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National HMO Lobby



A Response to the Consultation on
General Consents for Licensing Schemes

1 The National HMO Lobby is a national network of local community associations concerned about the impact on their communities of concentrations of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). The Lobby currently comprises some forty associations in over thirty towns throughout the UK (for more information, see our website). The Lobby has contributed to earlier consultations on the private rented sector (PRS) in general and on HMOs in particular, including Implementation of HMO Licensing (2005), The Supply of Rented Housing (2006), and Private Rented Sector Review (2008). Most recently, our members comprised the majority of the respondents to the consultation on Houses in multiple occupation and possible planning responses (2009). The Lobby is pleased to respond to the consultation on General Consents for Licensing Schemes.

Should the existing approval process be kept in place for either additional HMO licensing and/or selective licensing?

2 No, the Lobby does not consider that the existing approval process should be retained, for either additional or selective licensing. We note the small number of successful applications for both additional HMO licensing (four local authorities) and for selective licensing (twelve local authorities). We know from our own advocacy of, and participation in, such applications that the workload involved, combined with the uncertainty of the outcome, is a significant deterrent to local authorities. This has meant that valuable legislation has not been implemented nearly as widely as is warranted.

Should we introduce a general consent for all local authorities in England?

3 Yes, the Lobby considers that the government should introduce a general consent for all local authorities (LAs) in England. The existing procedure has limited the impact of valuable legislation. Meanwhile, other countries of the UK enjoy much greater liberality in licensing. In Scotland, for instance, all HMOs require a licence. And in Wales, the Assembly has already introduced a general consent for all local authorities.

Should we introduce a general consent for specific local authorities based on their experience of using the licensing powers?

4 No, the Lobby considers that any general consent should not be restricted to local authorities who already have discretionary licensing designations in place. This will simply perpetuate the disadvantages of the present regime, noted above (para 2). To be sure, further implementation will be eased for those (few) LAs who have already successfully surmounted the hurdle of applying to the government for approval. But all other LAs will remain as they are. This approach would make no significant contribution to wider implementation of valuable legislation.

Should a general consent for specific local authorities based on specific criteria such a performance under comprehensive area assessment (CAA) be introduced?

5 No, the Lobby considers that any general consent should not be restricted to LAs who meet criteria other than experience of licensing powers. This would clearly lead to anomalous situations. On the one hand, LAs who meet other criteria, but lack licensing experience, would enjoy a fast track to discretionary licensing. On the other hand, LAs with licensing experience, but without other qualifications, would remain in the slow lane. This approach would be widely perceived as unfair.

What additional criteria, if any, should be introduced for establishing selective licensing schemes?

6 The Lobby considers that further criteria should be introduced for selective licensing schemes, in addition to low demand and antisocial behaviour.
6.1 The Summary of responses (2010) to the consultation on Houses in multiple occupation and possible planning responses (2009) demonstrated clearly the widespread problems posed to local communities and their LAs by concentrations of HMOs (94% of respondents reported such problems). The root of these problems is twofold: the polarisation of neighbourhoods towards one type of tenure; and the consequent domination of the neighbourhood by a transient population. HMOs are of course typified by short-term tenancies. But turnover is high in the PRS in general (the average length of stay is only eighteenth months). Provision of short-term accommodation is essential, of course - but when it dominates a neighbourhood, it becomes destructive of local community cohesion. (Antisocial behaviour ensues, which may in turn lead to low demand.)
6.2 Similar conclusions are drawn in the new Evaluation of the Impact of HMO Licensing and Selective Licensing (2010). Simple concentrations of the PRS have a destabilising impact on communities, undermining cohesion. The introduction of selective licensing has a beneficial effect. "[Selective] licensing … was seen as key to achieving improved community cohesion and reducing concentrations of deprivation (section 9.4.5, p139)." "Section 10.9 Neighbourhood and community cohesion: Although [selective] licensing was not set up specifically to improve these aspects, because it is being implemented as part of a much wider package, it is contributing to neighbourhood improvements ... The baseline report highlighted that transience was a problem in many areas being considered for selective licensing ... Owner occupiers felt trapped as they could not move out to higher priced areas and, in many cases, did not want to be 'forced out' ... Licensing is seen by the local authorities with designations as part of a package of measures to make the area a better place to live so that people will choose to move there and to stay. Residents certainly also hope that this will happen (section 10.9, p183)."
6.3 A recent report by the University of Sheffield, Changing UK: the way we live now (2008) identified communities with the lowest levels of cohesion: all comprised transient populations, especially student populations in HMOs.
6.4 A further criterion for selective licensing should therefore be a high concentration of the PRS in a neighbourhood.

7 The National HMO Lobby welcomes the consultation on general consents for discretionary licensing. The recent consultation on Houses in multiple occupation and possible planning responses (2009) revealed the intractable problems generated by unrestrained development of the PRS. The consultation convincingly showed the need for planning legislation. At the same time, "All of the councils who currently experience problems relating to high concentrations of HMOs recognise the advantages of best practice measures" (Summary of responses, para 3.55). Such 'good practice' includes HMO licensing. In order to be able to manage the PRS well, all LAs would benefit from the ability more easily to introduce discretionary licensing schemes.

February 2010


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