Legal threat puts scheme to control landlords on hold

Target: Main Street, Wombwell, is among the locations proposed for new council licencing rules
Target: Main Street, Wombwell, is among the locations proposed for new council licencing rules
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Plans to introduce a compulsory licensing scheme for landlords in some Barnsley communities have had to be put on hold after the council received a legal challenge to its plans, casting uncertainty on the future of the proposals.

The council had intended to introduce a five year order called selective licensing in four areas to try to improve the quality of the rented housing market and began consultations in mid-2017.

The idea was approved by the council’s ruling Cabinet but progress with the scheme has now been halted a a result of proposed legal action by an association representing landlords.

Under selective licensing, landlords would need to meet certain criteria to get a licence for each of their homes, with the agreement lasting the full five years of the scheme.

The objective of the policy is to achieve positive action against anti social behaviour, deprivation and crime.

In addition to compelling landlords to meet certain standards, the licensing scheme also puts obligations on the tenants living in the homes.

The council was proposing an accreditation scheme landlords could join, bring the licence fee down from around £500 to just over £100 for those who opted to get involved.

Selective licensing has been used successfully in other areas, including neighbouring Rotherham, to drive up standards among private landlords at the bottom end of the housing market.

However, the council has announced it has “received a proposal to legally challenge the council’s decision to take forward the selective licensing scheme in four designations of the borough.

“Whilst we believe that the grounds for the decision can be evidenced, we believe it to be good practice to review information stated and report findings back to Cabinet as soon as is reasonably practicable before continuing.”

The four areas to be involved were Welland Crescent in Elsecar, five streets in Goldthorpe, around a dozen streets at Measborough Dike and 16 residential streets in Wombwell.

Following consultation which started last summer, the council revised its proposals.

When that happened, Coun Jenny Platts, the Cabinet’s communities spokeswoman, said the changes: “Acknowledged good landlords and proposed three approved accreditation providers. We hope all groups will work with us to deliver improved benefits to tenants and residents and offer a robust framework to assist landlords when renting.”

Meanwhile, Barnsley Council’s Central Area Council, which works in communities around the town centre, is employing its own officer to assist new tenants moving into private rented housing in the district.

Their job will be to identify new tenants and work with them to explain issues such as using the correct recycling bins.

The CAC’s area manager, Carol Brady, told councillors who make up the body: “The intention was always about getting into new tenants so they set off on the right foot.”

However, Coun Doug Birkinshaw questioned whether the officer would have “the logistical knowledge to know who has moved in”.

Councillors were also keen to ensure the officer worked only with those in private sector housing rather than homes let Berneslai Homes, the council’s own social housing company, which they believe should do such work using its own resources.