A London council that banned a rogue landlord and then directly paid him more than £500,000 in housing benefit has called on the government to legislate to prevent local authorities from making similar payments in the future.
The move by Brent came after the Guardian revealed the borough made repeated payments of taxpayers’ money to Bernard McGowan, who has a £30m property empire and failed the council’s “fit and proper” test in 2015.
The decision against McGowan, who was convicted six times under the Housing Act between 2014 and 2017, meant the landlord was barred from directly renting out houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) across Brent, or any sort of home in eight of the borough’s wards where landlords specifically require a licence.
However, he continues to rent out homes within the borough, including ones where he has been directly receiving his tenants’ housing benefit, according to a response to a freedom of information request made by the Guardian.
Eleanor Southwood, Brent’s cabinet member for housing and welfare reform, said on Monday: “It’s completely unacceptable that landlords who flout the rules and cause misery for thousands of tenants across the country receive housing benefit. Today, I have written to the minister urging him to act on this issue.
“We need the law on our side to help us protect tenants’ rights and drive up standards in the private rented sector. Last week, Brent received a grant of over £100,000, which we’ll be using to provide further support for private tenants in the battle against rogue landlords. But we need government to make legislative change so that we have all the tools we need.”
Southwood’s calls for new legislation will puzzle some housing campaigners, who argue local authorities already possess powers to severely curtail housing benefit payments to rogue landlords.
Jacky Peacock, a director of the tenants’ charity Advice4Renters, which has helped residents bring cases against McGowan, said: “If a landlord is renting out a property without an approved manager, a licence should not be issued.
“Under those circumstances, or where the landlord does not comply with enforcement notices, a council can apply to the property tribunal for a whole year’s housing benefit rent to be repaid. In that situation, the tenant also has some protection under the law, as the landlord cannot issue ‘no fault’ notices to obtain possession and evict.”
The discovery that a local authority is directly paying public money to a landlord its own officers describe as “rogue” is the latest example of the ineffective regulations designed to police the private rented sector’s worst offenders.
In October, a Guardian and ITV News investigation revealed how a string of supposedly banned landlords were continuing to rent out properties, while the government’s new rogue landlord database was empty six months after its launch.
McGowan did not respond to the Guardian when invited to comment about housing benefit paid to him by Brent.