Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Brent Labour, Increasing Inequality for the working poor

Guest Blog by Scott Bartle who was the Green Party candidate for Mapesbury ward in the local election

The Private Rented Sector Licensing Consultation.

Brent Council have released their consultation paper for the Private Rented Sector Licensing.
The consultation can be found HERE

This was initially discussed at the Brent Council Executive Meeting on Tuesday 22nd April 2014.

What I am interested in, as I'm sure you are is Council's making policy based upon firm evidence, but the research this private rented sector licensing is based upon is very shoddy, hence its very important for people to have their say in the consultation.

After a review of the research it is clear that

1)The  anti-social behaviour and the case scenarios that are described in the report are best dealt with by the police who have relevant anti-social behaviour orders to do with it. There is a lot of conflation between Anti-social behaviour and criminal acts.

2) The sample size of people that responded was too small. In total 121 households renting in the private sector out of 20,182 spoke to the researchers (and 67 from other tentures). Their perspectives can not be considered representative, and their responses will be bias as they would have had a specific interest to speak to the researchers.

Of these: only 3 people from Mapesbury ward responded and according the map these are people living in housing association properties and A> will not be affected by the tax and B> due to the nature of their accommodation (and the nature of the banding system) have a higher likelihood of vulnerable people with various difficulties living in the properties.

3) HQN analysed both the Council and Police data to map anti-social and some criminal behaviour in Brent to identify where the anti-social behaviour was most concentrated. The 'anti-social' of highest frequency relates to litter and flytipping.

At the Executive Council Meeting on 22 Apr 2014 7.00 pm - Councillor Butt admitted that the data is corrupted by people that do not live in the area (such as tourists visiting Wembley Stadium dropping litter). Similarly one might ask if people would really 'poo on their own doorstep' & flytip in their own local area. Often the flytip appears to be related to building works and could thus be identified as being left by people who are only in the area on short term contracts. Similarly, in Mapesbury the data is skewed by the number of adhoc workers on Chichele Road who litter etc who the local dispersal order was directed towards.

In table 3: The majority of the acts listed are criminal acts and are already dealt with by the police.
e.g. violence theft etc. Therefore one might ask if it is the role of the Council (and if they really have the budget) to try and do police work.

4) Similarly, they include 'burglary' in this statistics to evidence why they should put this tax upon tenants and landlords who are both equally likely to be victims of burglary. This policy will clearly not be effective in solving 'burglarly' as an 'anti-social behaviour' by placing a tax on the very people that are affected.

HQN has analysed both Council and Police data to map anti-social and some criminal behaviour in Brent to identify where anti-social behaviour is most concentrated.

5) The research talks of problems with HMO's (Houses of Multiple Occupancy) which indicates a [quoted from the report] "A significant problem with the mangement and condition of HMOs in Brent." - I would like to point out that HMOs are ALREADY Subject to mandatory licensing under the Housing Act 2004 and are already under eye of Brent Council. However, they are reported STILL be a significant problem. This is further evidence that this Private Rented Sector Licensing policy will not be effective at what it proposes to do and will only serve to penalise residents in Brent for an issue that it is clearly not possible for the council to deal with.

6. The consultation paperwork shows that The Enforcement Team in Brent’s Private Housing Services unit records its activities dealing with sub-standard accommodation in the private rented sector. Yet prosecutions are very low - less than one a year. his is further evidence to show that sub-standard accommodation is not an issue that Brent Council can affect real change with. There is also no evidence to suggest changing the accommodation will reduce anti-social behaviour.

7. Punishing the residents of Brent for increased littering or flytip due to a failure in contract negotiations with Veolia very unfair. According to the results of a freedom of information request Brent did not ringfence funding for specific tasks when they outsourced the public the service to a private company. The primary aim of a private company is to make profits therefore based upon the reduction in service, the poor collection of bins and additional issues experienced with Veolia it is clear they are squeezing service to increase their income.

8) The final figures in the report states that the six wards where the most anti-social behaviour was recorded were, in order:

Willesden Green, Mapesbury, Wembley Central, Aperton, Northwick Park and Harlesden.

In the report the authors state themselves that "the number of incidents was small - less than 35 a year."

35 divided by the 21 wards in Brent = 1.6* incidents, per ward per year.

This is evidence that the only purpose for this policy can be for income generation and this a stealth tax.

We must remember, that a council tax increase has already been proposed so it is unclear if this is a fair way to deal with the issue.

At the beginning of the consultation it states:
"Brent’s private rented sector has over 35,000 properties many of which offer good accommodation but some are of poor quality. There is evidence that poor quality accommodation can contribute to anti-social behaviour and there may be other associated problems including overcrowding."
It is well known that 'poor quality accommodation' is often lived in my people with limited means and is generally considered to be an indicator of people living in Poverty. Ergo - with this policy they are blaming the poor for 'anti-social behaviour' and wish to tackle this by a licensing the landlords, who will pass the costs on to the tenants thereby further increasing inequality and making the people who live in this accommodation poorer. Also worrying is the parallels this has to the 1986 Westminter 'homes for votes' scandal where the conservatives allegedly aimed to force out the poorer sections of society to increase their vote share.

Most people everywhere have concerns relating to 'anti-social behaviour' and the people in Mapesbury would be no different in that regard, but the question is if the research this policy is based upon and the problem it purports to solve is sound. In this case, the research is not as it conflates 'anti-social behaviour' with criminal behaviour and also confuses correlation with causation. It is ill thought out and is clearly not the solution to the issue.


a) The Consultation details on the Brent Website HERE

b) The details from the Executive Meeting HERE

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