Terraced housing

BLOG: Why the return of the Landlord Licensing scheme matters

When you say housing and Liverpool, most people – of a certain age – will think Brookside, Bread or even Boys from the Blackstuff, writes Louise Harford, Head of Private Sector Housing at Liverpool City Council.

For millions of people watching the city on prime time TV in the 1980s and ‘90s, those images of domestic life in Liverpool will have left a lasting impression.

But while the world has changed dramatically in so many ways over the past 30-40 years, unfortunately housing – for many – in Liverpool hasn’t.

Row after row of back-to-back terraced housing still dominates the landscape, particularly in the north and east of the city.

And since the turn of the 21st century, the Private Rented Sector (PRS) has boomed in Liverpool. Today, it accounts for 32% of all housing stock across the city. In at least a third of council wards, the proportion is approaching  50%.

Whilst the council is looking to develop more social housing, with a buy to rent approach, such is the scale of the issue, that in 2015, Liverpool introduced the UK’s first city-wide Landlord Licensing scheme to monitor and regulate housing conditions in the private sector.

Not all landlords are poor at looking after their properties, but In Liverpool we had too many who were and the knock-on effects to communities were numerous, especially with anti-social behaviour and the poor condition of properties.

The proactive ability to be able to intervene without a complaint from a tenant or a concerned resident about sub-standard, dangerous, overcrowded or quite simply uninhabitable housing was a game changer.

But in 2019, the scheme was rejected by the government.

It was a huge blow. But for those residents it was an even bigger one.

To illustrate the point, there have been over 8,400 complaints about the PRS in Liverpool since April 2020.

I was so disheartened by that decision – based largely on a technicality – because I knew the scale of the issues we had uncovered with our first scheme would become impossible to tackle. Additionally relationships with our partners such as the police to tackle head on ASB and the fire service would suffer.

The city council’s private sector housing team had also forged excellent working relationships with other departments and whilst the relationships were still there, our ability to help was limited. That’s why in last December we resubmitted.

Today’s news that our submission to reintroduce the scheme from April next year – in albeit fewer wards – has been accepted is just fantastic.

From the high of gaining the scheme, to the low of losing it, and now this high of regaining it, it’s been a real rollercoaster ride, worthy of a TV drama.

It is an understatement to say we have missed our proactive powers, our targeted enforcement action and working with landlords to bring properties back into a safe and well managed state.

We can now look forward to renewing and strengthening our partnership approach with colleagues in planning and building control, environmental health, social services and other areas to drive forward the much needed changes in our neighbourhoods.

Quite simply, this scheme enables the council to improve the life chances of our citizens and making a real difference all because their home is safe, warm and well managed.

This basic requirement is the foundation for people to thrive and we will ensure that happens through this scheme.

The re-introduction of this scheme will also give tenants the peace of mind that we have the resources and powers to help them.

Crucially, they should have the confidence to check if their landlord has a licence, that information will be made publicly available, and we will help if asked but with the proactive powers we will have, we don’t need to be asked, we can use our intelligence-led approach to tackle the issues head on.

The last few years have been very unsettling, in so many ways, but with the reintroduction of this scheme myself, my team, my colleagues – and above all – thousands of residents in Liverpool can look to the future with a bit more security about the condition of their home.

And we can carry on to leave the drama where it belongs best, on the TV.

Liverpool Waterfront