accommodation.  

Prior to 1 October 2018, the mandatory HMO licensing scheme only applied to properties that were three or more storeys in height, but that restriction has now been lifted.

The government have decided to exclude purpose built self-contained flats within a block comprising three or more self-contained flats from the mandatory HMO licensing scheme. While this will be good news for some landlords, it does make the licensing scheme far more complicated.

To find out more, you can read our free guide to mandatory HMO licensing (here). 

2. Additional licence

This scheme ended on 31 December 2020.

Until that date, you needed an additional licence if your property was let as a House in Multiple Occupation that did not fall within the remit of the mandatory HMO licensing scheme. So licensing applied to all HMOs in Southwark. This included all house and flat shares occupied by three of more people who are not all related, even if they occupied the property on a single tenancy. Southwark Council included ‘section 257 HMOs’ within the additional licensing scheme.

3. Selective Licensing

This scheme ended on 31 December 2020.

Until that date, you needed a selective licence if your property (house or flat) was let out to a single person, couple or single household and was located in one of the council’s selective licensing areas.

There was a map attached to the scheme designation but the scale was far too small to see exactly what properties were included. The scheme covered seventeen distinct areas, each of which incorporated several residential streets and partial streets – it covered about 134 streets in total.

How much does a licence cost?

The standard mandatory HMO licence fee is £268 per bedroom (was £262.65 in 2018/19, £255 in 2017/18, £250 in 2016/17, £180 in 2014/15) for the first 10 rooms and an extra £161 per bedroom (was £157.59 in 2018/19, £153 in 2017/18, £150 in 2016/17, £60 in 2014/15) after that. So it costs £1,340 to license a shared house with five single person lettings. 

The council offer a 20% discount for landlords accredited through the London Landlord Accreditation Schemeor another approved scheme, so you could save £268 when licensing a property with five lettings.

The fees we have listed are correct as of March 2021 but could be subject to change in the future. The fees can be viewed in full on the council’s website.

How do I apply for a licence?

To apply for a mandatory HMO licence, you can visit the council’s website and click on the ‘Property Licensing Portal’ link.

We understand you can submit a paper application although there is an extra £100 fee to cover the extra administration costs. 

If you need assistance with your licence application, you can find companies offering a licence application handling service in our Landlord Suppliers Directory (here). Whilst we do handle some applications, we have limited capacity and specialise in more complex cases where we provide our clients with expert advice and assistance.

It is important to remember that submitting a licence application is only the start of the licence approval process. To help landlords understand what happens next, we have published a free guide here.

Are there any standards I need to comply with?

Yes, the council’s HMO standards were updated in June 2015 and can be downloaded from the council’s website.

The standards related to bedsit and shared-house type accommodation. These are the most common HMO-types found in the borough. The latest standards include a number of changes to:

  • minimum room sizes.
  • shared living rooms.
  • kitchen and bathroom facilities. 
  • ceiling heights.
  • children in HMOs.

The standards relate to all HMOs covered by the mandatory and additional licensing schemes. It is important document that all Southwark HMO landlords need to be familiar with. 

It is important to note that new absolute minimum bedroom sizes for licensed HMOs have been introduced for HMO licence applications approved on or after 1 October 2018:

  • 4.64m2 for a child under 10 years old
  • 6.51m2 for one person over 10 years old
  • 10.22m2 for two people over 10 years old

The council can still ask for larger minimum sizes. These new minimum sizes will apply throughout England to HMOs licensed under a mandatory HMO or additional licensing scheme.

How many properties has the Council licensed?

In March 2015, Southwark Council told us they had licensed 225 HMOs.

In September 2016, Southwark Council told us they had licensed 572 properties and were processing a further 1,021 applications:

  • 318 licensed under the mandatory HMO licensing scheme;
  • 188 licensed under the additional licensing scheme; and
  • 67 licensed under the selective licensing scheme. 

In May 2018, Southwark Council told us they had licensed 2,197 properties and were processing a further 289 applications:

  • 198 licensed under the mandatory HMO licensing scheme;
  • 1,440 licensed under the additional licensing scheme; and
  • 559 licensed under the selective licensing scheme. 

In May 2019, Southwark Council told us they had licensed 2,868 properties and were processing a further 556 applications:

  • 2,078 licensed under the mandatory HMO and additional licensing schemes; and
  • 790 licensed under the selective licensing scheme.

Southwark Council keeps a public register of licensed HMOs that is regularly updated although it is not available online. The council have told us that if you contact them direct, they can email you a copy or send you a hard copy in the post. 

Are there lots of unlicensed properties still out there?

In May 2019, Southwark Council told us they think there could be around 1,000 properties covered by the mandatory HMO licensing scheme.

Prior to the schemes ending, the council estimated there were up to 9,000 HMOs that needed licensing under the additional scheme and a further 6,000 properties that needed licensing under the selective scheme.

If you are one of those landlords operating without the correct licence, you should apply now to avoid the consequences.

What happens if I don't get a licence?

Ignore the law and you could pay a heavy price. You risk being prosecuted by the Council and if found guilty, you could get a criminal record, be fined an unlimited amount and ordered to pay court costs and a victim surcharge.

Alternatively, the council can issue you with a civil penalty of up to £30,000 for not having the correct licence without any warning being given, so this is really serious stuff. 

You could also be subject to a Rent Repayment Order and may have to repay up to 12 months rental income.

Whilst the property is unlicensed, you can’t use a Notice of Seeking Possession under Section 21 Housing Act 1988 to evict your tenants. 
  
