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Oxford City Council’s Selective Licensing Scheme – A Scrutiny

Oxford City Council’s Selective Licensing Scheme – A Scrutiny

Oxford City Council’s Selective Licensing Scheme – A Scrutiny

Unfavourable Statistics

As often seen in University towns, Oxford has a large proportion of rented properties, just under half its entire housing stock at 49.3%. Over the years, the Oxford City Council has been making a concerted effort towards improving the conditions of the rental properties for the tenants occupying them and the management of the occupied properties. In a recently published report towards Selective Licensing Scheme it states that a fifth (6,200) of the 30,500 homes in Oxford’s private rented sector have a serious housing hazard.

Additionally, it also states, in the last five years the council has received 3,360 complaints from private renters about 2,990 properties – around 1 in 10 of all privately rented homes. During this time the council has served 2,451 housing and public health notices and carried out 4,058 investigations into anti-social behaviour related to private rented housing. Naturally these statistics do not portray the landlords or their properties in favourable light; but they raise a few questions. What proportion of these 2,990 properties were managed by a managing agent on behalf of the landlord? What proportion of these 4,058 investigations were carried out at properties managed by a managing agent on behalf of the landlord?

Cost Vs Benefit

There are an estimated 30,508 homes in Oxford of which 4,400 are estimated to be HMOs (only 14.4% of private rented homes). Selective licensing would cover the remaining 26,108 family homes. The proposed fee for a selective licence is £480 for a five-year licence (of course there are various discount options proposed as part of the scheme) but at best case this will be an income of over £12.5 million for the Oxford City Council over five years averaging at £2.5 million per year if 100% offtake at no discounts is assumed. As part of the scheme, an inspection will be prioritised by looking at the property history, the landlord/manager’s history of compliance and the information provided in the application. Where a property is managed by an accredited letting agent such as College and County or an accredited landlord, then only a sample of properties will be inspected. This implies that there is a high probability that a privately rented property via a managing agent may not be inspected through the course of its 5-year license at all, unless the tenants raise a concern with the Council of their living conditions. This is the current recourse already in place for tenants with no clear additional benefit achieved with a license.

Also, the supporting documentation to the report mentions that the following information will be required as part of the application for the license:

·        Current gas safety certificate

·        Current Energy Performance Certificate

·        Information about smoke alarms / detectors

With the legislative changes implemented in June 2020 towards mandatory Electrical Safety Checks at all properties including non-HMOs, it is worrying to note that the cost of implementing them incurred by the landlords may be of no immediate consequence as it does not even feature as an essential requirement towards obtaining a license.

The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) is considerably critical of this proposal. The NRLA believes that the Oxford City Council’s previous schemes have led to rents increasing, and to those on lower incomes in the city being driven out of it, as the council seeks to rehouse people in Birmingham and elsewhere.

Risk of ‘entrepreneurial bureaucracy’

In the Selective Licensing Scheme, the most clear-running theme is and will continue to be the importance of enforcement of all properties. Without across the board enforcement, licensing would become a burden on those seeking to comply, leaving those willing not to do so, those operating within the shadow lettings market, with an advantage. It would be important to avoid the perception of ‘entrepreneurial bureaucracy’, the taking of license fees from compliant landlords to pay to tell them that they were compliant, rather than identifying and cracking down on those providing homes with category 1 and 2 health risks.

If you would like to know more please visit https://www.oxford.gov.uk/propertylicensingguidance and if you would like to participate in a consultation event of give your feedback please visit https://www.oxford.gov.uk/propertylicensing. The feedback questionnaire for the scheme is also available at https://online.ors.org.uk/questionnaire/610E24.

-- Written by Sonali Deshpande --