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Portsmouth HMO Licensing Update


There has been much angst over the introduction of Licensing in Portsmouth, both Additional and the transition of Mandatory to the same process. Whilst we continue working to encourage PCC to improve their solution there are obvious restrictions on what we can or should publish, but a short update on the current situation does seem appropriate.  

Licence Conditions

Many members think the current licence conditions are badly written and may well put them in a potentially criminal position through no fault of their own.

A few members have made representations on this (that is the legal term for raising an objection to the imposed conditions) plus a test case has been sent to the First Tier Tribunal asking for a judge to decide on the details of the issue.

In addition, there have been a series of meetings between PCC and the PDPLA going back to last October, and whilst no changes have yet been agreed, we are hopeful that simple improvements will soon be available. For example, the stipulation that an EICR is provided when an EIC is a better and more comprehensive proof of electrical condition and should also be accepted. 

The Application Process

It seems unlikely that the complex form which landlords need to complete to obtain a licence will be simplified. We met with PCC and their software providers Rocktime, and Rocktime had a form solution which they used as the basis on which to code the information collection specified by PCC.

We might debate how robust that underlying form solution is and whether it is suited to being used to collect what prints out as 84 pages of information, and we could argue about whether that amount of information is required, but realistically – PCC have decided that is the way they want to operate this process and Rocktime have built the tool they were asked to, so our complaints are likely to have little impact. However, when this process harms or impacts a landlord or their business, we will continue to raise this with PCC.

When we met with Rocktime, they did seem to be open to improvement suggestions and we can expect some modest improvements with time. Whilst the Verso Software might work well in some situations (eg licencing skips), it is clear that the system architecture is not suited to such a complex form as PCC have defined for HMO licencing applications. It is also worth noting that this does NOT appear to be designed as a workflow management tool where branching can be defined to process minority cases in a different way from the majority, nor where documents will need to be replaced over the course of a licence. Thus, we do not expect it will bring any substantive backroom efficiency benefits once licences are through the application stage and in operation. Our view is that PCC are spending a substantial chunk of our Licence fees on an ongoing basis on a system that is highly unlikely to improve efficiency. The expenditure for now is spread across both ALS and MLS. We will be looking for ways to ensure that once ALS ends, Mandatory licence holders are not burdened with higher costs long-term due to this short-term, short-sighted ALS implementation decision.

There are several anomalies of which members should be aware:

  • When you get your draft licence your 'part 2' payment falls due. However, none of the emails or information received by several members mention that you need to make a payment or give any guidance on how to do so (expect to receive duplicates of various of them but that just seems to be the way their system works)
  • Many Additional Licence applicants are having a special condition added to their draft licence telling them to reduce their property from 4 beds to 3 beds with no explanation of why this is needed whether it be a bedroom that doesn't meet the nationally required minimum, the kitchen is too small of the overall communal space. This is essential information to be able to determine if their judgement is factual, whether it can be argued/defended or easily rectified. Further guidance on how the landlord is expected to go about evicting the affected tenants would also be useful (if the property is a joint tenancy, all 4 residents will need to be evicted to effect a 1-room reduction). And we already know many landlords are struggling to break even with the income from 4-beds, so the only options if they switch to 3 is to increase rents by 33% to recoup the loss or to sell up. Our advice as always, is to make it clear that evictions are at the request of Portsmouth City Council and rent increases are necessary because of PCC actions. We have asked that when these conditions are added, reasoning and timeframes be clearly explained. We don't have a response yet but would hope this is an easy request to fulfil and an improvement to the overall process if implemented. 
  • We should also assume Tenants should make their own 'Representations' as well as the Landlord. We suggest encouraging any affected tenant(s) to email HMO licencing (with both landlord and their local councillor on copy) as a 'Representation' that any Occupancy Reduction condition of the HMO Additional Licence should not come into effect until they as the affected tenant choose themselves to vacate.
  • Mandatory Licence renewals should be straightforward. At present they are not and landlords need to go through the same 84 page form as an Additional Licence applicant. We are told that renewals will be pre-loaded to simplify the task but have yet to see how many of the 84 pages will be pre-filled or when that will be implemented.
  • 257's continue to be a major source of angst. What is required and to what level of detail is still being changed / clarified as individual cases highlight the issues of a one size fits all approach, from 10 bed HMOs to a single flat in a 257 property. One member with two flats in a 4-flat 257 property was presented with a 1-year licence. After much debate with PCC his licence was corrected to 5-years and he was told his attitude was unacceptable when talking to PCC staff. He has now put both properties on the market as he does not wish to have any further dealings with PCC - sadly, his case is not isolated. Do keep in touch on our HMO Licensing Facebook page for latest debates on this topic
  • One other anomaly came up when a member with a single property divided into two 1-bed flats (assumed to be a 257 due to lack of Building Control signoff), was told it does not need an HMO Licence. It is less clear what is and is not a licensable 257 but if you do all the work and then find that yours is not, you ought to consider a claim for the wasted time and expense, but obviously that is your decision. (Obviously, if there are shared communal entrances or other areas, a FRA is needed, but in cases where it isn't we do suggest you seek recompense for the unnecessary outlay).  
  • At the public consultation stage, we were told 257s of only two-storeys, or only 2 flats, or with no common entranceway would be out of scope of ALS. That changed with no communication or explanation. We raised this in a meeting with PCC in January, and still await a response
  • It appears the new system is currently physically unable to produce licences/documents when the licence holder is a company rather than individual. An interesting situation – you are legally required to have a Licence but PCC cannot issue one. Who is at fault? 
  • We would recommend lodging a formal complaint, that's just an email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.,  to anyone who is informed the reason they haven't been issued a draft licence is due to limitations of the software. Use of a manual workaround is plainly the most appropriate response to that situation, not indefinite delay.
  • Many members have asked about responses to representations as they have not had any. At present it appears that the backlog is 6-8 weeks. If you have been waiting longer, we suggest you check with PCC.

We are sorry that so many members have and are still having so much difficulty and expense with these processes - it ought to be a simple, background piece of bureaucracy but the lack of trust of local landlords inbuilt into every aspect of this process leaves us all regretting the experience.

If you are one of the many local landlords who has removed HMO rooms from the local market or plan to do so, the bad news is that you are not alone and we know how you feel. Two years ago we predicted the median rent would increase in the city by 50% as a result of these changes. We were wrong, it appears the median rent is now 70% higher than it was when we made the prediction - such a shame for those who struggled to afford a room in a shared house back then, as they are the ones who have no other options.  We can only imagine how this has impacted PCC's emergency accommodation budget.

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