The RLA has recently received an email from Ipswich Borough Council confirming it has started to refund Landlord Licensing fees after the Westminster Court of Appeal sex shop case.
The Court of Appeal found in favour of a European Services Directive which clamps down on purposes fees can be charged by local authorities for landlords licences.
The RLA reported that the Council confirmed it is “currently going through their records to refund landlords of any fees charged on a HMO additional licensing scheme and that once the information is gathered, the Council will contact those landlords and arrange payment.”
The Court of Appeal decision in the Westminster Sex Shop Fees case Hemming t/a Simply Pleasure Limited v Westminster City Council affected fee charging for regulation such as for HMO and selective landlord licensing. Local authorities should abide by European Services Directive rules (ESD) when setting fees.
The ESD rules include:
A Local authority can only take fees for HMO licensing or selective licensing for
- The actual and direct administrative costs of investigating the background and suitability of the landlord applicant
- The cost of monitoring the compliance by licensed landlords with the terms of their licences
- Fees must be reasonable and proportionate and can only cover the actual cost of the application process plus monitoring
- Local authorities cannot include the costs of enforcing the licensing scheme against unlicensed landlords in the licence fee.
- Set up charges for the scheme cannot be recovered.
- Overheads and general administrative costs cannot be recovered and the running and capital costs of the relevant council department cannot be charged as part of the fee.
- The Council is not allowed to make a profit.
If a Local authority ignores the European Services directive it could be forced to refund overcharged fees and pay interest. Landlords are allowed up to six years to submit a claim for being overcharged.
The RLA has contacted several local authorities to discuss this issue with them, and has been actively challenging other local authorities where licensing schemes are being proposed, such as Northampton Borough Council.
The case details below as reported by the ICLR:
Regina (Hemming (t/a Simply Pleasure Ltd) and others) v Westminster City Council
CA: Lord Dyson MR, Black, Beatson LJJ: 24 May 2013
Since the coming into force of the Provision of Services Regulations 2009 a local authority was not permitted, when determining the reasonable licence fee for sex establishments, to reflect in the fee which it determined the cost of enforcing the licensing system against unlicensed operators.
The Court of Appeal so held, allowing in part the appeal of the defendant local authority, Westminster City Council, from the judgments of Keith J on 16 May 2012  EWHC 1260 (Admin);  PTSR 1676 and on 12 June 2012  EWHC 1582 (Admin) when he had allowed the claim for judicial review by seven licensees of sex shops, Timothy Martin Hemming (t/a Simply Pleasure Ltd), James Alan Poulton (t/a Soho Original Book), Harmony Ltd, Gatisle Ltd (t/a Janus), Winart Publications Ltd, Darker Enterprises Ltd and Swish Publications Ltd, of the amount of the annually renewable licence fee to operate sex shops for 2011–2012 determined by the local authority on the basis that the fee had not been determined for that year even though the same annual fee had been demanded of, and paid by them, as in previous years from 2005–2006, and had allowed a claim for restitution. The Court of Appeal upheld the judge’s decision except as to the basis on which restitution was to be made. In September 2004 the authority’s relevant committee had approved an annual fee for sex establishments for 2005–2006 reflecting the costs of administering and enforcing the licensing system which each claimant had paid on demand up to and including 2011–2012 without further consideration being given by the committee.
BEATSON LJ said that section 2 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 required operators of sex establishments in areas of local authorities, which had resolved that Schedule 3 to the Act applied to their area, to have a licence. Paragraph 19 of Schedule 3 enabled a local authority to determine and charge a reasonable fee for the licence. It had been possible for the licence fee to reflect the cost to an authority of managing the licensing regime by enforcing it and prosecuting unlicensed operators as well as the cost of investigating and processing an individual application and monitoring compliance by licence-holders with the requirements of the licence: R v Birmingham City Council, Ex p Quietlynn Ltd (1985) 83 LGR 461, 517. Article 13(2) of Parliament and Council Directive 2006/123/EC of 12 December 2006 on services in the internal market (which had effect from December 2009 by the 2009 Regulations) and regulation 18(4) of the 2009 Regulations provided that charges for schemes requiring a person to obtain the authorisation of a competent body to have access to or to exercise a service activity could not exceed the cost of authorisation procedures and formalities. The defendant’s contention was that the judge’s failure to give the 2006 Directive and the 2009 Regulations a purposive construction meant that he disregarded the fact that the Directive was concerned with removing barriers to entry to a market and not preventing a licensing authority from requiring fees to cover the costs of enforcement activity hitherto accepted in national law, and where that activity was ultimately to the benefit of those holding licences; that enforcement benefited those with licences by protecting them from competition by unlicensed traders; and that absence of or much more limited enforcement would inhibit entry by legitimate traders. His Lordship derived assistance from two cases concerning other European Community provisions about fees and charges in understanding the general approach of the Court of Justice of the European Union, Germany GmbH and Arcor AG & Co KG v Germany (Joined Cases C-392/04 and C-422/04)  ECR I-8559 and In re Shopping Centres Licensing: European Commission v Spain (Case C-400/08)  2 CMLR 1294. The indication from them was that the court had tended to prevent member states imposing costs on businesses which went beyond the costs of the authorisation, registration or inspection process, because such costs constituted illegitimate barriers to the exercise of fundamental freedoms or were inconsistent with principles of Community law. His Lordship rejected the other arguments of the local authority; they did not justify a departure from the clear wording of the Directive and the Regulations, or show that the construction adopted by the judge was inimical to the purposes of the Directive.
BLACK LJ and LORD DYSON MR agreed.