Without joined-up working, the Rogue landlord slip through the net by Al Mcclenahan

 

Every month or so, I get the privilege of attending a cross-agency meeting run by Tower Hamlets council.

People who are doing very similar work, but often never speak to each other, are all brought together to discuss the same thing  – what are the big Rogue Landlords and criminal Letting Agents up to now to scam and exploit vulnerable tenants.

It is incredible how many times Trading Standards, the council’s housing team, Shelter, Citizens Advice, the local law centres & university teams have been contacted by tenants who have suffered at the hands of the same few operators.

Sometimes it’s a new player, but usually, it’s the same murky perpetrators as the last meeting, or the meeting nine months ago, or two years ago.

On the surface, it may appear to be a different company, sometimes with new directors, often with new scams, but it’s the same people behind it and the result is the same – Distressed tenants, who have had their money stolen and sometimes been left homeless. The tenants targeted are overwhelmingly:

  • New to the country
  • Don’t speak or write English well
  • Are very young and naïve

 

The joined-up approach helps alert everyone to these new risks, which means they can be clamped down on earlier and data and evidence can be fed back to prosecution services or Trading Standards.

Tenants are better protected, information is shared freely, and everyone is wiser as a result of that two hours every few months.

This approach is incredibly rare. The local authority is the glue that can bind these kinds of joined-up working. Local authorities are large, so treating each department like it’s own organisation alongside Justice For Tenants, Shelter etc.. is appropriate, even more so if the departments work in separate sites.

I spend a lot of time sharing my (mostly solicited) thoughts on improvements to processes for local authorities enforcement teams. I mention the Tower Hamlets arrangement often as an example of best practice for joined-up working for the greater good.

There is a genuinely fantastic feeling of camaraderie when we get an update on a significant criminal prosecution of a rogue landlord network from Trading Standards, knowing we may have assisted in a small way.  The joined-up working approach means justice can occur, with prison sentences handed out for repeat offenders.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the lack of funding for local authorities. Council budgets have been slashed so much that the average local authority only has £28 per person per year to spend on each of its citizens. Committing resources to a project without a definable return is a big ask in this environment.

 

The link between poor quality housing and mental and physical health is only recently starting to be accepted (please see Paul Oatt’s book on how licensing can affect health here).

 

I know this is not how things have tended to work in the past, but this joined-up working likely saves the council thousands of pounds:

  • People are not left homeless by these agencies as often, slashing the enormous Temporary Accommodation bill
  • The NHS is not required to deliver as much to those suffering from Mental and Physical health issues brought about or exacerbated by their stressful, substandard living accommodation.

It’s straightforward to make these comments when I am not the person in charge on a dwindling budget, forced to choose between helping tenants and ensuring bins are collected, or the vulnerable are receiving the care they need. However, a three-monthly meeting like this would genuinely show benefits if other councils were able to run this.

 

If you work for a local authority and think something like this would be helpful for you, please contact Al Mcclenahan at amcclenahan@justicefortenants.org

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