Islington, Newham and Hackney are the best London councils for private renters, according to our new Renters’ Index that assesses councils’ efforts to tackle the growing problems faced by the city’s two and a half million private renters.
While letting agents’ surveys look at the number of coffee shops or pubs in an area, our Renters’ Index measures levels of council enforcement and innovation, and whether or not there is a local renters’ campaign group in the borough.
It looks at the 18 London boroughs where private renters make up at least 25 per cent of the population, and assesses the local councils against ten weighted criteria.
The three worst councils for private renters are Westminster, Merton and Kensington and Chelsea. So far, these authorities have done little to tackle bad landlords, have made no steps towards the landlord licensing schemes being considered by other councils and have no organised renters groups in the area.
The top three, on the other hand, score highly on a range of criteria including introducing (or taking steps towards introducing) landlord licensing schemes, securing the power to issue £5k fines to letting agents operating outside the law, prosecuting criminal landlords and running a direct phone line for private renters.
We know that not all renting problems are local problems, so we’ve added in a few extra criteria – things beyond the power of councils, such as the shortfall between market rents and housing benefit rates. We’ve used Office of National Statistics (ONS) data and our own research.
Now, we know that all councils are under-resourced and rarely showered with love from central government, so we hope they see this index as the start of a conversation rather than a definitive judgement. But it shows some councils are doing their best in difficult circumstances, while others simply aren’t bothering. All of them should be doing much, much more.
Of course, some councils are doing more because renting conditions in their area were so bad to start with – for example, Newham was the first to introduce landlord licensing but that’s partly because there were so many criminal landlords in the borough in the first place.
There are lots of things an index like this can’t measure – for example, we know that Lewisham has one of the best rogue landlord enforcement officers in the country, going above and beyond the call of duty. And Camden recently commissioned a study looking into different models of rent control, which shows they’re genuinely interested in the welfare of private renters.
In fact, the index shows where the gaps in the data are, too. Surprisingly, comprehensive records of criminal landlord prosecutions aren’t even kept by the Ministry of Justice – so records have to be compiled from media reports and other sources, which are patchy.
We’re going to keep updating this index over the next two years and expand it to include all 32 London boroughs. We hope private renters and councils will suggest things we’ve overlooked. What do you think should go in the next one?
For explanations of each indicator and how it was measured, click here.