8 September 2015
Trevor Hampton, Director of Local Government & Housing, Northgate Public Services
The UK can cut down on rogue landlords – we have the data, but do we have the will?
The reality created by rogue landlords is of dilapidated dwellings, whole families crammed in to tiny rooms, and sanitation that is more medieval than modern. The premises are often dangerous, lacking even basics like fire alarms. It’s a disturbing reminder that there are always people ready to take advantage of the vulnerable.
Unfortunately, the punishments handed down when rogue landlords are caught can lack bite. Typical fines handed out by the courts hover around £1,500 and given the sums involved this isn’t much of a deterrent.
The Government has started making some moves in this area, which we welcome, though how effective they will be remains to be seen. The cap on fines has already been removed – though as it was already set at £20,000, some suggest this will do little to increase the typical size of fines. The Department for Communities and Local Government has invited further suggestions on what should be done.
Because our day job is in supplying digital services to local government, we’re confident that more can be done in a relatively speedy, painless way. I would suggest two key improvements.
Firstly, and as suggested by the Government, make information about privately rented dwellings held by the Tenancy Deposit schemes available to local authorities.
We’d go further, and let local authorities access criminal records and Universal Credit information. This would give local authorities a more complete picture when enforcing new regulations designed to prevent abuse, especially against vulnerable groups of people.
Secondly, create a national register of private landlords. The existing local registers do not connect with each other. Much of the data collected by local authorities is fragmented, meaning that even if a landlord is successfully blacklisted by one local authority, they can move across to the next authority and are virtually untraceable. A national database would help local authorities to target their enforcement efforts more effectively and prevent rogue landlords from simply moving.
These are two relatively straightforward suggestions. No doubt they would take effort to make them work in practice, but we’ve seen the success in recent years of similar schemes, like the national Blue Badge service used by all local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. Before the implementation of a national database, Blue Badges schemes were subject to fraud, inconsistent and weren’t integrated. Now fraud is a fraction of what it used to be, and local authorities connect to the database in different ways to suit their local operations.
Having access to accurate data is vital if we are going to deal with rogue landlords.
I fully accept that the answer is never going to be entirely based on good data – but it’s the best weapon we have in identifying the problem.