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Government Plans Will Increase Homelessness In Portsmouth

Government Plans Will Increase Homelessness In Portsmouth

As an association, we are attempting to fight off the latest proposed increase in HMO legislation that would increase the number of HMOs requiring licences and renderl roughly 200 small rooms in the City illegal. These are currently let to happy tenants. Tony is the architect of our response to the various bodies involved and following a reminder, Flick Drummond MP has forwarded our concerns to Brandon Lewis, the Housing Minister. The arguments are summarised as follows and taken from our consultation response:

As Portsmouth has one of the highest levels of  overcrowding in the UK, we are very concerned that well intentioned Government measures may have unforeseen consequences. Primarily a reduction in accommodation available to single people on low incomes and the vulnerable.

Homeless1

As it is likely that Portsmouth has more small rooms affected by these proposals than other cities we have concentrated on this part of the consultation. We also have seen and endorse the submissions made by the Residential Landlords Association.

As we sit on the local HMO Licensing Governance Board in Portsmouth, a city that is trying to make 'additional" licensing work, we can comment from our in-depth experience, being aware that what we see here cannot be unique. Thus we have a few comments to make with regard to extending licensing.

The photos were taken in Portsmouth on 14th December 2015 to illustrate the gravity of the situation. The individuals consented and none appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Homeless2

Consultation Executive Summary

Part 1a- Extending mandatory licensing to smaller HMOs

• In two and a half years of 'Additional" licensing already covering most of the HMOs in the City we have yet to see any significant impact on the worst properties and landlords.

• We can see that it has resulted in small improvements in the safety of occupants.

• We believe this has been at considerable cost to landlords who have had to pass costs on to tenants.

• It has resulted in a greater shortage of rooms available to those at the bottom of the ladder. It is not possible to create a viable HMO reliant on the LHA shared room rate.

• Welfare reforms have increased numbers in this sector with no thought for increasing supply.

• To get any significant impact under HMO licensing a local authority housing standards department needs specialist skills and experience which are unusual in smaller local authorities. Larger LAs can already opt into 'Additional" licensing to cover particular HMOs as they feel necessary.

There are already enough powers available to LAs and more thought needs to be given to their effective use and learning from best practice. This needs to be done by those without a vested interest in preserving jobs in a time of cuts.

The Prime Minister promised "to crackdown on the unscrupulous landlords who cram houses full of illegal migrants, by introducing a new mandatory licensing regime". If, where we already have licensing, it is not being effective what difference will extending the scope make? We need unbiased research before going further.

Part 1b- Treatment of Poorly Converted Blocks of Flats

Homeless3

In Portsmouth we already have additional licensing which covers most Section 257 HMOs in the city. Licensing them has been very problematic and all issues need to be addressed before more property is included under these rules. For example:

• 2 up 2 downs divided into 2 flats with perhaps only 2 occupants are section 257 HMOs, they may have no common parts for the LA to inspect.

• They can be hard to find, notify of new regulations and take enforcement action against.

• Who is responsible, the freeholder or the leaseholder, can often be difficult to determine.

Bruce Lomax of Portsmouth City Council thinks very few councils have attempted to licence 257s under additional licensing and for good reasons so he should be consulted.

Part 1c- Raising standards in the HMO sector

To quote from the 2014 CLG select committee report (2):

"First, there has to be better, simpler regulation. The Government should have a wide- ranging look at the legislation covering the sector and put in place a much simpler, more straightforward regulatory framework. Once it does this, it should launch a campaign to publicise this new framework, to ensure that all tenants and landlords are fully aware of their rights and responsibilities."

The government rejected a full review which is regrettable and have not addressed the need for clear landlord guidance on standards, leaving LAs to provide variable quality information. A central source for basic HMO standards would be more cost effective and easier for landlords to find.

Part 2- National minimum room sizes (for HMOs)

Portsmouth, having the highest population density in the UK, has a number of rooms under 6.5 sq m. Other cities will have areas where small rooms will not be unusual.

If we could let our empty, small rooms in Portsmouth, we estimate we could currently provide homes for 96 homeless people, â…” of those homeless living on the streets of Portsmouth.

If the Government introduce a 6.5 sq m minimum room size in HMOs we will make 194 more people homeless. An increase of 130%.

â–ª The property should be considered as a whole under existing overcrowding regulations. (3) It is the state of the whole property that puts an occupant at risk, not one small room.e a 6.5 sq m minimum room size in HMOs we will make 194 more people homeless. An increase of 130%.

â–ª The area of the room is not as important as the layout. There is no evidence that well-arranged rooms under 6.5 sq m cause any problem.

â–ª Many occupants, especially students, are very happy in rooms down to 5.5 sq m.

â–ª Many tenants will not be able to afford larger rooms.

â–ª Do those in favour of the restriction understand what, say a 6 sq m room might look like?

We think the proposals are be a knee jerk reaction to the overcrowding problem with little thought being given to the consequences for the poor and vulnerable occupants.

Existing small rooms should not be condemned to make decisions a little easier for council officers. In an ideal world there would be decent sized rooms for everyone but the sad reality today is that even a 5 sq m room is safer and more comfortable than a cardboard box in a doorway. We condemn overcrowding but believe that local authorities should use existing powers to tackle what are already illegal operations.

 

Written & oral information and advice from the Portsmouth & District Private Landlord's Association is given in good faith, but no responsibility whatsoever is accepted by the Association or it's officers for the accuracy of it's information & advice nor shall the Association be held responsible for the consequences of reliance upon such information.

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