On 16th November, Green Councillors alongside the Chief Executive and senior city council officials met with the ACORN the union. Like ACORN we care deeply about the lives of renters in our city. This was something that we were keen to communicate to them in our letter last month in response to the concerns they raised at the end of September. We have been keen to meet with them since, despite claims otherwise that we have been refusing to do so.
We have already taken some steps to improve the standards of renting in Brighton and Hove including increasing the size of our private rented sector enforcement team, which has enabled an increase in the number of Civil Penalty Notices (CPNs) issued, more proactive enforcement work on homes failing to meet Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES), and we have plans to roll out the Warmer Homes programme for residents to bring down fuel costs.
We have also written to the Government to request that they give the city council powers to freeze private rents for residents struggling with cost of living, reintroduce a temporary ban on evictions and to speed up national legislation as part of the Renter’s Reform Bill. But it remains clear that too many residents in our city are forced to live in precarious housing conditions and much more work needs to be done. This was reinforced during the meeting by the powerful testimony of ACORN members.
In our meeting, we outlined our firm commitment to review the 2020 private rented sector enforcement policy which was introduced when Labour last ran the council. It is extremely concerning if section 21 evictions are happening in some circumstances when serving an improvement notice could have prevented this. Green councillors commit to improving the council’s enforcement practices within the current enforcement policy and we will bring an update to January housing committee, pending a full review. Any review will include consultation with both tenant and relevant groups and reinforce the commitment to a zero-tolerance approach towards rogue landlords. We welcome any evidence being given to the council in order to help this process and strengthen this response. We remain committed to exploring more proactive enforcement action where the council has the powers to do so.
Subject to appropriate evidence (which is required by law), we are also committed to landlord licencing schemes and have been working hard on options for some time. We are equally frustrated with how long this process has taken, but we feel it is important we follow this correctly and create a case which is as watertight as possible. At the end of the month, we will analyse a report from consultants procured to work on the development of a licensing scheme. This will tell us whether there is an evidence base for a scheme/s and what that might look like, and we will be in a position to communicate this with stakeholders. Once the full feasibility report is completed, Housing Committee will need to agree whether or not to proceed to an implementation programme, including some indicative timelines. This means that Green councillors alone cannot proceed with this and need the support of all parties. The timelines for this work will be shared with relevant stakeholders such as ACORN. We are committed to doing this properly – so that this policy does not get abandoned, as it did when Labour ran the council.
We work closely with a range of unions and community groups representing residents, and this collaborative working requires trust and respect between both organisations. We welcome the challenge and accountability raised by any resident groups and although we have, at times, disagreed with ACORN’s interpretation of events and actions, their member testimonies are an essential reminder of the need to prioritise improving the rented sector in Brighton & Hove. As always, we are happy to meet with ACORN and will continue to engage with them. We continue to work on improving the policies and processes that we have control of, and we will push for changes to national laws and the adequate funding to drive forward real improvements for renters in the city.