Portsmouth Among Worst Performing Local Authorities
Portsmouth City Council has been ranked the eighth worst in the country for its enforcement of private sector housing, according to a recent report compiled by the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA). They evaluated all 326 local authorities in England based on the number of hazards in private rented accommodation and the enforcement action taken by the council to address these issues.
Is It Important?
Private rented accommodation is a significant and growing sector in the UK, and it is the responsibility of local authorities to ensure that landlords are meeting their legal obligations to provide safe and decent housing for their tenants. This includes ensuring that properties meet minimum standards for health, safety, and hygiene, and that landlords address any issues that arise promptly.
However, the report found that Portsmouth City Council is failing to take adequate enforcement action to protect tenants living in private rented accommodation. The council received a score of just 1.4 out of 5 for its enforcement of housing standards, putting it in the bottom 2.5% of all local authorities in the country.
There are several reasons why Portsmouth City Council has performed so poorly in this area. One key issue is a lack of skilled resources – figures show that staff training is well below the national average. The council has faced significant budget cuts in recent years, which have impacted its ability to carry out essential services, including housing enforcement. This has been exacerbated by a focus on HMOs at the expense of all other problems. Nine out of the ten 'bad housing' examples reported so far this year in the local newspaper have been in the social housing sector and those in the private rented sector reported over the past year, such as Windsor House, are not HMOs - yet Portsmouth continues to focus a disproportionate amount of its resources on the HMO sector.
Another issue is a lack of political will to tackle the problem. Despite the growing awareness of the issues facing renters in the private sector, some local authorities are reluctant to take action against landlords who flout the law. This may be due to concerns about the impact on the local housing market or a belief that tenants should be responsible for their own living conditions.
Finally, there is a lack of awareness among tenants about their rights and how to report issues to their local council. Many renters are unaware of the minimum standards that their landlord must meet or are reluctant to speak out for fear of retaliation from their landlord.
The consequences of poor enforcement of private sector housing standards can be severe. Hazards in private rented accommodation can lead to serious health problems, including respiratory problems, asthma, and carbon monoxide poisoning. In some cases, these hazards can even be life-threatening. Tenants who live in hazardous accommodation are also more likely to suffer from stress and anxiety, which can impact their mental health and overall wellbeing.
The reasons for Portsmouth's poor performance become clearer when you consider information collated by the NRLA in their survey of all local authorities in England.
Firstly, Portsmouth has a high number of private rented sector (PRS) properties, PCC estimated 17,985 properties. Sadly, this confirms how weak PCC are in terms of data management or analysis. We have long argued that their estimate of 6,000 HMOs is wildly inaccurate (it is actually less than half of that on a number of measures).The 2021 census recorded 24,855 homes in the private sector and 15,507 in the social sector– considerably more than PCCs estimate. Given the large size of the rented sector here it is somewhat surprising that the local authority has zero qualified Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) whose main job is to enforce standards in the PRS, this is significantly lower than the average of three qualified EHOs per council and contrasts with Leeds which has a rental sector 3x bigger than Portsmouth, yet they have 36 qualified EHOs.
Moreover, the council does not have a policy of inspecting property prior to issuing mandatory HMO licenses. Additionally, there is no information on how long it takes for a typical mandatory HMO license application to be processed and issued. A spokesperson for the NRLA said, "The vast majority of councils do have an inspection policy prior to issuing a HMO licence and the majority of councils did have information on how long it takes to process a HMO licence"
The number of complaints received from tenants relating to PRS housing is also relatively high, with 316 private sector complaints received in 2020/21 (PCC surprisingly do not record social sector complaints even though this is where most complaints reported in the press originate).
When it comes to formal enforcement notices, Portsmouth issued very few Improvement Notices in comparison to other councils, with only 2 in 2018/2019 and none in 2020/2021, which indicates that the council may not be enforcing housing standards as rigorously as most other councils. Additionally, the council has issued no Overcrowding Notices, which could be another indication of a lack of enforcement – or conversely, confirmation that previous draconian attitudes by city authorities have resulted in less problems in the city than elsewhere in the country. Our contact at the NRLA said, "Portsmouth has a really low improvement notice figure compared to the rest of the data. It's not the worst we saw, but the council is certainly towards the bottom. For example- Bradford City Council issued 503 Improvement Notices in the same time period. "
Furthermore, the number of Civil Penalties relating to housing offences served to private landlords is also relatively low, with only one issued in 2020/2021. The average amount of income levied in Civil Penalties relating to housing offences to private landlords is also low, at £0.00 in 2020/2021, according to data submitted by Portsmouth to the NRLA. The number of Civil Penalties issued to private landlords is highest for failure to comply with an Improvement Notice and licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation.
You can put some of these figures into context if you read these 2 special reports from the NRLA:https://www.nrla.org.uk/research/special-reports/enforcement-HHSRS-inspections-notices and https://www.nrla.org.uk/research/special-reports/enforcement-civil-penalty-usage
Overall, the lack of EHOs, current inspection policy, and low number of Improvement Notices and Civil Penalties could all contribute to the poor performance of Portsmouth in enforcing housing standards in the private rented sector.
In conclusion, Portsmouth City Council's poor performance in enforcing private sector housing standards is a serious concern. The council must take urgent action to address this issue, including increasing skill levels for housing enforcement, raising awareness among tenants of their rights, and taking a tougher stance against the few landlords who flout the law. Failure to do so will continue to put the health and wellbeing of private renters in the city at risk.