And following a successful prosecution, you would probably fail a fit and proper person assessment, making it very difficult for you to obtain a property licence in the future.

Don’t put your livelihood and reputation at risk. Make sure you comply with the law.

Does the Council take much housing enforcement action?

Southwark Council told us they took fifteen housing prosecutions over the three year period from April 2011 to March 2014. A further eight prosecutions were taken in 2014/15 and eight prosecutions in 2015/16

While they took a break in 2016/17 while implementing their new licensing schemes, they took another fifteen housing prosecutions in 2017/18, so they are definitely stepping up their enforcement action.

Southwark Council did not obtain any Rent Repayment Orders from the landlords of unlicensed HMOs over the seven years from April 2011 to March 2018. This is based on data published by the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary and information supplied by the council.

However, in 2015, a group of five tenants successfully obtained a Rent Repayment Order of £16,263.94 after their landlord was convicted of operating an unlicensed HMO.  

For all the latest information, you can search for housing prosecutions on the Mayor of London’s ‘Rogue landlord and agent checker’, available here.

How many accredited landlords are there?

There are landlord accreditation schemes operated by the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme, the National Landlords Association (NLA) and the Residential Landlords Association (RLA).  

Whilst we don’t have any figures for the NLA or RLA schemes, we have got information about the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme that is supported by all the London Boroughs. In January 2016, they told us there were 560 accredited landlords in Southwark, which was above average when compared to all London boroughs.

By January 2018, there were 620 accredited landlords, by January 2019 there were 751 accredited landlords, by January 2020 there were 830 accredited landlords and by January 2021 there were 926 accredited landlords, which is slightly above average when compared to all the London boroughs. To find out more about becoming accredited, you can visit the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme website here

In addition to training and development, accredited landlords are entitled to various benefits, including discounted licensing fees in some boroughs. If you are not already a member, we would encourage you to think about joining! 

Is the Council planning to introduce any new licensing schemes?

Yes, Southwark Council want to introduce new additional and selective licensing schemes to replace the schemes that ended on 31 December 2020.

On 7 April 2020, a report was presented to the Cabinet proposing a new borough wide additional licensing scheme plus an expanded selective licensing scheme covering either 15 wards or the whole borough. It also proposed a new Landlord Gold Standard Charter (read here – agenda item 19). Whilst the report was approved, the consultation was delayed due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, on 19 January 2021 a further report was presented to the Cabinet with amended licensing proposals, including a phased implementation of selective licensing extending to over 85% of the borough (read here – agenda item 14).

The report was approved and a public consultation is taking place from 15 February to 28 June 2021. You can find out more and take part in the consultation on the council’s website.

There is clearly a lot happening at Southwark so we will monitor the situation closely and keep you posted about any further developments. For all the latest news, you can sign up to our free newsletter.

Do I need planning permission for my HMO?

You will need planning permission if you are changing your property from a single-family property to a house in multiple occupation (HMO) occupied by more than six people. HMOs occupied by more than six people fall within ‘sui-generis’ use for which planning permission is required. You will also need planning permission if you a splitting up a property into smaller self-contained units of accommodation.

For small HMOs, the rules are a bit more complicated. HMOs occupied and shared by between three and six people fall into planning use class C4 whereas single-family properties fall into planning use class C3.

On 27 October 2014, Southwark Council implemented a HMO Article 4 Direction that removes the permitted development rights to change a property from a single-family house (use class C3) to an HMO occupied by up to six people (use class C4) without planning permission. This Article 4 Direction only applies in Henshaw Street, Walworth SE17.

On 27 October 2016, Southwark Council introduced a second immediate HMO Article 4 Direction that applies in Bywater Place, Surrey Quays, London SE16.

It is quite unusual for local authorities to issue immediate HMO Article 4 Directions as it means in some circumstances they may have to pay compensation to developers if an application for planning permission is refused. It also shows how planning restrictions can change quite rapidly.

You can find out more information on the council’s website.

Remember that this is only intended as general advice and no liability can be accepted for any reliance upon information provided. We would strongly encourage you to contact the Council’s Planning Department or seek independent legal advice before you start a new HMO development. 

Can you help me find the goods and services I need?

We certainly can. We understand the challenges of being a private landlord and so we have developed a Landlord Suppliers Directory to provide you with access to the goods and services you need. The Directory concentrates on businesses that operate in the London area.

Whether you a looking for a letting agent, want a property inventory for a new tenancy or fire risk assessment, we have got it covered – and far more besides!

As the leading experts in property licensing, we also offer a range of services ourselves. From handling the licence application process to advice on new HMO developments, we can help to ensure your property business remains compliant. If you need assistance, please drop us a line and see if we can help! 

New suppliers are regularly being added and we would encourage you to take a look. Some of our featured listings also contain YouTube videos, helping you to find out more about the business. 

How do I find out more?

You can contact the council at: 

Private Sector Housing Enforcement and Licensing Team
Southwark Council
Queens Road
PO Box 70063
London SE15 9EG

Email: resi@southwark.gov.uk 
Tel:      020 7525 3114
Website: www.southwark.gov.uk

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At a Glance

Licence Overview

Mandatory HMO licensing scheme applies borough wide. The additional and selective licensing schemes ended on 31 December 2020.

A consultation on proposals for new additional and selective licensing schemes is taking place from 15 February to 28 June 2021.

More Information

Contacting the Council

Tel: 020 7525 3114
Email: resi@southwark.gov.uk
Weblink: Southwark property licensing

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