In new research published in BMJ Open, SPHR researchers have found that the licensing of private rented housing in London is associated with less anti-social behaviour. It may also increase population turnover and there is some evidence of improved mental wellbeing amongst people living in affected areas. Researchers call for a national evaluation of licensing schemes to examine impacts around England.
The quality of homes affects our health. Poor quality homes present risks of injury, risks to people’s physical health and to their mental health and wellbeing. In England, the cost of poor-quality housing to the healthcare system was estimated at £1.4bn in 2021. Housing conditions are consistently worse in the private rented sector compared to owner occupied and the social rented sector: 23% of private rented homes in 2019 failed to meet the Government’s Decent Homes Standard criteria. Over 11 million people in England live in private rented homes. That is about 1 in 5 of all households.
Selective Licensing Schemes enable local authorities to regulate privately rented homes. In these schemes, landlords must pay for a license, allow inspection, and carry out necessary work to meet minimum housing standards. Typically, a five-year license costs around £600. Only some English local authorities have implemented schemes to date. Very little research has been done on the impacts of these schemes before this study.
In this study, researchers conducted the first ever impact evaluation of Selective Licensing Schemes in Greater London. Data were analysed from current and previous schemes across local authorities in Greater London between 2006–2019. A range of factors were assessed including the mental health and social outcomes of the schemes, effects on anti-social behaviour, population turnover and self-reported wellbeing. Population turnover refers to the number of people or households who changed residence in a given time and area.
Researchers found that licensing schemes were associated with reductions in anti-social behaviour calls in the areas where the schemes were implemented.
Population turnover tended to increase in the areas with Selective Licensing Schemes. This needs to be further explored, as it may be speculated that this is due to gentrification or an increase in evictions.
There was also evidence of improved mental health and wellbeing. These mental health and wellbeing improvements mainly occurred in one large scheme that had been particularly affected by regeneration investment linked to the London 2012 Olympics. Untangling the impacts of the scheme from the impacts of the Olympics in that area is challenging, evaluation of more schemes across England is needed to get a better understanding of impacts on mental health and wellbeing.
Jakob Petersen, first author on the study says:
“Ideally, selective licencing would improve conditions for people in private rented homes, and more generally those with greater need. The increase in population turnover suggests there are potentially winners and losers. Logically, the next step would be to study, for instance, whether there has been significant rent increases, to better understand the underlying mechanisms of change”
Professor Matt Egan, who co-led the study with Dr Dalya Marks, says:
“The problems with the private rented sector are well known and put people’s health and wellbeing at risk. It’s good to see attempts to tackle problems in this sector in London and elsewhere. Because the housing market is so complex, it’s likely that any major housing intervention will have a mixture of impacts. It is encouraging to see reductions in anti-social behaviour in areas where Selective Licensing Schemes were implemented. We now need to see if our findings are replicated outside London. We need to learn more about the impacts on mental health and wellbeing, and on population turnover – including who is and isn’t benefiting.”
Researchers call for a national evaluation of Selective Licensing Schemes to examine impacts beyond London. When more schemes can be studied over a longer period it will be possible to build up a more detailed picture about the complex factors at play.
The Government has stated major interest in addressing problems with the private rented sector. At present, selective licensing is a discretionary intervention – English Local Authorities can choose whether or they implement or renew a Selective Licensing Scheme. Researchers hope the findings from this study will help inform some of these decisions and serve as a framework for further research.