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Public has ‘right to know’ on landlord fees

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WIGAN Council said its freedom of information process is under review after facing criticism from a trade union investigation.

Workers’ union GMB requested details from all local authorities regarding the amount of public funds paid to private landlords through housing benefits.

It revealed this week that 62 out of 380 councils - including Wigan - had missed deadlines to disclose the information.

But council officials said the requested information had now been made available.

Assistant director of customer services at Wigan Council, Lesley O’Halloran, said: “We’ve seen a massive increase in the number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests sent in to the council.

“On average we receive around 100 a month, but in January this shot up to 160.

“We’re currently reviewing the process to find a more efficient way of providing information with limited resources.

“GMB sent us two FOIs relating to housing benefit payments and we have now provided the information requested.”

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said that the union’s investigation team had taken any failure to disclose the information as a refusal.

He added: “It is disgraceful that 62 councils refused to reveal the landlords they paid huge sums to.

“There should be transparency. The public has a right to know where this money is going and if taxes are being paid on it.

“Our research lifts the lid on the mainly secret payments to landlords who are the real winners from Britain’s welfare system.” GMB published the 20 company landlords in each local authority area that had “received housing benefit direct from councils for tenants renting their properties”.

Mr Kenny added: “We see taxpayers’ cash subsidising buy-to-let empires where the money ends up tax free in tax havens.

“The research shows the rich and powerful sucking up taxpayer’s money through housing benefit.

“This is made possible by out of control rents and a lack of affordable and council homes that so many hard working people and their families desperately need.

“This should bring both shame and action from this government to end this exploitation of public money.”

Other authorities that the union named as not having replied to their request for information include Salford, Trafford and Bolton.

 

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