Blackpool, which like many seaside towns in Britain, has become a haven for benefit claimants living in bed-sit land and poor quality housing.
The result is poor standard housing, often in what where originally very desirable guest houses, in their heyday, but now in a town having more than its fair share of “slum” landlords.
Blackpool Council has had enough and decided to embark on a radical programme of rented housing improvement, cracking down on the bad landlords and instigating a marketing effort to attract more well-off people and businesses to the area.
Meanwhile the council has also received a £1.5m of government grant to support vulnerable tenants and help them apply for health and social care services.
However, the council has found that efforts to hold landlords to the minimum quality standards required by law are being held back by the lack of comprehensive records on rental properties.
The housing officer team has been carrying out mass neighbourhood visits, knocking on doors and assessing the number of doorbells and rubbish bins outside, in an attempt to identify all properties in the borough that have been converted to bedsits.
Private renting has nearly doubled the number of British households living and paying rent to a landlord, and the biggest seaside town in northwest of England has become a real hotspot for this type of tenure, and especially multi-occupied (bed-sit) Houses in Multiple Occupations (HMOs).
And like many other seaside towns on Britain’s coasts the town has attracted both private landlords and their low income tenants to an array of poor quality housing in former hotels and B&Bs.
According to the Financial Times (FT) over 25 per cent of Blackpool’s 64,000 households live in private rented housing, and many of these are on Housing Benefit, soon to be combined with other benefit payments in the form of Universal Credit. It is estimated that the town’s landlords were getting paid £91m in housing benefit in 2013-14. In the last ten years there has been a tripling of the amount of housing benefit paid out for private rented accommodation in the UK.
Blackpool Council has now instigated a scheme which uses compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) to buy rundown properties, which will be targeted for demolition and replacement with family homes.
The Council plans to build 610 homes on sites purchased in this way and, so far, it has bought 59 privately owned homes, most with the consent of the owners, a few using CPOs.
Blackpool council’s director of housing Steve Matthews told the FT that despite the subsidies, many of the properties, which were once family-sized homes, have been divided into poor-quality bedsits.
“If we don’t get housing supply right then we’ll never improve our demographics,” Mr Matthews says. “There’s a real opportunity for Blackpool to be a fantastic place to live as well as for holidaymakers to visit. But we just keep running into this housing problem”, Mr Mathews has said.
The Council has started a programme of “spot-checks” by council enforcement officers on private rented houses, and where necessary serving enforcement notices on landlords to make improvements. So far the “rogue landlords” programme has resulted in 96 enforcement notices and 23 prosecutions.
The initiative to drive up standards also includes selective licensing in the worst affected areas and a council run lettings agency to compete with the area’s estate agents.