A beleaguered local authority’s attempt to use the licensing regime to bring rogue landlords and their antisocial tenants to heel has been scotched by the High Court on grounds that strict procedural requirements relating to public consultation and ministerial approval were not met.
Employing rarely used powers under the Housing Act 2004, the council had resolved to deal with perceived public order problems by designating its entire administrative area for additional licensing of houses in multiple occupation and selective licensing of private rented sector homes for a five-year period.
The decision was preceded by a costly consultation exercise in which leaflets were distributed to 140,000 residents, thousands of public posters displayed and notices placed in the press. More than 80 per cent of local residents were said to have supported the proposals, although only 18 per cent of private landlords – who would be charged £500 in respect of licence applications – were in favour.
In upholding a judicial review challenge brought by a private landlord, the Court found that the process was flawed in that there had been no meaningful consultation of those who lived or operated businesses just outside the council’s area, but who were likely to be affected by the decision. The consultation process had also lasted for far less than the 10-week period required by the Act. In addition, the council had failed to seek or obtain specific ministerial approval in respect of the proposals.
The council pleaded that it had already invested heavily in the new regime, including setting up a dedicated computer system to deal with licence applications and payment processes. However, in quashing the decision, the Court found that both the additional and selective licensing schemes had not been lawfully designated.