Councils are not using their powers to deal with problem landlords

Half of councils surveyed admitted they do not even have a policy to use powers given to them by central government

Local authorities in England are failing to use new powers given to them to tackle bad landlords, new figures suggest.

Research by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) showed that councils were ignoring new powers they have to fine landlords up to £30,000 for failing to provide acceptable housing.

In 2017-18, nearly 90 per cent of local authorities did not hand out any such penalty – and half admitted they did not even have a policy in place to use them.

The RLA also found that councils were neglecting Rent Repayment Order powers they had been given in April 2017.

Local authorities have the ability to reclaim up to 12 months of rent from private landlords where rent was paid through housing benefits, and where the landlord had committed some sort of offence. This includes trying to evict tenants illegally, harassing tenants and a failure to comply with an improvement notice served on them.

But numbers given in a parliamentary answer show that until the end of September last year, only three Rent Repayment Orders had been made by councils across England.

However, if tenants are paying rent directly, they have the same rights as councils to apply for a Rent Repayment Order – and 18 were made by tenants over the same period.

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David Smith, policy director for the RLA, said: “Councils are failing tenants and good landlords. For all the talk about them needing new powers, the reality is that many are not properly using the wide range of powers they already have to drive out criminal landlords.

“Laws without proper enforcement mean nothing. It is time for councils to start acting against the crooks.”

In February it was found that local authorities across England are spending £11m less on dealing with problem landlords than in 2009-10.

The RLA said the problem appeared to be cyclical, with councils lacking the power and resources necessary to bring action against landlords, which stops them raising the money needed to deal with bad landlords in the future.

Councillor Martin Tett, housing spokesman for the Local Government Association, said at the time: “Councils are doing everything they can to ensure that rogue landlords are dealt with robustly and effectively. However, as well as limited resources and competing funding pressures, councils are being hamstrung by an outdated system wracked by delays, bureaucracy and paltry fines.

“Laws governing the sector need to be simplified to free councils up from bureaucratic processes to focus on frontline work.”

A report released by Royal London showed that almost half of the babies born in the UK begin their lives in rented accommodation.