MP accused of ‘blocking’ landlord licensing in Hastings

Labour councillors have accused Hastings MP Sally-Ann Hart of blocking the renewal of a scheme requiring landlords keep properties in good condition. 

Hastings Borough Council wants to renew its landlord licensing scheme
Hastings Borough Council wants to renew its landlord licensing scheme

Responding to a question at a full council meeting on Wednesday (October 21), Hastings Borough Council’s cabinet member for housing Andy Batsford told councillors that Ms Hart was opposing the renewal of the authority’s Selective Landlord Licensing Scheme . 

The scheme requires landlords to provide utilities and safety measures and to be a “fit and proper person”.

Cllr Batsford said the Conservative MP had told the council her decision was based on lobbying from some local councillors, who are themselves landlords within the town and are licenced under the scheme. 

He said: “The selective licensing scheme is one of Hastings council’s most important policies. It now protects over 20,000 Hastings residents, which is a huge number.

“Since its adoption five years ago, we’ve seen a massive improvement to the quality of rented homes in the seven areas the scheme has affected. 

“Let’s not forget that this scheme is of no cost to the people of this town or its council. Every single penny is completely self-financing and every penny is financed down to its last iota to make sure the landlords get a fair product as well. 

“But the thing we’ve got here is somebody blocking the signing of this policy and I am afraid to say that last week I was told it was our local MP Sally-Ann Hart.

“[She has] abandoned these 20,000 people in Hastings, due to the lobbying of the Conservative councillors who themselves are landlords of the selective licensing scheme.” 

Cllr Batsford’s comments were then cut short due to limits on the time allowed for questions during full council meetings. 

When approached for comment by the LDRS, however, Ms Hart said her decision had instead been influenced by correspondence and surgeries with a number of local landlords, as well as an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on homelessness.

She said local landlords had told her they were angry at the blanket licensing and argued it had pushed up rents for their tenants. 

Mrs Hart said: “The cost of the licences has increased, which leads to an increase in rent charged. 

“This has forced tenants out, particularly those who depend on housing benefit, as they can no longer afford the rent – even a couple of pounds a week has a huge impact on many people. 

“This, in turn, is having a knock on effect on the number of homes available in Hastings for housing benefit tenants and is bound to increase the risk of homelessness. 

“The landlords that I spoke to in Hastings and at an Homelessness APPG before lockdown said that schemes have created a ‘postcode lottery’, as some local authorities are charging landlords 21 times as much as other councils for licences.

“This opinion was reinforced by the representative of the Residential Landlords Association at the APPG for Homelessness, where the issue of selective licensing was raised.”

Currently the cost of a new licence under the scheme in Hastings is set at a standard fee of £665 for a five-year licence. This five-year licence could potentially rise to £698 under a renewed scheme, Mrs Hart said. 

Mrs Hart said this would add an additional £58 to a tenant’s monthly rent, although these figure are disputed by Cllr Batsford. 

Speaking after the meeting, he said: “You can’t just willy nilly open a house, put tenants in it and expect not to have a licence to show you are fit and proper person. It is just not acceptable.

“In the face of Grenfell and all those other disasters, to literally just be able to look a tenant in the eye and say your home is safe to live in, the fire checks have been done, the gas checks have been done. These are basic human rights that our residents should expect to have in place.

“There is absolutely nothing in those charges that should not be expected of a business person. For a five-year licence it works out to about £2.50 a week. 

“Since the scheme was put in place, rents in Hastings have gone up by about 40 per cent and that is nothing to do with the selective licensing scheme.

“The thing that has driven up prices and driven out landlords is the government’s tax regime. The changes that the government put in place is what has driven most people out of letting.”

Ms Hart, however, argued the council had not provided evidence the licensing scheme was necessary to address problems with low housing demand or  anti-social behaviour linked to the private rented homes .

She also argued in favour of greater enforcement by the council rather than the scheme.

She said: “I do not believe that these schemes protect Hastings tenants as the scheme pushes up costs for good landlords whilst rogue ones carry on as normal. 

“There are better ways of improving the condition of private rental properties, including the enforcement powers that councils have, including Hastings Borough Council.

“Rather than price local residents out of the local private rental market, I would rather the council took its enforcement powers more seriously for the sake of our local residents.”