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Wirral Council expands selective licensing in 6 other areas

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Wirral council has designated, selective licensing, in 6 other areas under its control.

The designated 6 areas are parts of Birkenhead and Seacombe, described in the council Schedule, as being subject to selective licensing, from 1st July 2020. The designation map may be inspected between 9.00 and 17.00 on weekdays at the Council’s address which is: Wirral Council, Housing Services, Town Hall, South Annexe, Brighton Street, Wallasey, Wirral, CH44 8ED. Tel: 0151 691 8114 or email: [email protected]

A landlord or a person managing a property, who is required to have a license, within the areas of the designation, should contact the council. The Council will be able to advise, whether a property is affected by the designation. If you require a licence application, or any general advice regarding the designation you should contact the Selective Licensing Team within Housing Services at the address, telephone or email below.

Landlords and person having control of, or managing a licensable property without a licence, are liable to prosecution under Section 95(1) of the Act and upon summary, a conviction is liable to an unlimited fine or under Section 249A a financial penalty not exceeding £30,000.

Also, landlords may be required, pursuant to a rent repayment order, to repay up to 12 months’ rent under the provisions of Section 96 and Section 97 of the Act.

Wirral council guide; What is selective licensing?

Selective licensing is a legal power under the Housing Act 2004. This allows local councils, to introduce a requirement for private landlords, in areas where there is evidence of low demand in housing, and/or persistent anti-social behaviour to hold a license.

Why introduce selective licensing in Wirral?

The introduction of a Selective Licensing Scheme in specific, targeted areas of low demand.  This will help to stabilise these neighbourhoods, by declaring an intention to drive up property management practices. This improves property standards, in the private rented sector.  This will help to align other services and support for improving the area. Almost one in three properties, within Wirral’s private rented sector, fails to meet the Decent Homes Standard. This has a detrimental impact, on the health and welfare of tenants, and local communities. It also impacts negatively on areas where the housing market is already depressed. Showing high numbers of vacant properties, low house prices, a high turnover of tenants and depressed rental values.

Who needs a licence?

In areas where Selective Licensing is applied, all private landlords, who are letting out a home will be required to hold a licence. To qualify for a licence, a licence holder must be able to demonstrate, that they are acting within the law and taking adequate steps to manage their properties and keep them safe. Besides, a ‘fit and proper’ person test will be applied, to test the license holder’s suitability to manage a tenancy. Social Landlords (e.g. Riverside, Regenda, Magenta Living) are not required to apply for a licence, as they are already regulated by the government’s Homes and Community Agency.

Will the Council roll out the Scheme across the whole borough?

No, not at the moment. Wirral Council does not intend to roll the scheme out across the whole borough. Wirral has distinct small pockets of low demand housing concentrated in the east of the borough. which contrasts markedly, to the thriving housing markets, elsewhere in the borough. By focusing on resources in the areas, displaying the worst problems of low demand. The Council hopes to achieve better outcomes, for some of the most vulnerable tenants in the borough. Once the impacts of the scheme in the pilot areas have been evaluated. The council may look, to introduce further areas, in the future, if funding is available, at that time.

What does ‘fit and proper’ mean?

This is something the government introduced as law in the Housing Act 2004. We want the housing and the tenants to be managed properly and fairly, and not to be at risk. The legislation states, that if a person has a qualifying offence, the council must have regard to it. Spent convictions may not be taken into account, for the fit and proper person check. All private landlords in the selective licensing areas will have to pass this test. If they don’t, we will refuse them a licence. Unless they can give us an alternative solution, such as allowing a competent letting agent, to manage the property, on their behalf.

How long do licences last?

Licenses will be applicable for a maximum of 5 years (until 30th June 2020). Unless enforcement action against the landlord has been taken, within the previous two years, due to poor property management practices. In this case, an initial 1-year licence will be issued. Which will be reviewed annually, but can be upgraded to a full licence, on meeting all the licensing conditions.

What if a landlord is not complying with selective licensing?

If landlords don’t come forward and apply for a licence, in a reasonable timescale. The council can apply to the Courts, for them to be prosecuted, for failing to licence. A landlord may be fined, an unlimited fine (this was previously capped at £20,000) for failing to have a licence. If they breach any of the terms and conditions of the licence. For example, not having safe property standards. The council can apply to the Courts, for prosecution as the landlord is committing an offence, and may be liable for a fine of up to £5,000. In extreme circumstances, the council has the power to take over the management of the property. The legislation also allows the council or tenants (depending on who pays the rent) to apply, for a Rent Repayment Order. If rent has been paid, on a property that should have had a license. Furthermore, a landlord cannot issue a Section 21 Notice to recover possession of their property, unless a license has been applied for. Wirral Council will work with all landlords, in a licensing area, to make sure they can comply with the terms of their license, before taking any action. Sanctions will only be used, where all attempts to work with the landlord, have failed.

Will selective licensing, drive landlords to sell their properties?

From the schemes operating in other areas, there has been no evidence, to suggest that it has harmed reputable private landlords. The council regularly holds a landlord forum, which allows landlords to engage with officers. This will continue to enable landlords to feedback on their experiences. There are a small minority of ‘rogue landlords’ who give a negative impression of private landlords. These landlords are often undercutting, reputable landlords by offering cheap, poorly maintained and badly managed accommodation. Tenants are then moving in and very quickly moving out again. This causes a high turnover of tenants and does not assist, in promoting a sustainable community. Selective licensing is an effective way of dealing with these issues.

Landlords can contact, Landlord Advice UK to obtain free advice on selective licensing on 020 3903 2000

Author: Peter Phillips

Date: 17th of March 2020

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