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Criminal landlords to be revealed after EHN tribunal victory

EHN reporter22/04/2015 - 13:00

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The data will help councils target rogue landlords
The data will help councils target rogue landlords

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) will be forced to name criminal landlords after a tribunal ruled in favour of the Environmental Health News.

The Information Tribunal last week overturned a decision by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) and ordered the release of the names of individuals found guilty of offences under the Housing Act 2004.

The tribunal said it was ‘satisfied that not only is the disclosure of this information in the substantial public interest, but also any reasonably informed data controller with knowledge of the social needs and the impact of such disclosure would so conclude.’

The Information Commissioner had initially backed a decision by the MoJ to withhold the data on the grounds that disclosure would cause ‘harm and distress’ to those named.

It had also claimed that housing offences were at ‘the lower end of seriousness’ as ‘only one is indictable and even that is not imprisonable’.

But the tribunal unanimously agreed with EHN digital editor, Tom Wall, that the public interest outweighed other concerns.

It stated in its decision that it found ‘the arguments of Mr Wall with respect to substantive public interest clear, cogent and persuasive.’

The data, it concluded, would help councils with licensing schemes exclude rogue landlords and empower tenants.

‘The publication of information about convictions under the Housing Act would be of considerable value to local authorities in the discharge of their functions and assist prospective tenants and those assisting them in avoiding landlords with a history of breaches of the Housing Act.’

It also agreed with Mr Wall that poor housing conditions had a significant impact on the health of tenants despite the low level of fines.

‘The sanctions under the Housing Act are comparatively small and the opprobrium of a conviction may well not rank with other forms of criminal misbehaviour, however the potential for harm to others from such activity is very great, the potential for financial benefit from the misbehaviour is also substantial,’ it stated.

Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, described it as a ‘landmark case’.

‘Details of someone's criminal convictions are not normally available under the FOI Act, where the privacy interests of the offender usually trump the public's right to know. This tribunal ruling acknowledges the vital role that the press can play in exposing law-breaking. It recognises that there is a substantial public interest in helping to prevent vulnerable tenants from being housed in dangerous premises by landlords who have broken the law,’ he said.

The ICO told EHN: ‘we have noted the tribunal’s decision and are reviewing the judgement.’ 

EHN has previously revealed the details of firms prosecuted by councils under the housing act.

Housing experts, local authorities and tenants groups welcomed EHN’s victory. Read more here.

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