Over 6,000 potential 'beds in sheds' investigated
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Local Government and also in Housing, Legal
Hundreds of landlords in Slough suspected of renting out so-called 'beds in sheds' are being investigated.
Slough Borough Council has passed the details of 587 landlords to the HMRC as part of its ongoing crackdown on rogue landlords and people living under the radar in illegal outbuildings.
Although the council is yet to actually catch someone living illegally in an outbuilding during one of its inspections, legal action has been taken against three landlords after enquiries revealed they didn’t have planning permission.
One of the landlords, from the Wexham area, demolished his outbuilding last month after a failed appeal against a planning enforcement notice to remove it.
Appeals are pending against two other planning enforcement notices issued to landlords in central Slough and Langley.
The council's crackdown comes after officers identified more than 6,100 outbuildings that could potentially be used for illegal accommodation.
The buildings were found during a flyover commissioned by the council last year, during which company Bluesky International used a specially-equipped aeroplane to gather thermal, 3D and aerial images of the borough in an attempt to build an accurate map of all outbuildings.
Just over a year on, neighbourhood enforcement officers visit up to 12 outbuildings a week to report back for a decision on whether planning enforcement action can be taken.
Certain buildings over four years old are no longer subject to planning enforcement. Instead, details are being passed to the district valuation office, which decides whether buildings are independent dwellings for which landlords would be liable to pay council tax.
The council has referred 22, all of which have been approved for council tax, and other habitable outbuildings could be granted permission for use as housing.
However, as the project progresses, those outbuildings will also be subject to inspection by the council’s neighbourhood housing regulation team to ensure they meet stringent housing standards.
Ray Haslam, head of environmental services and resilience, said: “We’re taking a holistic approach and dealing with each outbuilding on an individual basis.
“Our primary concern, since the inception of this project, has always been to protect vulnerable people and ensure they’re not living in substandard conditions.
“So, while a number of these buildings were undoubtedly built for habitation and we have anecdotal evidence they’re being lived in, it’s good news that where we’ve been allowed access we haven’t found anyone in need of our help.
“I’m pleased things are beginning to gather pace and we’ll be paying more visits to landlords as the weeks go on.”
Slough Borough Council is one of a handful of local authorities granted extra money from the government to help improve conditions in houses in multiple occupancy (HMOs) and reduce the number of outbuildings being used as accommodation without permission.
The council recently competed for additional government funding for the project, but applications were received from across the country and the money was ultimately awarded to councils that hadn’t received previous funding.
Cllr James Swindlehurst, commissioner for neighbourhoods and renewal, said: “We were disappointed not to receive the additional funding, but we still have about £75,000 left for the project and we hope future collection of previously unpaid council tax will help fund the continuation of this and other work to improve housing standards.
“People living in outbuildings generate waste, they use council services and they have a cost to the council that they are not contributing to through the council tax system.
“While collecting council tax from the people who should be paying it has always been part of the plan, we’re giving the aspect of our inspections more emphasis because we know there’s no more money to come from the government.
“We’re still concerned about a lack of space and the effect new outbuildings have on neighbourhoods. But where we’re unable to enforce planning regulations, it makes sense to regularise the ones that are perfectly habitable.”