While landlords in the UK have been in the news of late, with new regulations to protect tenants and a requirement to register as a landlord, Cardiff Council has grabbed the headlines. The council runs the Welsh “Rent Smart Wales” which is the Welsh system of registration for landlords. With an estimated 208,000 privately rented properties across Wales this is a big issue as only 65% of landlords had registered by last November’s deadline. So, why is Cardiff Council grabbing the headlines?
It is ironic that the council sent an e-mail to landlords who began the registration process but have yet to complete it in the name of “raising standards”. The problem is that all of the addresses of those receiving the e-mail could be seen by each recipient. So in effect the council as “outed” those landlords yet to sign up to the scheme despite the fact they were giving them another opportunity to complete the registration process.
Douglas Haig, director of the Welsh division of the Residential Landlords Association, has been critical of the error as Cardiff Council was warned about such possible security breaches some time ago. When you bear in mind the sensitive nature surrounding the landlord register, which contains private details, this is a serious breach by the authorities.
While many of the landlords yet to complete their registration for the Welsh scheme may well be operating well within the law, they have in some way been stigmatised by the rogue e-mail. Their e-mail addresses are now public knowledge and many will be asking the question “Why did they not complete their registration – have they got something to hide?”.
The problem is that this error and other similar issues in the past do not exactly give landlords confidence in the system. If a simple e-mail effectively exposed their e-mail addresses then how secure is the rest of their data? As you might expect, Rent Smart Wales has issued the traditional “we are looking into this” response but effectively this is too little too late. How can landlords be confident that their details will remain private in the future?
Far too often we have seen these types of data security breaches by local authorities and indeed by national government. Investigations are routinely buried or “kicked into the long grass” and very often never mentioned again. At the end of the day, if these security breaches did result in fines for the relevant personnel the taxpayer would have to pay anyways!
Flawed system or teething problems?
While this is obviously a major embarrassment for the Cardiff authorities the simple fact is that there needs to be a register of landlords. This will ensure that tenants are as protected as possible and rogue landlords do not give the overall profession a bad name. There will be some landlords who will not sign up to the relevant schemes but tenants should ask for evidence that their potential landlords are signed up. Unfortunately some tenants will likely remain outside of the system going forward but hopefully these numbers will gradually reduce as the authorities get on top of things.