Improving the private rented sector: Hull City Council

Hull has a large private rented sector with concentrations of up to 80 per cent of the stock on some streets being in that tenure.

Key points

  • Private rented sector activity as part of inner city neighbourhood renewal.
  • Joint action with external partners eg GLAA, HMRC and the Police.
  • Formal enforcement first approach.
  • Tackling exempt accommodation as a corporate priority involving, for example, adult social care.


Hull has a large private rented sector with concentrations of up to 80 per cent of the stock on some streets being in that tenure. House prices are low, which signals an investment opportunity for some landlords: the sector has doubled in size since the early 1990s.

There are 4,500 HMOs in the city and the authority ranks second highest of 21 districts in Yorkshire and the Humber for households living in fuel poverty. At any one time there are about 2,000 long term empty homes in parts of the city with low demand. A stock condition survey in 2009 found 61 per cent of private housing in the city was pre-1919, and almost a third in the of the private rented stock failed to meet the decent homes standard.

The housing strategy is the lynchpin for action on the private rented stock in Hull. The city council has set three themes of Housing, People and Neighbourhoods, with linked priorities to improve standards in the sector; reduce empties; increase energy efficiency and reduce fuel poverty; improve whole neighbourhoods through renewal works; and improve residents’ health and wellbeing. The homelessness forum supports the work, and a Strategic Housing Group comprising the main housing providers, councillors and other partners, is being revitalised this year.

Renewal and new build

The city council is working very actively to increase the supply of good quality housing and lift residents out of poor conditions, as part of a ‘whole neighbourhoods’ approach.

From 2002 part of the city formed a Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder with many Victorian terraces either cleared or scheduled for demolition. Buy to let investors bought a significant amount of the stock, though much stayed empty. Since the ending of the programme by central government in 2011 the council has worked to support communities and tenants by carrying out works to boundary walls, guttering and solid wall insulation, using the Local Growth Fund and other pots of funding. The aim is to ensure the housing is sustainable and prevent empties, despite low market values.

To tackle the empty homes, the council takes a proactive approach in offering lease agreements to owners and working with community partners to bring the housing into use. Where necessary, the council makes Empty Homes Management Orders; or is now taking a few properties through enforced sale.

The cleared areas, as well as other parts of the city, are the focus for strong new build activity by the council. To date 2,260 new homes have been built, with a further 3,000 in the pipeline. Although the homes are of mixed tenure and for various household types, there is a focus on families, single persons, homeless people and older people, including 320 apartments in extra care schemes plus a health centre.

Linking the street scene with multi-disciplinary action

The city council made a successful joint bid with the Streetscene organisation for MHCLG Controlling Migration funding. Here the focus was the main arterial roads into Hull, which largely feature Victorian flats over shops. New migrants to the city tend to live in this accommodation, and there were reported problems with bins, litter and dumping, as well as issues over safety, overcrowding and poor conditions.

Working with the local community, the partners launched programmes to educate residents on protocols for putting out bins and the general necessities for living locally. They drew in other neighbours as community champions with street art and other initiatives, to build strength and relationships in the area for lasting impact.

At the same time, joint operations with trading standards, the fire service and other agencies saw action on conditions and safety, plus investigations of links to modern slavery and goods in the shops. The action involves the police, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and HM Revenue & Customs which use their rights of entry under the Housing Act 2004 on joint visits. Some flats have been closed where extreme conditions were found.

Enforcement action

The city council had operated an accreditation system with self-regulation for some years. The council is reviewing both of those schemes and bringing them together.

During 2018 the council agreed its Private Housing Enforcement Policy 2018-22 which was subject to Judicial Review by the Humber Landlords Association (HLA) in the High Court in 2019. The previous policy meant the council would take informal action in the first instance (but would have consideration of a number of factors which could change this) and would issue a list of required works to the landlord in relation to housing hazards. 

The council therefore changed its policy to consider formal enforcement first (but again would have consideration of several factors which may change this), with accredited landlords being allowed to use the informal route in some circumstances. The service of certain notices then affords the tenant protection from eviction for a further six months.  The unsuccessful legal challenge by the HLA delayed implementation but the new policy is now being rolled out.

Other actions by the Housing Service include:

  • Employment of intelligence officers using MHCLG rogue landlord funding. The officers research online for private rented sector properties, particularly HMOs, unknown to the council, and cross reference with council tax and EPC data. They also research the portfolios and companies of individual landlords and undertake property visits.
  • Setting up an acute assessment centre in a hostel, jointly with the homelessness and health services. The aim is to reach people who are transient, moving through poor accommodation and rough sleeping. The hub provides a short period of stability in a secure environment (in effect, a ‘waiting room’) – for up to 72 hours – for a holistic assessment to be undertaken (taking into account housing, primary/physical health, mental health, substance misuse needs, etc) in order to inform a realistic offer of move-on housing and support.
  • This newly established service plans to work with accredited landlords who can take nominations for tenancies, where the tenants are given support.
  • Within Hull City Council there is a Rough Sleeper Initiative (RSI) funded Rough Sleeper Coordinator who oversees all of the RSI funded work including the outreach service, Making Every Adult Matter, and floating support.
  • There is a ‘move on’ offer - furniture packages/starter packs (via RSI)
  • Expansion of Gypsy and Traveller site provision in the city.

Neighbourhoods of student and supported housing

The advent of purpose-built student accommodation has left many landlords in the traditional areas of Victorian terraces struggling to find tenants. This has led to a sharp rise in ‘exempt accommodation’ where an enhanced housing benefit rate is paid to cover support to vulnerable tenants.

While some providers are good, others are not meeting standards, and the council was concerned about the increasing numbers of these houses in multiple occupation and the quality of support provided to tenants, including the environment where the tenants were being housed. There were reports of overcrowding, crime and anti-social behaviour, environmental issues and that the necessary support was not being provided – but the council’s private rented sector team had no powers to look beyond housing conditions.

A new multi-disciplinary team of two enforcement officers, a housing benefits officer and a contract performance officer in adult social care began investigating and found some very serious cases (vulnerable tenants with little or no support packages living in properties with Category 1 hazards). Part of the action focuses on the HB claim and what support was promised in return for the enhanced HB rate. The team is now developing a charter for providers with the message that they must deliver or face enforcement action. A launch event took place with housing providers in March 2020. The use of a multi-disciplinary team highlights the benefits of joint working.