How can local authorities improve compliance in the private rented sector? A Scotland Perspective
On 4 November, CaCHE hosted a UK-wide online event to share and discuss findings from three research projects, including our own recent work on improving compliance with legislation in the private rented sector. In this blog, Jim Hayton, Private Sector Officer with Scotland’s Housing Network, offers a perspective from Scotland and reflects on the breakout discussion group with Scotland stakeholders.
The private rented sector (PRS) has grown significantly in the last two decades. In 1999, around 5% of Scottish households lived in the PRS. By 2017, this proportion had grown to 15%. In Scotland we currently have just over 260,000 approved landlord registrations connected to 339,000 properties on the landlord register, making the PRS a significant tenure in its own right, almost on a par with local authorities or RSLs. Consequently the PRS has become home to many who might previously have been housed in the social or owner occupied sectors, and it often contains vulnerable households.
There are therefore challenges associated with the expansion of the PRS. How do we ensure that landlords comply with requirements to ensure that property conditions meet legislative standards, or that the service provided to tenants meets landlords’ legal obligations?
I recently took part in an interesting online UK-wide session, organised by CaCHE, to explore the question: how can local authorities improve landlord compliance in the PRS?
The online session focused on presentations from authors of three recently published reports covering different aspects of compliance in the PRS:
- Journeys in the Shadow Private Rented Sector: produced by London tenant advocacy service, Safer Renting, explored the extent and nature of criminality in the London PRS, particularly from the viewpoint of PRS tenants. It concludes that, without implementing recommendations for changes to law, policy and practice, criminal activity is likely to continue to blight the lives of PRS tenants.
- Improving the PRS – A Guide for Councils: produced by the Housing Quality Network for the Local Government Association, and based on case studies and a linked “Toolkit”, this publication is intended as a good practice guide for councils in England to improve policy and practice in the PRS. Key recommendations include the clear demonstration of corporate leadership and commitment to improving conditions in the PRS from local authorities.
- Improving Compliance with PRS Legislation: produced by CaCHE, this study reports on 13 local authority area case studies and interviews with key stakeholders, providing a comparative analysis and recommendations for improving compliance in the UK PRS.
Following plenary discussion and Q&A on each session we broke into groups representing the constituent nations of the UK. I chaired the group examining PRS compliance issues from a Scottish perspective, and was pleased to be joined by some experienced professionals and academics from Scotland’s PRS sector.
We began by noting the key messages emerging from the research studies, and concluding that, to a greater or lesser extent, all had lessons for Scotland. While not perhaps experiencing aspects of PRS criminality on the scale of the London case studies, we agreed there were sufficient examples in certain areas of Scotland to give cause for concern, and that councils must continue to be vigilant in protecting the welfare and wellbeing of tenants in such areas.
We then focused to some degree on the CaCHE study and recommendations, which we agreed had several elements likely to be of value to local authorities seeking to develop robust and effective strategies for improving standards in the PRS. We found especially helpful the conclusion that an effective PRS strategy was unlikely to focus on one aspect of compliance alone, but was likely to be a balanced blend of different elements. This view was succinctly synthesised in the report’s suggestion of a “Pyramid” approach to compliance. This approach ranged from what might be termed “softer” elements of advice information and support about responsibilities and rights (for landlords and tenants) at the base of the pyramid, to “harder” aspects, including licence suspension and/or removal of landlord/letting agent registration, at the apex.
We noted the CaCHE report’s finding that many UK local authorities may not yet be effective in regulating the PRS, and that to achieve this a marked culture shift may be required across the board. Local authority representatives in particular were pleased to see the authors’ view that this would entail a significant increase in resources from the current level to maximise the chance of success.
We noted several PRS interventions and innovations in Scotland in recent years, including: the introduction of a system of landlord and letting agent registration; a new PRS tenancy with improved tenants’ rights; removal of “no fault” evictions; minimum letting standards for repairs and property conditions (including energy efficiency); the impact of a new Housing Tribunal for the PRS; and enhanced enforcement area powers. In this context the group discussed whether measurable improvements in areas such as landlord compliance and tenant satisfaction were discernible in Scotland, and if so the evidence base for this assertion.
Despite practitioner intuition that there were good reasons for believing progress was being made in Scotland, we concluded that we still have a way to go to demonstrate and evidence successful outcomes across the board.
Date: November 19, 2020 9:16 am
Author(s): Jim Hayton