An action plan to tackle issues such as human trafficking, overcrowding, prostitution, poor living conditions and even gun smuggling associated with the private rented sector primarily in Wisbech is set to be agreed next week by the district council’s cabinet.
The plan has been drawn up following work by a task group to investigate issues surrounding the private rented sector especially in Wisbech.
The task group headed by Councillor Mike Cornwell was set up after Fenland District Council decided against introducing Selective Licensing in some areas of Wisbech last year.
A detailed report to Thursday’s meeting highlights the task group’s findings following evidence gathered from a range of bodies including police, the fire service, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, landlords and agents and also Fenland’s own housing, environmental health, community safety, planning and benefit fraud teams.
It recommends the adoption of a Private Rented Sector Improvement Plan which will be in place for the next two years with the situation being reviewed again in 2020 when Selective Licensing could be back on the agenda if landlords have failed to up their game.
Issues raised during the task group’s investigations found evidence in Wisbech of drugs, prostitution, gun smuggling, modern day slavery which included intimidation, human trafficking, sham marriages and exploitation.
It also found criminals are using the private rented sector in Wisbech as their base.
Other issues highlighted were overcrowding, poor conditions such as mould and damp, excess cold, fire risks, and unsafe means of escape.
There are also fears for children living in these conditions including the impact of overcrowding, substance misuse by other tenants and the long term effect this could have on children, and potential safeguarding issues related to the high turnover of tenants.
The report said: “From evidence received the task group concluded there were problems and that more resources were needed to tackle issues in the sector. The task group therefore understood why the council had originally considered a scheme to tackle issues within the private rented sector in Wisbech, such as Selective Licensing as a way to secure that additional resource.”
It said the group had pinpointed five problems that need to be addressed including the setting up of an improved property register of private rented properties so the council knows where they are.
The action plan suggests using council resources such as Council Tax and housing benefit information to create the property register, landlords will also be expected to register their properties.
Those landlords who fail to register will find their properties targeted for checks by the housing enforcement officers - two will be appointed funded by government funding through the Controlling Migration Fund.
The aim is “to be proactive rather than reactive” and that will include enforcement with more checks on properties.
A migrant outreach worker funded by the Controlling Migration Fund will work with individuals to assist them out of inappropriate/overcrowded accommodation.
The report adds there will be a campaign urging landlords and agents to register their properties with a campaign message: “If we believe you have not declared where you have the properties we will put Selective Licensing back on the table after a two year period. So it is in the interests of all landlords to work with the council to declare their properties.”
It is also hoped that responsible landlords will be the council’s eyes and ears reporting where rogue landlords’ properties are situated.