South Tyneside homes inquiry goes back to drawing board

Coun Audrey McMillan
Coun Audrey McMillan

A probe into houses of multiple occupation in South Tyneside has gone back to the drawing board because of a councillors’ concern over the process.

The council’s place select committee agreed to launch a commission into private and council-licensed HMOs in the borough last year following concerns over the safety and support available for vulnerable tenants in the private rented sector.

At the first commission session on Tuesday, councillors were told about the types of HMO and the reasons people find themselves in such accomodation.

In South Tyneside, HMOs range from council-commissioned services to private student accommodation, bed and breakfasts and hostels.

But the chairman of the committee, Coun Audrey McMillan, raised concerns about the lack of information on private HMOs and called for the commission to take a “step back”.

Maps distributed to councillors only listed council-licensed HMOs in the borough.

Coun McMillan said: “I suspect the biggest problems are the ones that are not on the map. There’s not only concerns from residents but concerns for people who are living there.

“It’s quite obvious that they’re not getting the service from these providers and that’s why the reason for the commission.”

A building is classed as a HMO if five or more people are living there from two or more separate households.

A HMO licence lasts for five years with South Tyneside Council regular inspections on living standards including fire safety but council officers say inspections are also sparked by local information.

The meeting heard people moving from outside the area to private HMOs can remain ‘under the radar’ and only come to light in enforcement cases or complaints.

Coun McMillan added: “What we need is to plot what it is we’re trying to do here, what information we need and whether we can get that and any intelligence members might have on other places.

“Otherwise, I personally feel that we’re not going very far. I think there’s been some misunderstandings between us on what the commission was about. I will take responsibility for that.

“I think we need to have some clear focus now.”

Strategy and democracy officer, Paul Baldasera, said that, while information the council had was limited, councillors could invite representatives of landlords to the commission to discuss concerns and ways of working together.

He added: “We have to understand what their needs of people in private accommodation are.

“It’s one of the reasons we started this commission. The primary reasons or concern was about the vulnerable individuals finding themselves in private accommodation where we’re not absolutely sure who they are and what their needs are.”

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service