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Complaint To ICO Over Not Naming Torbay Landlords

Monday, March 31, 2014

GMB Complaint To Information Commissioner Over Torbay Decision To Uphold Not Naming 14 Landlords Paid £2.78m In Housing Benefit

Claim that naming may increase homelessness is utterly spurious as landlords finding another 9,776 tenants in Torbay who do not need housing benefit is almost impossible says GMB.

GMB is making a complaint to the Information Commissioners Office over an internal review by Torbay Council which upheld their original decision not to name 14 private landlords that received a total of £2.78m direct from taxpayers in housing benefit in 2012/13. The Council redacted the names of the landlords under Section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act.

Last week Jo Lardner, Information Compliance Advisor, Torbay Council responded to GMB as follows:

“I do not consider it would be in the public’s interest to identify the top 20 individual landlords as the landlords concerned could receive negative exposure from the media, political members or members of the public. This has already been evidenced with headlines like ‘Fat Cats Get Rich on Housing Benefit paid for by Councils to the poorest in the Country’. The landlords might start to refuse vulnerable tenants who are relying on Housing Benefit to meet their rent as they might not want their financial affairs to be made public. The knock on effect for Torbay Council could be an increase in the most vulnerable people presenting themselves as homeless and this would cause a significant burden (financial and time) on the Council in trying to secure housing provisions. For this reason I do not believe it would be in the public’s interest.

I therefore uphold the original decision to redact the names of the landlords under Section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act.”

In Torbay there are a total of 13,696 dwellings owed by private landlords rented to tenants. Households in 9,776 dwellings, or 71.4% of the total, are in receipt of housing benefits. Of these 9,776 households in Torbay there are 3,655 households or 37.4% where the rents are paid direct to the landlords by the council.

GMB submitted a Freedom of Information request on 2 December 2013 asking Torbay Council to name the top 20 private landlords receiving housing benefit direct for these 3,655 dwellings.

Overall Torbay revealed that the top 20 private landlords received over £3.6m for the 2012/13 financial year.  Of that £2.78m or 76.8% of the total revealed was going to 14 sole traders and individual buy-to-let landlords whose names have been redacted.  The information provided is set out in the table below.

Torbay

 

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

£1,060,450

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

£301,430

Cosy Lettings (Paignton)

£202,158

Group Mac Holdings

£197,010

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

£178,827

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

£162,199

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

£146,004

PHA Limited

£135,910

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

£131,947

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

£121,348

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

£120,209

Mercer Properties Ltd.

£115,404

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

£114,296

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

£105,781

Enoch Properties (Devon) Ltd

£104,317

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

£95,410

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

£84,117

Skye Lettings

£83,868

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

£82,372

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

£79,193

Paul Kenny, GMB General Secretary, said “Torbay in a formal internal review of their decision to redact names said that making this information public could increase homelessness in Torbay. The council said landlords might refuse tenants on housing benefit as they might not want their financial affairs to be made public. This claim is utterly spurious.

There are 9,776 privately rented properties in Torbay where the rent is paid with housing benefit. Landlords finding another 9,776 tenants for these properties who do not need housing benefit in next door to impossible.  The opposite is the case. Housing benefit is propping up buy the let empires.

GMB is asking the ICO to overturn this decision as there is legitimate public interest in the names of the sole traders and buy-to-let landlords, operating in a business capacity, being released by Torbay Council.

In an Information Commissioners Office Data Protection Good Practice note on ‘The use and disclosure of information about business people’ it is stated that:

Information about people acting only in a business capacity should be treated differently to information about their private lives. This is because running a business is, in the main, a public activity and business people cannot expect the same degree of privacy in relation to their business activities as they can in their private lives.

The information GMB is requesting is about these individuals in a business capacity and not information related to activities carried out in a personal or private capacity. The Commissioner believes that there is a public interest in the scrutiny of how public money is spent. Transparency of decisions on how public funds are spent will also generate confidence in the integrity of the procedures involved. The sum of money in this case is substantial and there is public interest in disclosing this information.

The Good Practice note also states:

“Transparency is a key requirement of the Act. Local Authorities should make business people aware of how information about them will be used or shared. Sharing of this information should not cause, nor is likely to cause, ‘substantial, unwarranted damage or distress, then the processing may go ahead despite an individual’s objection to it.”

14 councils provided GMB with full unredacted information. One council stated that they have ‘provided names and addresses even where the landlord is not a limited company. [They] have taken advice and take the view this is in the public interest.’”

End

Contact: Kamaljeet Jandu, GMB National Equality & Inclusion Officer on 07956 237178 or Stuart Fegan Regional Officer 07912 890434 or Mike Payne Regional Officer 07980 753124 or Cath Speight, GMB National Political Officer on 07505 711925.

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