The National HMO Network Conference on 30th November 2012 was hosted by the National Landlords Association (NLA) at Local Government House in London.
The focus of the conference was on how to deliver environmental health in a time of austerity. It brought together over 100 delegates from over 60 different local authorities as well as landlord and tenant groups, accommodation providers, government bodies, consultants and professional bodies.
If you missed it, here’s what happened (all the presentations are linked from each speaker’s name)…
Richard Lambert, NLA Chief Executive Officer welcomed delegates and Councillor Paul Bettison gave the Local Government Association (LGA) perspective on the direction of regulation in the private-rented sector.
Welfare Reform was a key item on the agenda for the day and unsurprisingly was viewed as problematic for many in the room. In particular landlords were concerned about how patterns of arrears and non-payment of rent might rise in light of reduced cash for benefit recipients.
Recent and planned changes to the housing benefit system are main reasons that demand for private-rented sector and HMOs in particular, is likely to increase. Local authority delegates raised concerns about the impact the changes would have on resources. Councillor Bettison stressed the importance for councils to recognise the variation in local housing markets and the need to enforce against those landlords who are putting lives at risk by flouting HMO enforcements.
John Bryson, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health outlined the main issues, challenges and legislative changes to which delegates will need to respond, such as cuts to both the housing renewal budget and local authority expenditure and staffing. John also provided a picture of the fairly negative perceptions of local housing authority inspection regimes due in part to relatively low levels of enforcement. Some delegates raised concerns about common issues that arise in HMOs, such as damp and mould. John also touched on the role of the media in portraying the sector and highlighted the need to seek out and use best practice.
Abigail spoke about the need to strike the right balance between regulation and housing supply and detailed new approaches to social housing waiting lists and the task of housing different people in the social sector. She also highlighted the need to align and link departmental objectives across the sector in order to raise standards and work towards common goals.
Sharon outlined the key elements of welfare reform and Universal Credit, the potential impact on affordability for larger families and the risk of homelessness as a result. From the landlord’s perspective, Sharon also highlighted concern about both the loss of discretion for direct payments of rent and the switch to housing payment through the Department for Work and Pensions, as part of Universal Credit changes.
After lunch Siobhan McGrath, Senior President, Residential Property Tribunal Service (RPTS) outlined examples of the kinds and types of cases that RPTS deal with and the lessons learned over the past four years including cases which have been appealed to the Upper Tribunal.
NLA Chief Executive Officer, Richard Lambert looked at how to engage with best practice in the sector and to ensure that enforcement is taken against bad practice. Richard emphasised alternatives to licensing and outlined the benefits of accreditation in raising standards in the sector.
Finally, Neil Coles, Chair of the National HMO Network Steering Group and Mark Rolfe, Technical Manager at Gas Safe led the final presentation of the day. Mark drew attention to the new requirement for landlords to provide inspection hatches from January 2013 where a gas boiler flue passes through a void. Failure to provide a hatch may result in a gas safe inspector instructing the landlord to turn off the property’s boiler. The discussion focussed on the difficulties that may potentially arise where the flue passes through other properties, particularly in mixed tenure properties.
The feedback from delegates has been positive and the conference demonstrated the value of bringing relevant parties together to discuss key issues affecting HMOs.