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Housing Strategy 2018 to 2023

Objective 2: stronger communities

The Council's vision is for communities that are diverse, cohesive, caring and vibrant. Good housing conditions play an important role in supporting the health, well-being and prosperity of our residents and helping this vision become a reality. Over recent years significant progress has been made in improving the life opportunities of Stockton's residents, however pockets of poor quality housing, social exclusion and deprivation still exist. The Council and its partners are committed to tackling these issues and working with communities to improve housing standards and tackle social and economic exclusion, poor health and poverty.

What we need to focus on and why

Growth of the Private Rented Sector

The private rented housing sector has grown significantly in recent years at both a national and local level. At a borough-wide level between the 2001 and 2011 census the percentage of households renting their home from a private landlord increased from 5.2% to 13.1%. However, this increase was particularly stark in those wards where private rental properties were already a significant tenure:

  • Town Centre: increased from 15.1% to 25.5%
  • Parkfield and Oxbridge: increased from 18.6% to 31.1%
  • Mandale and Victoria: increased 12.3% to 24.8%

Nationally the private rental sector (using figures from the 2016/17 English House Conditions Survey) accounts for 20% of the total housing stock in England. With the DCLG highlighting areas that are considered as having a "high proportion" of privately rented properties if they are above this national level.

Government Policy

The Government is keen to ensure that Local Authorities have the necessary tools to ensure a quality private rented sector in their locality (in terms of both housing condition and management) and can effectively tackle rogue landlords.

As a Council we aim to support good landlords who provide decent well maintained homes, whilst taking a proactive approach to tackling rogue and irresponsible landlords who knowingly rent out accommodation that is unlicensed, substandard or unsafe. The Housing and Planning Act 2016 (which received Royal Assent on 12th May 2016 and was enacted in October 2016) introduces a range of new powers which have been given to Local Authorities including a range of new measures aimed at tackling rogue landlords and improving standards in the private rented sector, which is welcomed by the Council. Local Authorities have been given powers to impose a Civil Penalty, to apply for Rent Repayment Orders, ban convicted landlords and property agents from operating as well as add their names to a national database of rogue landlords and agents.

Stockton Rental Standard

The Council recognises the importance of good quality private rented accommodation and we know that the majority of landlords (and letting agents) operating in the Borough are good landlords. Unfortunately a minority of landlords are either not aware of their obligations or have no intention of raising their property and management standards. To ensure that all private rented properties are of a high quality and are consistently well managed the Council has recently implemented the 'Stockton Rental Standard', a quick and easy guide aimed at helping and supporting private rented landlords. Our intention is to build on the positive relationships we have with the majority of landlords, whilst at the same time making it very clear that the Council will not tolerate unsatisfactory property conditions and poor standards of management.

Our Approach to working with Private Sector Landlords

When the Council's Private Sector Housing Team receive a request for service from a tenant about poor housing conditions they try to work with landlords and seek to resolve issues informally in the first instance. The Council believes that this approach facilitates a swifter resolution to repairs/improvement issues when compared to the formal route.

This process gives landlords the opportunity to resolve matters and helps reduce the burden that can arise from having to take formal enforcement action. The formal route will be pursued if little or no progress has been made using the informal route.

If there is a history of non-compliance by a landlord or an owner or if the condition of the property presents a serious risk of harm or an imminent risk of serious harm to the health and safety to occupiers or visitors or matters are deemed to be an emergency then the Private Sector Housing Team may take formal enforcement action

Targeted Action Areas

In order to support our local communities the Council is strengthening its approach to dealing with poor housing conditions and poor landlords in the Private Rented Sector. The Council is proposing to implement an area based, targeted intervention approach providing a visible, neighbourhood management presence.

There are areas of our borough with high concentrations of low value, terraced housing (specifically the central Stockton and the Victoria area within the Mandale and Victoria ward in Thornaby) which due to falling housing demand are seeing an increasing number of properties being purchased for the private rental market. Unfortunately as rental values are lower in these areas, a number of these properties are occupied by either vulnerable households or those with limited housing choices who are often transient residents with chaotic lifestyles. As a result these local communities are often hotspots for crime, anti-social behaviour and experience high numbers of empty properties and property turnovers.

Local Authorities have powers under the Housing Act 2004 to introduce selective licensing of privately rented homes in their area on the grounds of low housing demand and/or significant anti-social behaviour. Against the backdrop highlighted above, it is proposed to implement Selective Licensing schemes within central Stockton and the Victoria area within the Mandale and Victoria ward in Thornaby. This approach provides the Council with the ability to identify designated areas were a locally based team, working with partner agencies and the local community can implement a targeted approach to improving standards.

Empty Homes

The effects on communities of empty properties can be negative and wide ranging and can be symptomatic of housing decline in areas where demand is low or market dynamics have changed.

Homes can be empty for a variety of reasons such as someone moving into a care home, property inheritance, inability to sell, relationship breakdowns or the property being held in probate. However the longer a property is empty the more of a problem it can become. Empty Homes often attract anti-social behaviour, vandalism and can be a cause of blight and unsightliness for neighbours.

The Council has a dedicated Empty Homes Team who work proactively with our partners and owners of long term empty properties to bring them back into use. Our Empty Homes team provide informal advice, information and financial assistance to encourage reoccupation of empty properties. The added benefit of this is that it provides additional housing for homeless families and those on the housing register.

Where owners fail to engage with us we will look to take targeted enforcement action against them and the problematic empty property. The Council have been successful in securing Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) to return two long term problematic empty homes back in to use.

With support from our Registered Provider partners and with Homes England funding, the Council has been successful in returning a number of empty homes back into use that have gone into the social sector. We will look to continue to support this trend, along with returning empty properties back into use in the private sector.

