Report from 9th Annual Conference held at the University of Greenwich Tuesday 24th November 2009

Residential Landlords AssociationAccreditation: Low Cost - High Impact

This year 65 delegates met in the historic Queen Anne Building at the Maritime Campus of the University of Greenwich. The conference was kindly sponsored by the Residential Landlord Association

The day opened with an address from the recently elected new Chair of ANUK ,  Caren Green from Salford. Karen welcomed delegate from across the UK.

Chair's Welcome Address - Karen Green
Karen launched The Landlord Handbook. The ANUK/LACORS Handbook replaced and updated the ANUK/IDeA Model Landlord Development Manual that was issued in 2007 which proved to be the basis for much professional development and training within the landlord community. She stressed that the manual contained the basic level of knowledge required for a landlord. It was also used as the basis for a model course intended for use by Accreditation Scheme Operators and Landlord Associations who wish to provide training for their landlords.

Copies of the printed Manual were distribute to delegates. Additional copies can be ordered from Unipol and a downloadable version can be obtained here.

There then followed three short presentation looking at
Accreditation, Regulation and Making things Better.

Elizabeth Brogan, formerly Senior Policy Officer with the NLA, examined how important it was that accreditation was used as a consistent tool for measuring and recognising landlords as service providers. She stressed the importance of linking accreditation to key policy initiatives: training, professional development and energy efficiency were specifically highlighted.

Accreditation was about landlords choosing to do better than the minimum and had to be earned and recognised by others as having been earned.

Martin Blakey, ANUK Treasurer and Chief Executive of Unipol, asked to what extent Local Authorities could expect to use regulation alone to drive up standards in the private sector. Accreditation should be seen as having a real impact on landlords who were willing to develop but who needed help and support and where additional engagement from experts and the best in the sector made a real difference to their performance.

He identified two key areas that accreditation needed further work: the first was landlord engagement and that was best achieved by both training and looking at properties. The second was that consumer appreciation and awareness of accreditation was vital, both for tenants themselves and to provide an incentive for landlords to meet higher standards. What was needed was a common "kite mark" that consumers could recognise.

Accreditation needed to balance out regulation and be seen as a holistic part of a unified private sector housing strategy. (Download Comments)

Andrew Griffiths, Principal Policy Officer, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH)looked at the key themes of the Rugg Review, the Government Response and Fair Regulation.

The CIEH supported improved coverage for accreditation schemes but central Government needed to provide clear guidance and support a national accreditation model or models. This could be based on ANUK's national model which was currently being updated.

Accreditation also needed to have a level of consistency in order to earn an extension of self regulation. Andrew considered the concept of "earned autonomy" that was being applied to commercial self regulation and felt that this was also a concept that would find resonance with accreditation.

Looking at a national accreditation model the CIEH felt that this should contain some knowledge of the HHSRS, some fit and proper self certification, required health and safety certification, an aspect of property condition support and arbitration and access to a mediation service to assist acceptable behaviour between tenant, the supplier and the community.

In looking at the Government's proposals for a National Landlord Register it was vital that this should not detract from the expansion of accreditation. (Link to presentation here)

A panel discussion with delegates looked particularly at how light touch regulation would function, the importance of training and the balance between enforcement and support for landlords. It was noted tart even after legal enforcement, Local Authorities still had to engage with those suppliers to effect change.

The main plenary session of the morning was by Chris Baker, Housing Manager for Environmental Health Services from Hull City Council looking at A Case Study of two project areas in Hull where voluntary self regulation complimented a much wider set of regeneration initiatives.

The scheme was entitled PEAL (Proactive Housing and Environmental Action Locally). The initiative was formed after a proposal for selective licensing had been strongly opposed as stigmatising an area and a Steering Group had been set up to advise the wok of the private sector housing teams.

PEAL was formed as a pro-active project in two areas of Hull containing 1,600 dwellings. The project tackled housing standards, environmental conditions and anti-social behaviour. The old accreditation scheme was revised and landlords undertook self-assessments that covered 75% of properties in the area.

At the current time 53 inspections had been completed with a further 62 self assessments had been carried out. 80 landlords had received training and 101 houses had received home fire checks. 46 homes had been insulated under Warmzone and 99 properties had seen improvements in  smoke detection. Alley gating had taken place, rubbish removal and targeted clean ups had improved the area. Environmental works had also resulted in new boundary walls with unified railings smartening up an area. 46 empty properties had been brought back into use as the area regained respect and self confidence.

