Letters MD welcomes almshouse review findings

1st July 2019

Almshouses in York look set to be exempt from selective licensing fees after a government-commissioned review recommended that the fees should not apply to non-profit charities.

The law has been a grey area since 2004, when councils were given the power to require landlords to take out a licence in designated areas, to help tackle concerns over anti-social behaviour and low housing demand.

City of York Council have so far never used the powers to categorise almshouses as landlords but the review’s recommendation will give peace of mind to trustees of the properties, which provide homes to allow people in need to live independently and with dignity.

Letters manages several almshouses in York on behalf of trustees and Managing Director Anya Mathewson said: “Since 2004, almshouses have been vulnerable to being charged tens of thousands of pounds for licences for the homes they provide, depending on how their council interprets the law. This review clearly signals that fees should not apply to non-profit charities like almshouses and is welcome news.”

The government-commissioned Independent Review of the Use and Effectiveness of Selective Licensing concluded: “There is a strong case to be made that … non-profit charities (operating under the guidelines of the charity commission) that are not registered providers of social housing, should be added to the list presumed exempt from the licence fee.”

It added: “Non-profit charities (e.g. almshouses, veterans housing charities) provide a valuable service to the local community whilst often working on the slimmest of margins. The cost of licensing adversely affects their financial viability, and Charity Commission guidelines already prescribe good management and maintenance practices.”

The review described selective licensing as an “effective policy tool” but recommended a range of reforms, including a national landlord register.

Ms Mathewson joined other agents and landlords in questioning whether a national register would be effective in tackling the few rogue landlords which made legislation such as the 2004 Housing Act necessary.

She said: “The vast majority of landlords – and certainly all those who Letters work with – are extremely responsible and don’t need another level of bureaucracy such as a register. The government should instead provide councils with the means to enforce existing legislation and root out rogue landlords quickly and effectively.”