The chair of the Commons housing select committee has urged the government to give details of how it will crack down on rogue landlords, in the wake of an investigation by the Guardian and ITV.
Clive Betts, the Labour MP who leads the housing, communities and local government committee, wrote that the investigation “highlighted significant issues around the effectiveness of current government policies” for the private rental sector, in a letter sent to housing minister James Brokenshire on Wednesday.
MPs are “increasingly concerned that government efforts to protect the most vulnerable tenants in the sector are not working”, Betts wrote.
The Guardian/ITV investigation revealed that convicted landlords who have been ruled unfit to rent out properties are continuing to collect rent, often paid from housing benefit. Legislation currently allows landlords who have failed a “fit and proper” person test in one borough to continue to rent out properties in other council areas.
The investigation also revealed that no entries had been made at the end of August in a database designed to track rogue landlords and property agents. The database is not currently available to the public, despite being hailed as a important tool to allow local councils to clamp down on landlords.
Prime Minister Theresa May last week promised to give tenants access to the database, in a U-turn. The government had planned to prevent public access to the information.
Betts, the Labour MP for Sheffield South East, said MPs were “concerned” by the reports. He asked the government to clarify the number of entries in the database since it was launched in April this year, as well as when the database will be made publicly available.
The government had previously estimated that there were as many as 10,500 rogue landlords in England alone.
The Guardian/ITV investigation found evidence of millionaire landlords cutting off electricity at their rental properties, stolen deposits and illegal forced evictions that left tenants homeless.
The plight of tenants in private rented accommodation has risen up the political agenda in recent months. The government is currently supporting a private member’s bill, sponsored by Labour MP Karen Buck, which will give tenants new powers to take their landlords to court if homes are not fit for human habitation during their tenancy.
The bill, which passed its third reading last week, has also been backed by groups representing landlords, tenants, and local authorities.
Betts wrote: “We believe it is important for the government to take steps to ensure that the new rights granted by this bill are not illusory, and that tenants – especially those who are most vulnerable – are able to enforce them in practice … Tenants in the private rented sector need far greater protections from retaliatory eviction, rent increases and harassment from their landlords.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “This government is committed to tackling the minority of rogue landlords who exploit tenants. Through fines, banning orders and the new rogue landlord database, we have provided councils with new enforcement tools and we expect them to use these powers to crack down on bad landlords.
“Everyone deserves a safe place to call home, and we will continue to work with the sector to ensure this is the case.”