Houses in Multiple Occupation

The Housing and Planning Act 2016 will extend the scope of Mandatory House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licensing, which came into force in April 2018, and will result in closer regulation of higher risk HMO properties in the borough. The council intends to facilitate this by offering advice, guidance and education to landlords and agents to enable them to effectively manage their properties and tenants and to become more professional.

Landlord Accreditation

The Council's Landlord Accreditation Scheme recognises the positive contribution of the Private Rented Sector and extends the support we provide to accredited landlords in the provision of professionally managed high quality rental accommodation. Assisting landlords to achieve accreditation status by offering advice on statutory requirements, property maintenance and repairs.

This is part of the Council's ongoing commitment to working in close partnership with landlords, tenants, local landlord associations, the Police, Fire Brigade and other key private rented sector stakeholders to achieve a vibrant private rented sector that is professionally managed and offers decent homes.

Student Accommodation

Durham University recently moved their academic campus in Stockton back to Durham City and replace the facility with an international college. The impact of this change has been to reduce the student population of Stockton-on-Tees in the short term, however we are starting to see a growth in numbers of students under 18 years old moving into purpose built accommodation on campus. Whilst purpose built accommodation has driven up standards and provided greater choice for students, the impact on traditional student neighbourhoods and HMOs needs to be monitored as some areas may start to show signs of market decline.

Affordable Warmth

Fuel poverty is a persistent challenge that affects 12.3% of households (or 9907 households) in Stockton-on-Tees. Within the Tees Valley sub region, Stockton-on-Tees has had the lowest estimated level of fuel poverty consistently over recent years and is currently the second lowest figure in the North East Region, but it remains a persistent challenge to address against rising national fuel poverty levels.

The inability to keep a home warm is more than just a comfort issue - it has real and severe impacts on peoples' health and well-being. In addition, trying to adequately heat an energy inefficient home results in considerable and unnecessary emissions, and can drain a family of money, often leading to fuel poverty.

It is our ambition that no-one in the borough suffers the blight of fuel poverty and is unable to keep warm in their homes, which is why through our multi agency Housing, Neighbourhood and Affordable Warmth Partnership, we adopted a revised and strengthened Affordable Warmth Strategy and Action Plan in January 2017.

Our intensive programme of improvement and work on affordable warmth has made good progress. In 2016 Newcastle University independently evaluated the health and economic benefits of our area based energy efficiency measures such as the External Wall Insulation scheme to over 3500 properties, which demonstrated that significant reduction in energy consumption and cost for householders, by up to 32%, and have realised energy cost savings to Stockton-on-Tees householders of up to £6.2m since 2012. The report estimated health related quality of life savings of £2.6m since 2012.

Further evidence of our work to prioritise the poorest housing conditions and tackle fuel poverty is our work with 6 other North East Local Authorities to deliver a £1.2m programme of first time gas connections and central heating systems under the new Warm Homes Fund in 2018, with installations being delivered to properties with the lowest energy efficiency levels and lowest incomes.

Warm Homes Healthy People

Warm Homes Healthy People (WHHP) is a partnership project funded by Public Health to provide help, support and emergency interventions to some of the Borough's most vulnerable residents at a time when it is most needed. One call to the Council's Customer Contact Centre can provide help with:

  • emergency heating
  • boiler servicing and repairs
  • energy efficiency advice/support and practical help to switch tariff
  • welfare benefits advice
  • home handyperson service

Since its inception in 2012, 4,954 referrals have been processed and 7,253 specific interventions have been delivered to ensure that vulnerable people are kept warm in winter. A key element of the WHHP offer is income maximisation and since 2012 this service has identified and secured over £1,051,000 of previously unclaimed benefit entitlement being brought into the Borough.

Impact of welfare reforms

Benefit reforms pose a considerable risk to existing households renting in Stockton-on-Tees in both the private and social housing sectors. The combination of the Benefit 'cap', changes regarding under-occupation and changes in Local Housing Allowance (LHA) are likely to mean adjustment in the rental sectors. The longer term implications of Reform are as yet unknown, as available data is short term and incomplete; however, the longer term impact will be monitored by the council.

What we are going to do and how

Our priorities and actions directly respond to the challenges outlined in this chapter and support the key priorities identified in the Council Plan 2018-21 and Economic Growth Plan 2017-20, therefore provide a consistent thread through all our activity.

Priority 1: Reduce the number of long term empty homes

Actions

We will:

  • annually bring 70 long-term empty residential properties back into use.
  • support partner and property owners to bring empty homes back into use.
  • use target enforcement action where required
  • offer advice and assistance to landlords and property owners as set out in the Council's Stockton Rental Standard Monitor the impact of purpose-built student accommodation on empty homes in targeted areas

Priority 2: Implement an area-based, targeted intervention approach in areas of housing decline

Actions

We will: 

  • successfully implement a targeted action approach to address the issues associated with older terraced housing in central Stockton and the Victoria area in Thornaby
  • use enforcement powers to ensure private rented properties are free from Category 1 hazards
  • build on the positive relationships we have with the majority of landlords, whilst at the same time making it very clear that the Council will not tolerate unsatisfactory property conditions and poor standards of management
  • introduce Selective Licensing Areas Tackle crime and anti-social behaviour

Priority 3: Improve health and well-being through continuing to raise housing standards

Actions

We will: 

  • work with partners to educate and advise landlords, owners and tenants
  • establish the Rogue Landlord's database and implement Banning Orders and Civil Penalties
  • implement the new definition of mandatory HMOs
  • continue to work closely with health colleagues to improve residents' health
  • support the aims and objectives of the Affordable Warmth Strategy Monitor energy efficiency standards in the PR