Westminster Council has amended its new additional licensing scheme a month after launch in a bid to improve tenants’ living conditions and cut red tape, however critics are questioning whether the move is legal.
The scheme was launched on 30th August but changes took effect on 1st October, meaning that S257 HMOs – buildings converted into self-contained flats which are less than two thirds owner-occupied and don’t comply with building regulations – will now no longer need to get a licence, while conventional HMOs will still be covered.
Westminster Council tells The Negotiator that its recent review highlighted that falling rents might be resulting in worsening living conditions for its most vulnerable residents – particularly those who live in S254 HMOs – placing these tenants at further risk.
It decided to focus all its efforts on pro-actively identifying and inspecting S254 HMOs in order to improve their living conditions. A spokeswoman adds: “This overhaul prioritises protecting the most vulnerable whilst taking a common-sense approach to cutting additional red tape.”
The authority insists it has the power to revoke the designation without the Secretary of State’s approval, however, London Property Licensing (LPL) questions whether the decision is legal and says the concept of a ‘partial revocation’ does not appear in current legislation, which simply imposes a power to revoke the designation following a review. It says the power to partially revoke is something only a court or tribunal can determine.
Richard Tacagni (pictured) LPL’s MD, believes it will cause huge confusion for the lettings industry. He adds: “To change the licensing criteria one month after a scheme starts is something I had never come across before. The legislation requires licensing schemes to be reviewed from time to time and if appropriate, the council can revoke a scheme. Whether the power to revoke a scheme includes the power to amend a scheme is far from clear.”
According to the council’s report, £138,000 of fees have already been paid for S257 HMO licence applications.
The Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities says managing licensing schemes are local decisions and that the process and procedures for doing this are set out in the Housing Act 2004.