Housing and campaigning charity Shelter says it is concerned at recent announcements by the government that it wants to clamp down on local authority licensing of landlord properties.
The government says blanket schemes such as the one currently undertaken by Liverpool council, and proposed by a number of others, are unreasonable because they hit good landlords without necessarily controlling bad ones, with the cost of the licenses effectively passed to the tenants through likely higher rents.
Brandon Lewis, housing minister, has written to councils to express his concern and to say that from 1 April any blanket licensing scheme will require specific ministerial approval. Specifically this will apply to “any selective licensing scheme which would cover more than 20% of their geographical area or would affect more than 20% of privately rented homes in the local authority area.”
But Shelter is unhappy at the move.
It says that, for example, the government last year gave the London Borough of Newham £1m in funding to assist with its borough-wide selective licensing scheme, and yet now feels such schemes elsewhere require ministerial approval.
“This new measure interferes with councils’ autonomy: local authorities are well placed to decide whether borough-wide licensing is appropriate for them. It also creates another costly hoop for cash-strapped authorities to jump through,” said Shelter spokeswoman Martha Mackenzie.
“What is particularly unwelcome is the way the government have chosen to present this,” said Mackenzie, who took exception to one newspaper article which described licensing as “a tenants’ tax” because it would be passed on to them via higher rents.
“The implication being that borough-wide licensing pushes up rents – and should therefore be opposed by renters. In reality there is little evidence of this. Licensing is an important tool to ensure renters get the best deal from their private landlord. Positioning renters in opposition to licensing is not only disingenuous, it is out of touch when tenants are crying out for reform,” claimed Mackenzie.