More than 100 English councils have welcomed in the new year with funding from a £4 million pot to tackle criminal landlords and letting agents.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government opened applications to the fund on 4 November, with a December deadline.
Among authorities receiving extra funding are 21 councils across Yorkshire and Humberside, which will use the funding to train more than 100 enforcement officers.
Northampton secured money for a special operations unit to catch rogue landlords, while Thurrock will be working to ensure vulnerable young people are in decent housing working alongside the care service. Greenwich will trial new technology to identify cold homes.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “This government will deliver a better deal for renters.” He added that the funding would “strengthen councils' powers to crack down on poor landlords and drive up standards in the private rented sector”
The Local Government Association welcomed the funding but said councils could do more “given the right tools, like greater freedom to establish local licensing schemes for landlords”.
Labour shadow housing secretary John Healey described the funding as a “drop in the ocean” compared to the funding cuts councils have faced over the past decade. This, Healey said, had “gifted rogue landlords the ability to flourish” as well as “weakening [councils’] powers and refusing to legislate to drive up standards”.
Labour called for a new legal charter for renters, longer tenancies, new minimum standards and rent controls.
The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) also said the funding was “nowhere near enough to tackle the crooks” and that instead of more regulation or licensing schemes, enforcement of existing powers was needed.
RLA policy director David Smith added: “Instead of offering inadequate and sporadic pots of money, it is critical that the Government provides proper, multi-year funding to enable councils to plan and prepare workable strategies to find the criminal landlords.”
Northampton secured £196,000 for its special operations unit, clamping down on criminal landlords. The council says it has a “significant” number of law-breaking landlords that knowingly rent out accommodation that is unlicensed, substandard or unsafe.
The authority’s intelligence officers have already identified 512 mandatory HMOs that may be operating without a licence and are investigating another 221 suspected HMOs.
The council confirmed that the unit will be carrying out raids on rogue landlords and will be working closely with the Police, the Fire and Rescue Service, Trading Standards, UK Immigration Enforcement and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority. At the end of three months, the council will host a seminar for other local authorities who wish to learn more about the unit.
The special unit will build on the council’s work last November, where it targeted a landlord’s property portfolio and identified more than 100 criminal offences under the Housing Act 2004. These included operating HMOs without a licence, growing cannabis and allowing tenants to live in squalid and unsafe conditions.