The Acorn group of rental activists has created a detailed crib sheet of responses to a council consultation on landlord licensing.
Acorn, which operates in a number of cities and describes itself as a renters’ union, has long been critical of landlords and letting agents, and has held protests in some agencies’ offices.
Acorn’s Oxford group has now put a local council consultation document online and gives specific wording that it wants respondents to provide to many of the questions.
For example, the Acorn document shows question 8.2 “What are your views on the Council charging the standard fees for a one-year selective licence for properties where concerns exist?”
It then recommends the reader to respond: “I think the fees are at about the right level”.
There are also numerous “explainers” accompanying the recommended wording, suggesting that the respondents need to be told what it is they are commenting on.
It also goes on to coach respondents on what kind of information to give when answering the more free-form questions.
“ACORN Oxford encourages you to add testimonials about any issues you have faced while renting in Oxford, particularly relating to any hazards or problems with maintenance. If you don’t have any detailed testimonials, we would still encourage you to add any general experiences relating to housing, opinions or suggestions, as the Council can only officially take into account things that have been written via the consultation. It is also important that these submissions are a bit personalised as they are anonymous and it should be clear that there are many of us responding, and not just one person many times!”
”We also suggest adding a comment stating an objection to the additional conditions relating to ‘Anti-Social Behaviour’ and references mentioned in the previous question. This could either be a simple sentence about supporting ACORN Oxford’s requests: ‘that the Council remove any reference to ‘Anti-Social Behaviour’ provisions from their license plans’ and ‘that the Council release a public statement promising to focus the scheme purely on improving material housing conditions and to not involve the police or immigration enforcement in any aspect of the scheme’. It could also be a more detailed comment – feel free to draw from the explainer above.”
Landlord Today contacted Oxford council asking whether such orchestrated responses to a consultation proposal were acceptable; we were told the consultation was being handled by the Swansea-based organisation Opinion Research Services.
A spokesperson for ORS told us over the weekend: “The nature of any consultation questionnaire is that they are open to all, available for any stakeholder to complete, and the results do need to be considered in this context.
“In this case, it is worth pointing out that all consultation responses are important and none should be disregarded. However during the analysis of responses, a key part of our role is to look out for any attempts to unduly influence findings, including large numbers of responses with the same answers (for example responses matching that guide) and where they do exist then we will take that into account when reporting results.
“It is also worth noting that the questionnaire is only one of a number of different feedback strands. We are also reporting feedback received via a number of well-attended events with landlord and letting/managing agents; a workshop with a cross-section of tenants and residents from around the city [of Oxford]; depth interviews with representatives of a number of key organisations; written responses received separately to the questionnaire.'
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