Primary authority is a valuable means for business to engage with local government in a meaningful way to improve regulation. Essentially it allows a business which is carrying out functions regulated by two or more local authorities to form a partnership with just one local authority, the primary authority. While individual local authorities will still carry out their regulatory functions they will have to do so under the overall guidance of the primary authority who will provide a centralised contact and advice element for the business. This is increasingly popular in food safety circles but has yet to make its way into the housing sphere. That may be about to change.

In part this is because the Housing Health and Safety Rating System has been brought within the aegis of primary authority. This brings it alongside the regulation of HMOs, fair trading, and fire safety as matters which are all susceptible to primary authority control. These are all key areas of concern for agents and larger landlords. Therefore agents and landlords which find themselves working in multiple local authority areas would do well to consider whether a primary authority partnership would be beneficial to their operations. Trade bodies and franchise businesses which have centralised advice and control in compliance matters are also eligible to create a primary authority partnership.

The Better Regulation Delivery Office (BRDO) is responsible for the primary authority scheme. It has a great deal of advice on its web pages and can assist with setting partnerships up.

BenefitsThe main benefits of a primary authority partnership are that a business only has to deal with a single authority. All advice and guidance will come from that authority and it will usually also create an inspection plan. The great value in this is that business can engage with the primary authority to make clear what areas they need guidance on so that key areas of concern can be dealt with. In addition all advice is assured. That means that a local authority cannot carry out enforcement action, expect in emergencies, without the approval of the primary authority and this will be withheld where the enforcement action is contrary to advice previously given by that primary authority. In this way business can be sure that advice obtained from a primary authority can be followed with certainty and will be respected by other local authorities. In addition where a primary authority produces an inspection plan this will be compulsory for local authorities to observe. Where that inspection plan includes an element of feedback to the primary authority then a local authority will be mandated to supply this. Therefore the primary authority will have a general picture of strengths and weaknesses across the business in compliance terms and can feed this back to the business to allow them to look at developing further guidance with the primary authority or carrying out training or management work with local offices which are having difficulties.

Who with?A number of local authorities already have primary authority partnerships with businesses in specific areas. So it is not something that will be totally novel for them. There is no absolute requirement to pick an authority that is in your geographic area but it may be sensible to do so. There is a lot to be said for considering the local authorities you already work with and deciding if any of them show a high level of expertise and a sensible approach in relation to the matters you are concerned with. The BRDO can assist with selection and approach local authorities on behalf of a business seeking to set up a primary authority relationship.

Is it for me?Primary authority is a working strategic partnership so it requires a degree of engagement with the primary authority. It is also not free. The primary authority will have to be paid for some of its work. Therefore it is not something to do lightly or without proper preparation. It will certainly not suit every business and some landlords and agents may simply not be engaged in the type of property work that really requires this type of partnership. Landlords and agents dealing with more heavily regulated property however, such as HMOs, would almost certainly benefit from this kind of relationship.