The building blocks of effective private housing multi-agency enforcement

A minority of landlords across the UK continue to commit housing crimes and expose tenants to life threatening hazards and poor housing conditions. In response to this growing challenge, many housing authorities are introducing property licensing schemes to ramp up enforcement against those that flout the law to protect tenants and improve communities. As part of this new regulatory approach, building an effective multi-agency enforcement team to tackle the most determined criminals is vital.

Most landlords can be nudged towards compliance through licensing and education, however the hard-core of persistent criminal landlords must first be tackled and forced to comply or leave the sector.

Enforcers often find that criminal landlords are breaking the law across the piece, including planning, building control, tax, fraud, Court Orders, to name a few. Moreover, criminal housing can also be a home for individuals who are of interest to the authorities. This makes licensing enforcement ideal for a multi-agency approach.

I have seen how multi-agency working can transform enforcement productivity, resulting in hundreds of criminal landlords convicted. Between 2013 – 2017 Newham carried out 400 multi-agency operations and prosecuted 1100 landlords and issued 400 simple cautions. Enforcement partners also achieved valuable outcomes including; 750 arrests by Police and Home Office and £2.5 million of additional Council Tax collected from landlords.

This approach is now being used by many authorities and some are having success, however others are struggling. So what are the key building blocks of a successful multi-agency team? Based on my observations over the last decade practicing this method, here are my 7 strategic steps to success.

It all starts with intelligence. Greater intelligence sharing within the council and across agencies is crucial. Intelligence driven enforcement allows multi agency teams focus on properties which link to most crimes. Big data enriches analysis and enhances authorities ability through advanced statistics to predict the location of housing crimes.

Make as many multi-agency friends as possible. Productive working relationships with the widest range of agencies improves intelligence and enforcement leverage. Consider; Police, Fire Service, Home Office, HM Revenue & Customs as well as other regulatory teams within the council, such as the Housing Benefit and Council Tax teams, Antisocial Behaviour Teams, Planning, Building Control, the Housing Needs team and Social Services etc. Identifying officers who make professional relationships quickly and effectively can help speed this process up. Multi-agency works best when organised at the field level with strategic level support.

By working together, enforcers become greater than the sum of their parts. A single more in-depth evidence gathering visit facilitated by Police improves property access rates and the quality of evidence gathered at the property. This approach enables officers to identify and prove many more offences. Police attendance during visits also ensures officers and tenants are kept safe. Coordinated enforcement interventions magnifies the enforcement impact. For example, Housing Act prosecutions and financial penalties, in conjunction Planning enforcement and Council Tax Court Orders can have an overwhelming legal impact on a criminal landlord.

Focus on a criminals Achilles heel. When investigating a portfolio landlord with a history of criminality the multiagency approach excels. Shared intelligence from a range of organisation can help reveal the complete picture of criminality and identify key linkages. By using disruptive Policing techniques it is possible to pursue serious unrelated offences to help bring wider criminality to a stop, for example by enforcing breaches of Court Orders.

Invest in relationships. Maintaining a network of organisations that work effectively together across multiple levels requires continuous investment at a personal and organisational level. For the collaboration to be sustained, team members must seek to understand each other’s strategic and operational requirements and be willing to make adaptions to traditional ways of working. An important factor for success is working in a way that delivers mutual benefit. To help ensure this element is satisfied, care and innovation is necessary while selecting enforcement targets. In reality it’s not possible to organise a joint operation where all agencies get a result, so share enforcement outcomes back to the group to demonstrate the value of the joint approach.

Protect innocent tenants. Multi-agency enforcement can be hard hitting so it’s important to protect innocent tenants from the side effects of multi-agency working. Working alongside colleagues from housing services or housing charities can offset the impact of enforcement operations on tenants and help ensure individuals are protected. Tenancy advice can be offered and actions taken against landlords who attempt to illegally evict or harass tenants.

Finally, encourage culture change and work on continuous improvements. Multi-agency enforcement requires professional cultural adaption. Some officers initially find it difficult to work in larger teams, dealing with a wide range of issues and priorities. There is often a need to compromise and the ability deal effectively with conflicts. Don’t expect the approach to work perfectly from the start, there will be bumps along the road and small incremental improvements will lead to impressive results over time.

Russell Moffatt

Russell Moffatt

Chartered EHP and Co-founder of Metastreet

19th June 2018

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