'Deja vu all over again' - call for more to be done to tackle problem housing in South Tyneside

Council bosses are pressing ahead with plans to tackle issues with houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) in South Tyneside – but councillors say more needs to be done.

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 5:21 pm
The issue was discussed by a council committee
The issue was discussed by a council committee

In recent years, the a panel has been investigating the property types, which have been increasing in the private rented sector across the borough.

The housing, which includes at least three tenants living at a property forming more than one household, sharing bathroom and kitchen facilities, was brought into the spotlight due to associated antisocial behaviour issues.

Although some HMOs are run by council-commissioned services, fears were raised about the lack of support for people with complex needs in certain HMOs in the private rented sector.

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Around a dozen recommendations were previously made to the council’s cabinet suggesting schemes to improve the situation.

A report on progress against these pledges was brought back to the Place Select Committee for discussion on Tuesday, June 22.

Meanwhile, a ‘supplmentary planning document’ could also be developed to give the council’s planning department more powers to resist new HMO applications and control the concentration of HMOs in certain areas.

Councillor Angela Hamilton said looking at HMOs in isolation was the “wrong approach” and that the committee should look at HMOs as a part of the wider private rented sector, while also exploring schemes used in other council areas.

This includes a housing accreditation scheme, whereby landlords would get support from the council if they met agreed standards – with calls for short-term resources to be identified to get the scheme up and running.

Cllr Hamilton raised concerns about landlords operating in her ward Beacon and Bents in South Shields and said selective licensing should be brought in earlier and extended to areas such as the Lawe Top.

She added: “I’m not disputing the work that has been done and I know there has been a lot of good work.

“I just think we need to go further on this as it is a major major issue, certainly in South Shields town centre.”

Many councillors on the committee also expressed frustration at what they said was a lack of progress on the issue since the HMO commission was launched around three years ago.

Councillor Doreen Purvis, who chairs the council’s Planning Committee, said the council did not have the powers to resist applications for HMOs.

“Coming back to this committee [Place Select] after an absence of two years, to quote somebody famous it’s like deja vu all over again,” she said.

“It’s like nothing has changed, I could be sitting here two years ago listening to this.

“There has been some interesting concepts but as chair of planning with my other hat on, I would be absolutely delighted, near ecstatic, if someone were to tell me how we could as a Planning Committee refuse applications [for HMOs] because as things stand our hands are tied.”

Anna Milner, housing strategy operations manager on the council, said she shared members’ frustration but added that schemes being explored were a “step in the right direction.”

“I hope that the selective licensing will help not just the HMO accommodation but also the private rented sector in general because we do have some issues in terms of quality and some of the management of this accommodation,” she said.

“But again, we want to make sure we’re running it correctly and we have got all the systems in place so that it runs as smoothly as possible, rather than trying to [bring it in] at a time when landlords are already struggling with high rent arrears and people getting into debt and not being able to evict them.”

She added: “Although it might seem like we have done very little, we’re trying to do as much as we can with the limited resources that we have.”

The housing officer said that the department’s resources were mainly focused on enforcement and statutory duties.

But councillors heard that ‘self-funding’ element of selective licensing would see licensing fees invested back into the housing agenda.

Other actions being worked on following the commission include more frequent HMO inspections, a new commissioned service looking at support single vulnerable adults may need and continued engagement with landlords.

Councillor Geraldine Kilgour, who chairs the Place Select Committee, asked for a more “concrete timeline” with regards to the council’s plans around HMOs going forward.

An update on the issue is expected to return to the Place Select Committee in September, 2021.

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