With increasing numbers renting their home from private landlords there is growing concern about conditions in such properties. Registration with their local authority is already mandatory for landlords who rent out large houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). These are defined as properties rented to five or more people who form more than one household (eg a family), that is at least three storeys high and where tenants share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities. It is anticipated that such licensing will soon be extended to all HMOs and some local authorities already require other rental properties to be licensed under ‘selective licensing’ schemes that they operate locally. It is therefore timely look at how well council websites are presenting the HMO licensing process for landlords.
London boroughs and metropolitan districts
35% of councils surveyed provide a good or very good service for this task. When we developed our question set, we decided that probably the most important question for council to get right was the one about penalties for non-compliance. We were looking for sites to mention ALL the following: risk of criminal prosecution with unlimited fines; civil penalty of up to £30K; repayment of up to 12 months rental income. Our survey results show that only 12% of sites mention all three.
Check ‘coverage’ to see if your council has been surveyed. Go to councils page and select your council. Look for link to task report under 2017-18 results
Provide a good or very good online service based on this survey
Better connected rankings
*Discrepancies in the figures are due to rounding off
With advice from London Property Licensing our question set was developed to assess how easy it is for landlords to go about getting their large HMO property licensed via the council website.
Like all Better Connected surveys, this one started from a Google search where we entered ‘XYZ Council landlord licence’.
Results were very good considering we searched for ‘landlord licence’ and not specifically for HMO licensing. We did this deliberately, to see to what extent councils were assuming expert knowledge including familiarity with technical terms like 'HMO' and 'selective licensing'.
A lot of councils have recently introduced Selective Licensing - compulsory licensing by the council of rented properties in selected areas – in addition to the Government-mandated large HMO licensing.
Selective Licensing tended to be prioritized in the list of results from the ‘landlord licensing’ search and because this term may not mean much even to a landlord, where the term is used, it should be explained. We noticed that site search tended to exhibit the same issue as Google, in that selective licensing gets priority in results when ‘landlord licensing’ is the search term.
Some councils’ heavy promotion of selective licensing means they are failing to reference the mandatory licensing of large HMOs on landing and other key pages. Since the process and fees are different, this is potentially an important error. Other councils made a clear statement that all rented properties have to be licensed but then fail to link to the HMO pages as a related issue (Liverpool is an example).
Probably the most important question for councils to get right in our question set was the one about penalties for non-compliance. We were looking for sites to mention ALL the following: risk of criminal prosecution with unlimited fines; civil penalty of up to £30K; repayment of up to 12 months rental income.
Our survey results show that only 12% of sites mention all three correctly. Some gave a penalty figure of £20k, which used to be the maximum fine following conviction, which became unlimited in 2015. Some made no mention of civil penalties, which can be up to £30k, and several failed to give any information on penalties at all.
Information about supporting document needed for the application and grounds for refusal varied. Some councils include this in lengthy guidance notes, others embed it in the application form (generally easier). Providing a list of documents required on a web page is helpful, but not if buried in an FAQ list – the information needs to be available at the right point in the customer journey.
Although we recognise that most people will come to tasks like this via search, it is also useful if the information is accessible from home pages. With social housing much reduced these days, or managed by third parties, housing is not a major activity for most councils and is rarely a top-level link on the Home Page. That said, in 78% of cases we were able to get to the task by navigating from the home page.
A few councils have placed landlord licensing under ‘Business’ rather than ‘Housing’. While it may logical from the ‘producer’ perspective of a council to bring all licensing together there should also be be prominent links from the housing section.
A few councils rely totally on GOV.UK’s provision of information on HMO licensing. In these cases users are referred back to the council website for the application and still need to navigate their way for fees and other local information, and the application form. It is also the case that when it comes to information about penalties, although the GOV.UK site mentions unlimited fines, there is no mention of rent recovery or the civil penalty.
A-Z facilities (not available on all sites) often have an entry for ‘Houses in Multiple Occupation’ but not for ‘Landlord Licence’.
Only 36% of sites, just over a third, enable online applications for HMO licenses.
It seems like a missed opportunity that only half of councils tested link from their HMO licensing pages to information about best practice for landlords.
It was extremely easy to navigate to this task and all the information was at my fingertips. The content was well thought out and customer focused. I did think though that it would be a good idea to promote the 'Private Landlords' page from the HMO page because it's got some really useful links for best practice, but people might miss it if they come straight from Google.
It was quite hard to fault this site for how the information on HMO licensing is presented. It was very easy to navigate to the task and the content was divided into logical sections. You are guided through from the initial understanding of what defines an HMO, to the final task completion of applying for the licence. You are told what documents you need and the criteria a landlord must meet eg 'fit and proper' person.