Friday, 21 October 2011

Labour U-Turn on Landlord Accreditation Scheme

Interesting to note today that the Labour administration has dropped it's previous opposition to our plans to introduce a new, more cost-effective landlord accreditation scheme in conjunction with the National Landlord Assocation  to improve standards in Reading's large private rented sector.

I launched this scheme last year, when I was Lead Member for Housing and was attacked by Labour's then housing spokesperson for 'abandoning' Reading tenants - when of course I was doing nothing of the sort.

The Council has announced that a further training session for landlords of rented properties in Reading is to be held on October 27th in The Avenue School in Tilehurst - details can be found here.

I have led calls for an effective landlord accreditation scheme in Reading since 2008 when I chaired the first ever scrutiny review into Reading's private rented housing sector.

Until then, Labour councillors had ignored calls from Reading Students Union for more to be done to offer reassurance to students others looking to rent properties in Reading.

A scheme Labour had operated stalled a few years back until we called for a review.

When I was lead member for housing I was charged with responding to the review led by officers into the Council's old inhouse landlord accreditation scheme (LAS) which had been operated under the previous Labour administration.

The review found that 'while LAS is a useful tool to stakeholders, the re-launch of Reading’s current LAS would not deliver outcomes in the most cost-effective way.'

The review also found:

'The (previous)scheme did not drive up house conditions significantly because landlords attracted to LAS are generally those with property in good order already. The soft outcomes of running the scheme are outweighed by the fact that the scheme had contact with only 2.3% of Reading’s rental market despite vigorous promotion and a cost of circa £34k per annum.'

As I blogged last November:
'In line with our local Coalition Agreement with the Conservatives to deliver better, value for money services to our residents we agreed not to revive the scheme in it's current form but instead sign up to a National Landlord Accreditation Scheme. The scheme is run by the National Landlord Association and offers landlords and tenants a range of benefits, whilst enabling the Council to focus more effectively on it's core duties of ensuring that the most poorly-maintained and hazardous properties in the sector are identified and appropriate action is taken against landlords.'

And how did Labour respond to our plans at the time? Back to my blog entry in November 2010:
'Locally, Labour's response to all this has been interesting. For one thing they appear to be a lot more interested in housing and the private rented sector in opposition than they ever were when they ran the Council. This would be welcome were it not that they appear to driven by a desire to score political points, rather than campaign for better housing.

For example, when I announced our plans to join a national accreditation scheme they didn't support it, arguing we were abandoning tenants - when it was Labour who suspended the Landlord Accreditation Scheme (LAS) in the first place!

At full Council last month, Cllr Paul Gittings attacked me for failing to implement 'a proper landlord accreditation scheme' whatever that means, suggesting that things like fire safety would be put at risk by our decision not to resurrect an in-house landlord accreditation scheme.

This is utter hogwash. All the housing regulations that exist to protect tenants will continue to exist. The decision to adopt an LAS is entirely up to individual councils i.e. it is non-statutory.

Let's be clear: all the Council's statutory functions to ensure housing standards are maintained will continue. All that we have done is ensure that taxpayer's money will not be wasted on something that does not work. And once again Labour councillors find themselves arguing for the continuation of schemes that are ineffective and are not value for money. So much for constructive opposition.

The last Labour government proposed setting up a national landlord register and a number of other regulations. These plans were reviewed by independent experts and the Coalition Government and were found to be ineffective, burdensome and expensive so were not carried forward. And yet at a recent Council meeting I was challenged by a Labour activists to support these regulations. Bizarre.'

Since Cllr Rachel Eden has taken over the housing brief from her colleague Cllr Deborah Edwards Labour's housing policy seems to have been slightly more progressive although there still are major problems with Labour's approach to housing. For example, Cllr Eden's plan to increase support for homeless people in Reading,  is welcome. However, her planned cuts to Sheltered Housing, are not.

Back to the private rented sector, we learn today that Cllr Eden has dropped Labour's previous opposition to the scheme, declaring in an RBC press release today:
"This initiative is one example of the Council working with landlords and other agencies to increase the availability of good quality, private rented accommodation for Reading's residents. Accreditation is a mark of commitment by landlords to delivering decent accommodation."

I'm pleased Cllr Eden has seen for herself the benefit of the scheme we launched last year and has belatedly given it her backing publicly.

Whether or not her colleagues have now dropped their thoughtless opposition to it, remains to be seen.

For the sake of Reading tenants, landlords and taxpayers this successful scheme should stay.

1 comment:

  1. Great read! I belong to a landlord association and this information really drove home with me. Thanks again and keep it up.