I agree wholeheartedly with outrage about rogue landlords profiting from housing benefit (Law must change, says council that paid £500,000 to rogue landlord, 22 January). But focusing frustration on Brent council – where we’re leading the way in cracking down on landlords who make their tenants’ lives a misery – is regrettable.
Since 2016 we’ve secured over 140 prosecutions and in excess of £1.1m in fines, and issued over 100 civil penalty notices; last month we secured a historic victory by using the Proceeds of Crime Act in response to finding 31 people crammed into a four-bedroom house.
Your report focused on Bernard McGowan, a notorious landlord whom Brent has taken to court four times since 2016. Mr McGowan receives housing benefit directly for only two claimants today, compared with 60 in 2015.
The options available to councils to prevent landlords profiting from housing benefit are completely inadequate.
Subject to certain conditions, we can take over direct management of unlicensed and substandard properties. This is hugely bureaucratic and costly, and – as things stand – the landlord is still owed any surplus after management fees.
Landlord licensing helps us drive up housing standards but, except for houses in multiple occupation, does not apply everywhere in Brent. We’ll be applying to the government to be able to renew our existing schemes and also to extend licensing to more areas of the borough. Permission for borough-wide licensing was refused when we applied in August 2017.
Housing benefit is currently governed by different legislation to licensing so, regardless of whether a property is correctly licensed, or even if it is not licensable, there is a legitimate rental liability – ultimately borne by the tenant. We’re calling on the government to link failure to pass a council’s fit and proper person test or to manage people’s homes safely with this liability.
Without this change, rogue landlords will continue to profit from housing benefit, whether directly by a local authority or indirectly via a tenant or managing agent.
Cllr Eleanor Southwood
Cabinet member for housing and welfare reform, Brent council
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