By Julian Hunt, Barrister at Law & specialist in HMOs and the Housing Acts

I have advised on many Housing Act Civil Penalty Notices (CPNs) since their inception.

There is no set format for these notices which arrive with that ominous thud on the doorstep.

I have seen notices vary from a few lines via which the recipient must discern the exact particulars of the offence, to detailed notices setting out at some length the relevant management regulation or Housing Act breaches.

In many ways it is quite extraordinary that Councils can now quite literally print out a couple of pieces of paper and have neatly laid out for your edification, penalties of up to £30000; once the Housing Officer has put a stamp on the envelope.

These penalties, if not challenged, are enforceable as a civil debt with Councils more than happy to bankrupt you or put a charge on your property with an order then forcing you to sell it.

The only relief is that they are not court fines which can be enforced via imprisonment if wilfully not paid.

If you do get a notice you do have some safeguards. You have 28 days to send in representations via yourself or better still a specialist lawyer. You can ask for this time to be extended. Some Councils will set up committees to look at the representations and assure the final notices are in accordance with any relevant Council guidelines. Councils should look carefully at well thought out representations and be willing to reduce the amount.

If the representations are ignored there is no statutory requirement to give reasons as to why. A final notice is simply issued at any time, after the 28 days for the receipt of the representations has expired. Of course, none of these formal steps stops ‘without prejudice’ correspondence being put forward to try and negotiate down the notices, if the amount does not seem right.

Should this part fail, the next stage is to appeal the matter formally to the First Tier Tribunal. You will have 28 days from the date of the final notice.
I have drafted many appeal grounds in such cases. There is a fee for the issue of any appeal. Following this, the First Tier Tribunal will issue directions. The timetable is often very tight in relation to the paperwork required for such matters.

Some tribunals offer a free mediation service. I always recommend it to clients and Councils will, in my experience, take part in it – with reasonable results, especially if the client is represented, and you have a good judge-mediator.

Some of the other consequences of a CPN include inclusion on the Rogue Landlords Register and the landlord being deemed not to be fit and proper to have a licence (depending on the Council’s policy).
In addition, for future licences there is often a box in the plethora of forms for these licences in which you need to admit if you have faced Housing Act proceedings in the past.

A CPN can also lead to the double whammy of a Rent Repayment Order being applied for.

The monies from these CPN’s go straight to the Council’s private sector team for enforcing housing standards. As CPN’s become more bedded into the Council armoury, with their third birthday just gone, I expect to see an ever growing number issued.

Whatever you do when you get one don’t do nowt!

You have to try and engage, as it is hard to appeal ‘out of time’ even if your matter has merit.
I should finally add that excuses such as being too busy, unclear Council guidance on the phone, ignorance of regulations or not knowing that you were now in a Selective Licensing area are not really going to wash as substantive defences.

Get in touch with me to see if I can assist you should you face the dread of a CPN. Use the contact form here

Julian Hunt
Chambers of Julian Hunt, London
Julian Hunt is the Barrister for
Landlord Licensing and Defence clients

Footnotes
1) i.e Breaches of the catch-all The Licensing and Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Additional Provisions) (England) Regulations 2007 at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2007/1903/pdfs/uksi_20071903_en.pdf Accessed 12th December 2019
2) Housing Act 2004 Section 249A(4)
3) Housing Act 2004 Schedule 13A para. 11
4) i.e Southwark’s CPN Policy at https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=2ahUKEwiTlo62r7DmAhVEilwKHbA4BuMQFjAAegQIAhAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.southwark.gov.uk%2Fassets%2Fattach%2F8753%2FProsecutions-and-Civil-Penalties-Enforcement-Policy-22-01-19.pdf&usg=AOvVaw3YAsArgUTukVRJRdrizfNB para 10 Accessed 12th December 2019
5) DCLG Guidance on Civil Penalties at para 8.1 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/697644/Civil_penalty_guidance.pdf accessed 12th December 2019