RICS calls for database which would show ‘good’ and ‘bad’ tenants’ records

In the wake of the impending ban on letting agents’ fees, the RICS has called on the Government for the creation of an online database where all tenants’ references and payment histories could be viewed online.

The RICS is also demanding mandatory licensing of all landlords in England, following the existing regime in Scotland and the newly introduced scheme in Wales.

The database proposal – likely to prove highly controversial both for its privacy issues and its workability – is in an RICS policy paper ahead of the publication of the delayed Housing White Paper, now expected in late January.

Asked about data privacy issues, the RICS said the proposed database would be voluntary. It could only be accessed to search a specific tenant with that tenant’s permission, while tenants would only volunteer information in the first place.

The RICS highlights similar pilots such as Kettering Borough Council’s voluntary tenant passport scheme for those currently in social housing who wish to move into private rented accommodation. This allows potential landlords to see that they have been good tenants, even though they may have a poor credit history.

Jeremy Blackburn, head of policy for RICS, said the proposed system could benefit those with poor credit ratings by giving landlords additional information such as previous rent payment history and would also create an alternative to them having to pay for referencing once agents’ charges to tenants are banned.

Blackburn said: “The introduction of a rental database will provide a credible alternative to the tenant-funded credit checks that the Government is proposing to scrap, putting more vulnerable members of society on a more level pegging with more affluent peers by reducing the likelihood of discrimination.”

Asked for further clarification on how this would work, specifically regarding data protection, Blackburn told EYE: “Data protection would be expected to be configured under the Data Protection Act, as with any other publicly or privately held database.

“Tenants would voluntarily put forward their information, which would be held centrally and accessed by landlords with the tenant’s permission.

“This builds on the original concept of the tenant’s passport. It also de-risks the landlord and tenant relationship at a time when, through the letting agent fees ban, the cost of carrying out checks on new tenancies has become a political football that will come to rest somewhere between tenants paying higher rents and landlords paying higher fees to letting agents.”

Other RICS recommendations include establishing what it calls a ‘light-touch’ landlord registration system which would make all rental properties known to HMRC and to the Home Office. It is not clear how the register would deal with properties only briefly in the private rented sector because they are owned by accidental landlords.

The RICS’s Rented Sector Policy Paper is being launched to coincide with the body’s anti-homelessness campaign – A Home For Cathy.

Blackburn said: “An ever-increasing proportion of the population is looking to rent. By 2025, we know that there will be a 1.8m shortfall in rental properties, and that could mean a rise in homelessness.

“It will be hard enough for those young professionals who cannot afford to buy to find a rental home, but for those on the breadline who cannot provide the usual spread of credit references, it could prove impossible.

“In a year that marks the 50th anniversary of Ken Loach’s powerful television play ‘Cathy Come Home’, charting the descent of a young family into homelessness, it is vital that the Government takes urgent action through the Housing White Paper to deliver homes for the Cathies of today and tomorrow.”

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