The initiative was ongoing and was proving successful. Working together landlords and agencies were achieving real change.

Chris's presentation, including many photographs can be downloaded here

After lunch there were four parallel workshops to explore a number of themes.

Rebecca Hartford-Brown, Environmental Health Officer from Nottingham City Council and Faye Stanwick, Accreditation  Officer from Unipol Nottingham looked at Using Accreditation and Enforcement in Partnership in Nottingham.

The presentation covered history, the working relationship, information sharing, using Tribunals and future developments. 

A new accreditation scheme was launched in August 2008 called the Unipol DASH Code and now had 347 owners and 1 managing agents with 1,079 properties inspected on a sampling basis. Unlicensed properties had been identified and passed on the NCC who dealt with this under an enforcement concordat. NCC had issued 685 notices during the last 12 months and prosecuted 19 landlords.

Following the presentation there was a lively questions session. The full presentation can be found here.

Paul Howarth, Head of the Housing Benefit Strategy Division at DWP and Chris Town Vice-Chair of the Residential Landlords Association, explored Accreditation and Housing Allowance: Should there be a link?

Chris Town raised using housing benefit as a tool to promote accreditation and to attract accredited landlords into the housing benefit market. He stressed that by making links with accredited landlords there was a guarantee of quality assurance and better management and that this, in turn, meant better value for money in terms of the use of public funds. He raised fast tracking of benefit claims, better information links, direct payments to landlords and access to bond guarantee schemes as all being possible with better linkage.

Paul gave some background about the development of housing benefit and housing allowance. He raised the key consideration as a political judgement:

a) was housing benefit an income-related benefit like any other. In which case it had little to do with housing policy but would be better seen as being integrated within the benefits system such a tax credits or

b) was housing benefit a central instrument of housing policy, in which case it should be viewed as part of the general housing subsidy which was split between revenue support to help pay for housing and bricks and mortar support that helped pay for social housing.

If the policy decision was that it was part of housing policy then housing benefit could be linked with the condition the supply of accommodation and could also be linked to other objectives such as low carbon emissions.

This was the important policy debate that had to take place.

Paul's presentation can be downloaded here.

Chris's presentation can be downloaded here.

Tom Toumazou, a Private Rented Sector Consultant from the RLA looked at Establishing a New Accreditation Scheme in Blackpool.

Tom outlined a recent multi-area agreement aiming to tackle the large number of HMOs on the Fylde coast. An existing accreditation scheme was closed and a new scheme was being developed which included landlord training, a reduced HMO licence fee, use of a joint Local Authorities website for advertising, help with anti-social behaviour and tenancy/law advice. There would be a Code of Management and properties below the required level would receive help with an action plan to meet the standards. Tom's presentation gave much detailed information and can be downloaded here.

Andrew Woolmer, the Private Sector Housing Manager at Camden Council, gave an update on the Growth of the London Landlord Scheme.

Andrew's presentation can be downloaded here.

The last plenary was given by Dave Princep, Chair of the Energy Partnership for Private Housing and Chair of the London Landlords Accreditation Scheme (LLAS) on The Challenge of the Future: Accreditation and Sustainability. Dave gave an inspired presentation highlighting the importance of housing in tackling CO2 emissions. He summarised recent Government initiatives and tenants' and landlords' attitudes in the private rented sector to energy costs. The LLAS was examining ways, through a Working Group, of using the LLAS accreditation scheme to promote higher levels of sustainability and rewarding landlords who met this standard with an additional badge.

In his Concluding Remarks, Martin Blakey drew together the themes of the day which revolved around what could be achieved in private sector housing with enhanced engagement with landlords and owners. Accreditation was a good tool for the job of improving training, standards and awareness and should be seen as an essential part of an integrated housing policy. The regional approach to accreditation was becoming increasingly important and sustainability was rising on the agenda of what accreditation should address.

Finally, on behalf of ANUK he thanked the 12 speakers who had contributed to the day, urged those who were not already members of ANUK to do so and thanked the delegates for their informed and spirited interventions throughout the day. He wished the new Chair of ANUK, Caren Green all the best in her first year as Chair and looked forward to a further stimulating day at the 10th conference next year.

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