Best Use of Local Area Research: Wirral Council
Using the principles of Multiple Criteria Decision Analysis to prioritise areas which would benefit most from a Selective Licensing scheme in Wirral
Frontline services in Wirral have struggled for decades to engage successfully with vulnerable residents in communities experiencing deprivation and poor health. This project has demonstrated that when resources are increasingly scarce, accurate targeting of an intervention through research and data analysis has allowed more intensive targeting of appropriate services. It has enabled a focus not simply on areas with poor property condition and environmental quality, but also residents that are the most vulnerable and most likely to need support.
Suitable housing that is safe and warm is one of the foundations of wellbeing, but the only housing option available to some of the most vulnerable people in society is often poor quality housing in the private rented sector. If implemented effectively, Selective Licensing schemes can improve housing quality in the private rented sector. Wirral Council decided to introduce Selective Licensing (SL) in four carefully chosen small areas, in order to monitor its impact and ensure appropriate oversight. There were a number of indicators mandated nationally that Local Authorities were obliged to consider as part of their evidence before implementing schemes; all of these needed consideration. We therefore used a locally adapted method based on the principles of Multi-Criteria Decision analysis, to prioritise areas which would benefit most from the initiative. Four LSOAs were prioritised, and the considerable subsequent work carried out by the Council’s Housing Team demonstrated such an impressive level of impact on poor housing in the pilot areas, Cabinet have asked for the scheme to be rolled out across the borough.
This was a joint piece of work between the Public Health Intelligence Team & the Housing Strategy Team of Wirral Council which was designed to improve housing condition and quality of life for Wirral residents. Previous research indicated that 1 in 3 privately rented homes in Wirral did not meet the decent homes standard and Selective Licensing schemes are a way of improving housing quality in this sector. The Housing Strategy Team therefore wished to find a way in which multiple indicators of housing need and poor condition could be appraised and used to pinpoint areas where Selective Licensing would be most effective. In addition, national guidelines stated that any submission from Local Authorities to introduce Selective Licensing must include certain indicators, for example, evidence of low demand. Public health were keen to include indicators such as home injuries and educational attainment, so a methodology was required that could take into account multiple criteria (not all with the same level of influence on low demand) and prioritise the most appropriate areas for Selective Licensing.
We decided upon a process based on the principles of Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA). MCDA can be used in several ways, for example: – To choose from a set of alternatives – To understand which criteria are most important in making a decision Together with the Housing Strategy team, the context and identified options to be appraised (Lower Layer Super Output Areas or LSOAs were felt to the most appropriate geographies) were agreed; as were identified strategic objectives/outcomes (e.g. improved housing condition).
This then generated indicators/criteria against which to judge and rank Wirral’s 206 LSOAs. Each criterion was then scored 1-3 depending on their relevance to low demand (as this is the main basis on which Local Authorities can apply for Selective Licensing). The top/bottom 5% of LSOAs in Wirral (which corresponded to 10 LSOAs) were scored and entered into a matrix (see page 30 of report at link above for matrix). This analysis and the resulting matrix were part of the business case which was endorsed by Council Cabinet who agreed that they constituted robust evidence.
Despite prior declarations that this would be the case, the process was not challenged by local landlords. In fact, following a 2 year implementation period, Cabinet have recently requested that the methodology be refreshed so that the initiative can be rolled out to encompass a larger number of areas in Wirral.
In terms of impact, the scheme commenced in July 2015 in 4 LSOAs and identified that almost half of properties (41%) were privately rented. To date, 99% of properties are licensed, there have been 27 individual prosecutions with 3 more pending for failure to obtain a licence and associated offences and 340 Selective Licensing compliance checks completed. Only 28% of properties inspected met minimum standards and informal notices were issued for 57% of properties; Enforcement notices have been served on 18% of properties, and 3 Prohibition Orders have been issued.
What should LARIA members learn from this project?
The results from the Selective Licensing have demonstrated that the method used for targeting the intervention has accurately identified the intended areas of poorest property condition and low demand housing which is evidenced by 72% of properties inspected being below the required standard. The same datasets can be analysed at regular intervals to measure the impact of the intervention. Selective Licensing is an initiative that relies on behaviour change of both landlords and tenants over time and therefore it is not anticipated that results will not be seen for 5-10 years. However monitoring the same data over time can be used to monitor the improvements over time. The same principles could be applied to many specific areas, not just housing related interventions, by selecting relevant data sets that are contributing to a specific problem or issue and then developing a scoring matrix that weights the factors according to their influence on the problem.
The technical evidence document outlining the methods used is available online.
Go to ‘Further Information’ and then select ‘Evidence Base’