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Ministers consider national registration scheme in England to target rogue landlords

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA</span>
Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Pressure is growing on the government to introduce a registration scheme to help councils target rogue landlords renting out thousands of dangerous homes to families.

A white paper spelling out the government’s plans for raising standards in the private rented sector, including a potential national landlord register that would bring England into line with the rest of the UK, is expected by the winter.

New analysis of official figures by campaigning group Generation Rent shows English councils that require rental properties to be registered under local licensing schemes are more than twice as effective at removing the most serious hazards as authorities without any form of registration.

The analysis reveals 32 English councils with selective licensing schemes identified an average of 158 unsafe homes each in 2019-20, compared with 63 on average across 200 councils without such schemes.

Councils with licensing schemes also took more action to remove the dangers they uncovered, with on average 85% of hazardous homes made safe. Local authorities without schemes resolved only 65% of hazards, such as dangerous electrics, extreme cold and severe overcrowding.

Brent, in north London, and Leeds, which register all landlords in certain areas, managed to remove the most serious health risks from hundreds of homes, whereas figures provided to the government by Copeland and Barrow borough councils – both in Cumbria – which do not register all landlords, suggest they failed to remove any of the dangers they found. Both councils argue that the risks were addressed in other ways.

Nearly 70% of the councils with licensing schemes are Labour-controlled, with the Labour stronghold of Newham, east London, in 2013 becoming the first authority to license landlords across an entire borough. However, the government brought in powers allowing ministers to block large schemes in 2015. A city-wide scheme in Liverpool was scrapped last year after the government withdrew support.

The number of families renting from private landlords has doubled since 1997 yet the sector deservedly has a poor reputation. Private renters are almost twice as likely as social tenants to live in non-decent homes, with about 1.1 million privately rented homes failing minimum standards.

Generation Rent said registration would give enforcement authorities valuable intelligence about the sector, make it easier to inform tenants of their rights and prevent criminals from renting out homes.

“Existing licensing schemes have a clear track record of helping councils to identify unsafe homes and bring them up to standard, but the vast majority of private renters are not protected by them,” said Alicia Kennedy, director of Generation Rent.

A report by the Centre for Public Data, due to be published next week, shows that just 7% of England’s private rented homes are covered by licensing schemes, whereas landlords are required to register all properties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It found that a register would increase tax revenues by identifying under-reported revenue from landlords. HMRC estimates landlords failed to pay £540m of tax on letting income in 2019.

The CFPD said a national register would be cheaper to run and more effective than the current patchwork of schemes. “In England, you have to register to run a takeaway or work as an art therapist, but anyone can be a landlord – remarkable given how dangerous it is to live in a property with faulty wiring, boilers or mould,” said Anna Powell-Smith, director of the CFPD.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We’re determined to create a fairer private rented sector and are exploring the introduction of a national landlord register as part of a commitment to drive up standards in rented accommodation.”

Copeland borough council’s spokesperson said the figures in isolation were misleading. It said it had in all cases supported tenants to find fit-for-purpose accommodation. “Although it is reported that required improvements have not been completed by our authority directly, the appropriate response has been made in each case including issuing notices requiring landlords to carry out work, and rehousing [tenants].”

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