Special Report James Wood 09/02/2022

The enforcement lottery: local authority inspections and notices


Since 2009, the condition of private rented sector housing stock has significantly improved. The proportion of properties with a category 1 hazard has declined from 28.2% in 2009 to 13.2% in 2019. Despite this, there are still a small proportion of properties in the PRS where conditions are potentially hazardous and need to be improved.

In these cases, local authorities have been provided with a wide range of powers they can use to raise standards in a property. Most notably, the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). This system allows local authorities to inspect a property to identify category 1 or 2 hazards, and then take action against the landlord where hazards are found. Failure to comply can lead to criminal prosecution or civil penalties.

However, previous research in our series has found that local authorities do not make widespread use of the HHSRS system to issue civil penalties or start criminal prosecutions. Only 16% of improvement notices were directly related to property conditions, with most issued for administrative breaches such as failing to hold a selective licence. 

This does suggest that many local authorities are not aggressively enforcing the current property condition regulations, a point raised by the Communities and Local Government Select Committee in 2018 when they recommended local authorities look at their existing strategies to promote better enforcement. 

Aims and Objectives of this paper

The purpose of this third working paper in the enforcement lottery series, is to assess the work local authorities do prior to starting prosecutions or issuing civil penalties. Local authorities have significant powers to take legal action against criminal landlords but typically never reach this stage. This raises the question of whether local authorities are actively inspecting, allowing them to move on to taking further action.

In addition, this paper attempts to measure the way local authorities respond to complaints regarding the PRS. At present, local authorities are not required to report on the progress of their enforcement activity to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). As a result, there is very limited publicly available data on local authority enforcement activities.  

The enforcement lottery:local authority inspections and notices

Last updated: 02/02/2022 at 13:50 - 702.53 KB


Key findings

  • More than half of local authorities (56%) were unable to provide accurate numbers for complaints about the PRS. Where local authorities could provide this information, they dealt with an average of 274 complaints about the PRS each year.
  • The presence of a selective licensing scheme does not appear to improve record keeping around complaints, with 61% of selectively licensed local authorities unable to provide accurate figures for PRS complaints.
  • Local authorities performed an average of 135 HHSRS inspections per year, significantly below the average number of complaints. Activity varied substantially, with 25 local authorities responsible for 50% of all HHSRS inspections.
  • Local authorities do classify and record HHSRS inspections differently, making it difficult to accurately assess enforcement work around property conditions.
  • 3,679 improvement notices are issued annually, with 9% of HHSRS inspections leading to an improvement notice. However, usage of this notice is concentrated, with 20 local authorities responsible for 50% of notices.
  • Two local authorities performed most of the emergency remedial actions over the last three years. Over half performed no emergency remedial action at all.
  • Follow-up enforcement is extremely low with around 1% of HHSRS inspections leading to criminal prosecution.

Key recommendations

  • The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) should take the lead on standardising data collection on complaints and inspections rates. It should look again at a national benchmark scheme for local authorities, requiring them to report to DLUHC on the outcomes of all enforcement activities, including their informal work.
  • DLUHC should work with local authorities to identify why inspections rarely lead to prosecutions or civil penalties being issued. In particular, they should look at the costs of enforcement, the complexity of the legislation, and the value of informal enforcement action. They should then use this information to develop a holistic strategy around enforcement in the PRS.
  • DLUHC should identify high performing local authorities and ask them to share best practices with other local authorities to improve outcomes across England.
James Wood

James Wood Policy Manager

James Wood, LLB, is the NRLA’s Policy Manager. James has provided legally sound advice to thousands of landlords for over 6 years, along with producing the organisation’s guides and documents and training the organisation’s highly rated advice service.

See all articles by James Wood

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