Local Authorities and Data Protection

When I started my research into the management structure of our block in 2006, it transpired that the freeholder was absent (in jail for Customs and Excise fraud) and the managing agents (his daughters) wanted nothing to do with the block or us. As a result, it had been left to its own devices for a number of years, with a large majority of the flats sublet. The main thing that concerned me at the time was the rapid turnover of tenants. The council website didn't really yield much so through the enquiries of our (then) local councillor I discovered that our block not only had properties registered with the council's Housing Department but that some were registered under their Private Sector Leasing Scheme.

I was advised which flats were part of the scheme and the daily rates that were paid. Whilst this explained the rapid tenancy turnover, the data supplied was erroneous as a couple of the properties were owner/occupied and had been for years. When I attempted to find out the correct information I was advised that the Data Protection Act prevented any further disclosure. The council also asked me why should any landlord have to tell anyone else who (s)he was sub-letting to, private or otherwise?

Same Enquiry, Same Response!

I made the same enquiry of our local authority in 2007 after we officially took over management, this time on behalf of our RTM Directors. I was told that they didn't need to know anything about our management structure. So I asked if they would divulge the information to our managing agent who at the time was acting as the freehold landlord. They again quoted Data Protection as a means by which to say 'no'.

The Information Commission Office

After having Data Protection quoted to me twice, I contacted the Information Commission Office to ask why two legally recognised entities in the form of a Right To Manage company and its managing agent were being prevented from knowing which flats came under the control of the council. I explained that Data Protection had been quoted as reason to not supply this information. In their written response the ICO advised that when a reasonable request is made for legitimate reasons, the Act will not prevent the disclosure of such information.

Based on that response we should therefore be made aware of any other departments within the council who could be involved in our block. This includes the Temporary Accommodation Team, the Social Services Mental Health Team and the Learning Disabilities Team, all of whom are entitled to use properties that sign up for Private Sector Leasing. Being left out of the loop means that we have no way of knowing how many councils could be involved at any one time, let alone which department!

Accredited Landlord List

Whilst there is a clearly defined procedure for securing properties under PSL, there is no such process for the housing of other social tenants within the private sector. We continually have private landlords who are not fit to be operating as such, with no checks and balances being carried out by the councils. So in August of this year, as an experiment, I contacted my local authority again, (this time the Head of Housing Standards) in an attempt to obtain a list of accredited private sector landlords that they currently use. I asked what happens should our landlords appear on the list and are not operating professionally and equally what happens when they don't appear on the list.

The Response

I was advised that whilst my borough doesn't have a list of accredited landlords, the London Borough of Camden does have such a list, which they collate and maintain. Again, due to Data Protection Act issues, this list cannot be provided to individual enquirers, despite the fact that I am acting on behalf of the Directors of the company that owns our freehold!

Dangerous Impact

The actions (or non-actions) of individual landlords have impacted dangerously on the safety of our block and the well-being of its inhabitants. These same landlords can also be operating with impunity in more than one borough, as I know for a fact that one of ours is. Matters are often made worse when they use letting agents that are equally unsuitable to be in business, never obviously having heard that they are supposed to provide a duty of care to tenants.


I found it interesting that the UK's largest social landlord is backing fast-track plans to evict social tenants if they are found guilty of criminal or anti-social behaviour anywhere in the UK. John Lines, the Cabinet member for housing in Birmingham has said he is 'pleased the government has acted so swiftly to seek the views of tenants and local politicians on a new mandatory power of possession for anti-social behaviour. He goes on to say that he is 'glad the minister has also agreed to hear views from private landlords. This could represent a huge step change in protecting law-abiding tenants from individuals who attach no value to their rented home and do not respect their neighbours.'

These landlords who's views are going to be heard by Mr Shapps are likely to be those that make up the trade bodies. If they do not want to rent to those tenants that have been evicted from local authority housing, I am totally confident that 'rogue' landlords, such as those that operate within my own block, will have no such qualms as there is absolutely nothing in place to stop them!

Sharon Crossland is an experienced residential property manager and a member of the Institute of Residential Property Management.

Her information site, Leasehold Life, is created to enable leaseholders to make the best decisions for their individual and collective circumstances and can be found at http://www.leaseholdlife.info/

Original article