Accreditation provides an exciting opportunity to promote an expanded and better quality private rented sector (PRS) and needs to be embraced by all PRS stakeholders.
In recent years the housing market has, and is continuing, to go through significant changes and accreditation will help the PRS to take advantage of the opportunities that are opening up.
By way of background, accreditation started a decade ago in the student sector. The regulation of standards in the student market faced challenges because of the difficulty in applying the definition of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) to shared housing. Accreditation emerged as a means of voluntary self regulation with accredited landlords achieving business advantage through the accreditation status.
Higher educational institutions or their nominated agencies such as UNIPOL and Manchester Student Homes operated many of the original student schemes. Their early successes encouraged local authorities to develop and launch schemes to cover the entire PRS within their administrative borders.
Those first local authority schemes faced an uphill struggle because they had to go through learning curves and break down the barriers of mistrust between local authorities and private landlords that had built up over many years. Landlords were suspicious of the motives of local authorities that they perceived as having anti PRS cultures at both political and officer level and had traditionally enforced standards but now wished to encourage and acknowledge good standards and work with, not against private landlords.
Some of the early pioneering schemes failed through a variety of reasons but many flourished. The successes encouraged more local authorities to set up schemes. Local Government officers and private landlords alike, weary with the old antagonistic attitudes that traditional enforcement of standards created, were all too willing to try news ways of working.
By the late 1990s expansion of accreditation had come to the attention of the Government which commissioned Professor Philip Leather of the Centre for Urban Renewal Studies, Birmingham University, to undertake research into the increasing popularity of accreditation. The outcome was that the Government liked what was reported and accordingly threw its own weight behind supporting accreditation by publishing extensive guidance to local authorities on how to develop and successfully operate accreditation schemes.
This strong message to local authorities that Government actively supported accreditation turned the stream of interest in accreditation into a torrent. The operators of successful accreditation schemes became inundated with enquiries about the practicalities of setting up and operating schemes from organisations interested in doing so. This encouraged Leeds City Council and UNIPOL Student Homes to run the first National Accreditation Fair in 2001. Two hundred and fifty delegates from around the UK attended the event and the feedback indicated that there was enormous interest in establishing accreditation as a mainstream feature of the PRS.
This inspired key national PRS players, including the Government and the Residential Landlords Association, to create ANUK to publicise, promote and share good practice in accreditation. This multi-agency organisation is one of the key drivers for accreditation. It is run by a management group that includes landlord representatives such as those from the National Federation of Residential Landlords and the British Property Federation.
Accreditation is now sweeping the country and new schemes are continuously being launched or developed.
Estimates are that more than half the local authorities in England already operate or are developing accreditation schemes. Accreditation scheme practitioners estimate that within three years it will be unusual for any part of the UK containing any sizeable PRS to not have an accreditation scheme. The acorn is growing.
Government is encouraging local authorities to separate their landlord functions from their strategic housing functions. Many local authorities have created ‘arms length management organisations’ (ALMOs) to achieve this, whilst many more have transferred their housing stock to registered social landlords.
This move towards local authorities being the facilitators of housing services rather direct providers is bringing about a change in attitude towards the PRS. The PRS is no longer seen as a ‘problem’ but instead the PRS is seen for what it is, the provider of essential accommodation services.
Accreditation is by its nature, voluntary and therefore needs to be made to work. Local authorities are taking the initiative to develop and operate accreditation schemes and landlords need to support them in order to make them work.