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Housing Leadership Cymru feature

A national system

The Housing (Wales) Act brings a great opportunity for local authorities in Wales to work with the private rented sector, says Jonathan Willis

Local authorities have had a long history of addressing housing standards in the private rented sector (PRS). However, this has often been via a piecemeal reactive approach, responding to complaints from tenants. The private rented sector has grown significantly across all of Wales in the last 20 years, and its size is now on par with the social sector. changes outlined in the Housing (Wales) Act will allow local authorities to discharge their homelessness duties into the PRS, which will make the sector even more important.

Historically, standards in the PRS have been criticised. With the ability to discharge homelessness duty into the sector it is clearly important that we ensure standards are improved. Part 1 of the Act will bring new duties on a designated licensing authority

to maintain a register of landlords. In addition, there will be a requirement to license landlords and agents. This is a move away from how other licensing regimes under the Housing Act 2004 have been implemented in the past. Previous approaches have placed an obligation on every individual local authority to set up, administer and enforce separate licensing schemes. The provisions in the Housing (Wales) Act are different and are likely to involve a national scheme being coordinated by one authority.

The idea of one local authority coordinating activities to improve standards in the PRS was introduced in 2008. Welsh councils have collaborated to develop Landlords Accreditation Wales. The scheme involved delivering training to landlords on a range of issues with regard to letting properties. The scheme was hosted by Cardiff Council and has involved almost 3,000 people becoming accredited across Wales. Local authorities in Wales have been keen to build on this collaboration and have worked with Welsh Government on its proposals to introduce a national licensing regime.

Part 1 of the Act gives the Welsh ministers powers to designate a licensing authority to administer the system of registration and licensing for all of Wales. This is a positive step for local authorities, with advantages including lower administration costs via economies of scale and a single point of contact for landlords who may have properties in more than one local authority area.

The process will involve two stages:

  • Registration: a simple system of information collection and fee payment from a landlord.
  • Licensing: an application and fee payment from a landlord or and then a licence is granted when the applicant is determined to be ‘fit and proper’ and has done approved training.

Local authorities have an important role in terms of engaging landlords locally by marketing the new scheme and undertaking enforcement via fixed penalty notices.

Clearly there needs to be a national marketing strategy to ensure landlords, agents and tenants are aware of the new proposals. The message should be clear: people who are not registered and licensed and need to be should not expect to let their accommodation until they comply. This needs to become the norm, not the exception.

Jonathan Willis is a housing manager at Carmarthenshire County Council and chair of the Local Authority Housing Expert Panel

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