Criticism that the public is being denied access to a database of rogue landlords and letting agents has triggered a U-turn by the Government.
But ministers are still facing questions about why there is not a single entry on the long promised database – six months after it was set up.
Local authorities were first promised the ability to check electronically with a central Whitehall list of disreputable landlords and agents – to enable them to be brought to justice –back in 2015.
They have been forced to rely on cases publicised on town hall websites and in newspapers, despite an official estimate of more than 10,000 landlords falling below acceptable standards.
The database was finally established in April, but the Government came under fire last week when it was revealed the database was empty and that any listings would be kept secret from the public.
The Guardian, which carried out an investigation, was told it was “not in the public interest” to explain why the database was being kept from view.
Labour led criticism of the situation, John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, saying: “It beggars belief, six months after its launch, that none of the more than 10,000 rogue landlords ministers said should be named and shamed have yet been put on their database.
“It's not just renters who lose out when the minister lets landlords off the hook. Taxpayers pay the price too when millions are being spent on housing benefit to bad landlords letting dangerous accommodation.”
It was pointed out that the mayor of London’s online Rogue Landlord Checker is available to the public and has received more than 1,000 entries from local authorities.
When the criticism was put to 10 Downing Street, it led to a rapid U-turn and a pledge that “prospective and existing tenants” would be allowed to see entries.
The prime minister's spokesperson denied progress was too slow, saying: “Only offences committed from April this year can be included and it can take several months to secure convictions. We are clear that we expect to see entries in the database from the New Year.”
There are also much tougher rules for entry onto the central government database, prompting some housing experts to question how many names will eventually make it on to the system.
Local authorities are only compelled to use it to enter the details of landlords who receive a new banning order, which they can apply to the courts to be issued to the worst offenders. It is optional in regards of 14 offences, from unlawful eviction and harassment, to licensing breaches, or for those have received two financial penalties for housing offences in the past year.
Richard Tacagni, managing director of the consultancy London Property Licensing, said the database would have only a limited impact, because not all offences had to be listed.
“Unless councils actively populate the database following housing prosecutions, it will have very little impact in identifying repeat offenders,” he warned.
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0