A union wants to force councils to reveal the names of 20 landlords who have been paid more than £14 million in housing benefits in the last financial year.
The GMB union wants to ‘name and shame’ the landlords in the Daily Mirror – but the councils argue they can’t reveal who they are under data protection laws.
The request follows a blanket freedom of information campaign by the union to find out how much housing benefit is paid to private landlords by nearly 400 local authorities.
However, 69 councils declined to release the data, so other big landlord benefit earners may be undisclosed.
The campaign has shown councils have paid out nearly £140 million in housing benefit in 2012-2013, with around 10% going to just the 20 landlords.
Now, the Labour and Co-op candidate for Milton Keynes, Andrew Pakes, is appealing to the Information Commissioners Office to force the councils to reveal the redacted details.
The commissioner is responsible for policing data protection laws.
Pakes and the union argue that private landlords do not run businesses, so fall outside data protection laws.
It’s believed researchers ploughed through millions of Land Registry records to identify private rented homes as a basis for the freedom of information inquiries.
However, for houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), most councils publish an online register of licence holders and the properties they relate to, which are a matter of public record and easily accessible to the researchers.
“Paying housing benefits to meet housing costs for rented accommodation for tenants on low incomes dates back to the 1980s, but the cost has, ballooned to £23 billion a year,” said a GMB spokesman.
“Over the years £411 billion of taxpayer’s funds have been spent on housing benefit, but it is not clear in every case that the ultimate recipients are.”