Labour targets safety of bedsits

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Labour yesterday pledged to introduce a mandatory licensing system for landlords of bedsits and hostels in an attemptto cut the number of deaths from fires and carbon monoxide poisoning by faulty gas appliances.

Nick Raynsford, the party's housing spokesman, said aLabour administration would bring legislation forward early in the next Parliament if the Government failed to take satisfactory action in response to a consultation document issued last November.

Fears have been expressed that any system introduced to curb the 170 deaths a year from fire in houses of multiple occupation (HMO's) might be inadequate. It might, for instance, be confined to England as John Redwood, Secretary of State for Wales, refused to put the paper out to consultation.

Campaigners at the launch yesterday of a report by the National Housing and Town Planning Council, Potential Death Traps, are also concerned that government measures may not go far enough or fail to make available sufficient resources.

A licensing system would seek to ensure that properties or landlords meet fire and other safety standards through inspections. However, it is not clear how this might be achieved under the Government's proposals which appear to rule out smaller HMO's with three or four tenants.

Labour intends that its statutory framework would cover all landlords whose properties would be licensed after inspection by local authority environmental health officers in conjunction with the fire authorities.

The scheme, which would be self-financing through the cost of the licence to the landlord, would use a "carrot and stick" approach, encouraging those wishing to bring their properties up to standard with grants, while using stern sanctions against those who failed.

"We need timely action in what I believe is one of the great scandals of our time," Mr Raynsford said. "At the moment we have a completely unacceptable level of deaths and injuries as a result of bad housing conditions. There is an urgent need for licensing."

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