Regional News Samantha Watkin 20/10/2023

Birmingham City Council – an enforcement deep dive

As part of our ongoing work into the enforcement of housing standards and the value of local licensing schemes, we are launching a regular series investigating individual local authorities and how they regulate the private rented sector. This week we look at Birmingham City Council. 

Birmingham is the country's largest local authority, providing services to over 1.1 million people, with a substantial private rented sector (around 112 thousand PRS properties). The council recently launched a city-wide selective licensing scheme, as well as an additional licensing scheme for the city.  

What is the NRLA’s position on enforcement? 

Far from being under-regulated (a line frequently trotted out in the media) there are around 170 pieces of legislation setting out hundreds of different obligations for landlords. Much of that regulation, particularly around housing standards, is enforced by local authorities.  

Previous research by the NRLA has identified a postcode lottery of enforcement, where some local authorities make good use of their existing enforcement powers while others make little to no use of them.  

The NRLA has long argued that local authorities must be properly resourced, sharing best practice and supported by Westminster to ensure that enforcement is consistent across the country. This levels the playing field for good landlords and ensures tenants can live in the safe homes they should. 

As part of that, we believe it is crucial that local authorities base their work on solid data and excellent record keeping. We have also argued that this information should be shared with local residents and central government on an annual basis to help identify best practice and show the value of the work being done.  

Inspection frequency and capacity 

In answer to a freedom of information request around HHSRS inspections, Birmingham confirmed it carried out 641 inspections of private rented properties over a three-year period. Over the same period it received 3,270 complaints from tenants. This equates to only a 20% follow up enforcement on a complaint or 0.2% of private rented stock inspected per year.  

This lags behind other cities. For example, Sheffield has a smaller PRS size, but managed to inspect more properties, managing to inspect 5.7% of its PRS stock over the same three year period. 

Birmingham also employs relatively few Environmental Health Officers (EHO), considering it is the largest local authority in the country.

Just 5.8 EHOs were employed by Birmingham at the time of our freedom of information request. In comparison, smaller cities were often more well-resourced and staffed.

For example, Leeds and Liverpool City Councils both employ over 30 EHOs to cover a smaller population.  

Similarly, across the country there is typically one EHO per 5,200 PRS housing units.

In Birmingham, there is one EHO per 19,300 PRS properties. This strongly suggests their housing department was under resourced and understaffed before the added burden of administering two new licensing schemes was introduced. 

What does this all mean? 

The relative lack of EHOs is particularly concerning for property standards in the city.

EHOs play a vital role monitoring and enforcing complaints of disrepair and poor housing conditions in the PRS.

Without sufficient enforcement capacity, tenants who do live in the minority of substandard properties in the PRS will struggle to access support. Similarly, responsible landlords who comply with their legal obligations will be at a competitive disadvantage. 

Birmingham will likely have to recruit substantially more EHOs to provide adequate coverage of its PRS stock, so it has the capacity to deal with complaints and conduct inspection in a timely manner. Given the local authority's well documented financial difficulties though, this may not be possible.

Gaps in the data

The council has had difficulties in providing us with an accurate response to our freedom of information request over the last few years. This was due to data going missing during a change in their IT system.  

Statistics related to licensing inspections and processing times for licenses were not held by the council, which went on to state that its current IT system does not provide accurate reports, and they could not pull the relevant information out retrospectively.  

Separately, Birmingham also did not respond to a freedom of information on usage of civil penalty and other enforcement powers. 

As a result, it is hard to assess the effectiveness of the work that Birmingham City Council do with regards to property enforcement or licensing, particularly, as the authority does not, as a rule, inspect every property before issuing a HMO licence.  

Birmingham will likely have to significantly improve in this area if the new schemes are to be seen as providing value for money.

DLUHC has confirmed it intends to have local authorities report on their enforcement activities in the future and this, plus the size of the new schemes, and the cost to landlords mean it is an area that must see significant improvement.  

Housing Stock knowledge 

It is crucial that local authorities have a good insight into their PRS housing stock along with other housing tenures, as it can help to identify areas where targeted funding and enforcement may be appropriate.

However, the local authority does not have up to date information on its local housing stock as the last stock condition survey was performed in 2010. These gaps in the data are likely to present problems enforcing the recently implemented additional and selective licensing schemes in the city unless a very active inspection regime is in place during the lifetime of the licensing schemes.  

Damp and mould  

Following the tragic death of Awaab Ishak, a two-year-old boy who died in social housing due to damp and mould being present in the property long term, the Secretary of State requested information from each council on how they tackle damp and mould within the private rented sector and their level of enforcement action against such properties.  
According to Birmingham’s submission to the DHCLU, they estimated that based on assessment, 5.1% of private rented properties currently have category one damp and mould hazards and didn’t provide an answer to how many category two hazards they have found in PRS properties.

When it comes to the number of complaints relating to housing standards in the last three years (2019-2022) that reference or relate to damp and mould issues, a total of 397 complaints were flagged. Out of these 397 complaints, 352 received a follow up inspection. No civil penalties or criminal prosecutions were pursued that were in relation to damp and mould hazards.  


Birmingham has said licensing is tool to use in their enforcement regime, but it is unclear how this will be measured or whether it will lead to improvements in enforcement. Due to the size of the schemes they have implemented, Birmingham has set itself an incredibly high bar with licensing, inspecting and where appropriate and enforcing against every property in five years.  

The relative lack of enforcement and the absence of important data suggests that the local authority will have to significantly improve its record keeping and enforcement activities in the future, not least when the requirement to report on enforcement activities and share best practices is introduced.


Samantha Watkin

Samantha Watkin Policy Officer

Samantha Watkin is a Policy Officer for the NRLA and assists with discretionary and mandatory licensing, local government representation and enforcement in the private rented sector. She has a previous background working in local government and the House of Commons.

See all articles by Samantha Watkin