On being sued by Fergus Wilson – again.

Last year I blogged about Fergus Wilson’s attempt to bankrupt me over my reporting of his disqualification from the post of Police and Crime Commissioner, and how that attempt was thrown out of court and he was ordered to pay my costs. Wilson had brought his claim in his wife’s name and against someone with a name that was similar to mine, but who wasn’t me. Unsurprisingly, the Judge gave his claim short shrift.

Today, I have received another Claim From from Fergus seeking to sue me for another £50,000. Or rather, I have received a claim issued in Fergus’s wife’s name and against the person with the similar-but-not-the-same name as me. Yes, he has repeated most of the same mistakes as he made last time. At least he has got the address right this time: except for the name of the street, and the bizarre relocation of Margate to South Wales (no, me neither).

It seems quite clear to me that, as before, Fergus is pursuing this claim because he wants to silence scrutiny and criticism from me, and to deter others. As we saw before this is not the first time he has tried to pursue people who have criticised him in public. It may or may not be relevant that the next Police and Crime Commissioner elections are this year. And frankly he should be stopped.

In so far as it’s possible to understand Wilson’s case against me, he accuses me of breaching the Perjury Act 1911 (I haven’t, and even if I had you can’t bring civil proceedings under this Act), the Criminal Law Act 1967 (again, this creates criminal offences not civil wrongs – the clue is in the title. And I haven’t breached this one, either), the Criminal Justice Act 1970 (I definitely haven’t breached this Act, because it doesn’t exist), and the Protection from Harassment Act 1967 (presumably he means 1997 and no, I haven’t broken this Act, either). Pretty much everything except encompassing the death of the heir to the throne and impersonating the Archbishop of Canterbury (in case you’re reading this, Fergus, I haven’t done that either). Accordingly I firmly reject his claim.

Since I last reported on him, Wilson has been convicted of racially abusing a traffic warden, after which he was ordered to pay his victim £1,000 in compensation and ordered to wear an electronic tag and undertake unpaid work in the community. He would do better to address his own behaviour than trying to bully others.

Naturally I am taking legal advice and will vigorously defend myself. In the meantime I stand by my reporting on Fergus, and I won’t be bullied into silence.

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On rejoining Labour.

In 2016 I blogged about leaving the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn had just won his second leadership election, and I didn’t – and still don’t – believe him to be a fit and proper person to be Prime Minister of this country. If it was obvious then that Corbyn and the toxic mix of people he surrounded himself were more interested in ideological purity than electoral success, it’s even more obvious now.

Corbyn led the Labour Party to two electoral defeats, including its most calamitous humiliation at the polls since 1935, and at a time when this country was in desperate need of an effective alternative government. The leadership’s shameful failure to deal with the antisemitism crisis within the party, their abdication of responsibility around Brexit, and a wretched inability to face electoral reality – all of these left Boris Johnson with a majority that gives him free rein to do as he pleases for five years. Ordinary people in this country will pay the price of their failure to do the basic job of any opposition: to oppose.

You might think that, being faced with the prospect of looking on impotently on Johnson rampant, Jeremy and his acolytes would realise that something had gone horribly, terribly wrong and that their strategy had ended in failure. But the truth is that many of them show no sign of accepting the scale of their defeat. Labour needs to look defeat square in the face; to learn the lessons of its recent past, and to make the changes necessary to take up its historic task again: to be a proper and effective Government, in the interests of everyone in this country. The future of our nation demands nothing less.

God forbid that the party should fall into the hands of someone who is not up to that task, or who cannot recognise that it is necessary at all. Three years ago I left Labour because my conscience wouldn’t allow me to continue to give him moral and financial support; today I’ve rejoined Labour because I can’t sit on the sidelines while the future of our movement is decided.

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Ignore the prophets of doom: ending Section 21 is the right thing to do.

It is widely-reported that Thursday’s Queen’s Speech will include provision to abolish no-fault evictions in England by abolishing Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988: which enable a landlord to evict a renter after giving just two months’ notice once the fixed term has expired, and without having to prove any fault by the tenant.

Predictably, this has led to the usual predictions of doom from landlords’ groups, claiming that scrapping no-fault evictions will lead to terrible unintended consequences for renters, and are based on myths and untruths. For example:

  • Section 21 doesn’t end a tenancy after 2 months. It takes months for court proceedings to take place and an eviction date to be set.
  • It’s not true that renters aren’t at fault when a S.21 notice is served. Landlords don’t want to get rid of a good tenant, so there’s always some fault on the renter’s part.
  • Scrapping S.21 will increase homelessness because landlords will sell up, leading to a shortage of homes to rent
  • Ending S.21 is an unjustifiable interference in landlords’ property rights.

Lets look at these in turn:

Section 21 doesn’t end a tenancy after 2 months

It’s true that, if a landlord has to follow his notice through with court proceedings, delays can amount to months. That leaves everyone in a legal limbo that’s good for neither landlord nor tenant. But that is true only for those cases where court action proves necessary: experience suggests that most renters leave when their notice expires: the number of actual court evictions is small compared with the number of renters. For the rest of us – which is most renters – receiving a s.21 notice really does mean losing your home with only a few weeks’ notice.

And it is this insecurity which is at the heart of the case against s.21. At any point, renters may find themselves having to find somewhere else to live, raising the money for a deposit and rent in advance, all with very short notice. Is is hard, if not impossible, to put down roots in a family home or community, when you may need to find somewhere new at any time – and moving may well mean finding new schools for your kids, too. There’s little incentive to invest in your family home if it might not be yours much longer.

And every renter knows that getting on the wrong side of your landlord – by asking for repairs, or challenging a rent increase – might lead to losing your home. If you’re a landlord it’s not necessary to treat your tenants like serfs – but if you want to, s.21 will make that possible. S.21 is at the heart of the asymmetric relationship between landlord and tenant.

And our justice system is broken for everyone: it takes similar amounts of time to bring disrepair proceedings against a landlord. The answer is to invest in public services properly, including the civil justice system, so they work for everyone.

The renter is always at fault when a s.21 notice is served. Landlords don’t want to evict a good tenant.

I can tell you from personal experience this simply isn’t true. My last landlord served me with a s.21 notice when I pressed him to fix multiple problems with our house, including chronic damp that left black mould on the walls and slug trails on the carpets and damaged our health and property. He served us notice on 24th October – I’ll leave it to you to work out when it expired. And before you ask, protection from revenge eviction in this country is wholly unfit for purpose and frequently fails to protect renters at all. Why fix the issues, when you can just kick your tenants out if they complain?

We saw in a previous post how a well-known landlord has a policy of serving notice on any tenant who dares to complain about a rent increase. And in a House of Commons debate last year Karen Buck MP quoted a landlord as saying:

We need to fight to protect section 21…2 months is plenty to find a new rental…although if a tenant has annoyed me I wait to pull the trigger in mid-November to screw up their Christmas


That may not be the attitude of the majority of landlords, but it is not an uncommon one, and renters are entitled to be protected from the minority of landlords who would abuse their power merely because their customers annoyed them.

Landlords’ protestations that they never serve a s.21 notice unless their tenant is at fault appears to be based in large part on a survey of landlords published by the Residential Landlords’ Association in 2014, in which the respondents overwhelmingly said that they only served notice where wrongdoing by their tenant merited it.

To misquote Mandy Rice-Davies, they would say that, wouldn’t they? This is a survey of landlords in which they are asked to self-report on why they’d evicted their tenants. You can bet that nobody replied that they’d carried out a revenge eviction, or served notice in order to ruin their tenants’ Christmas or because they found them vaguely annoying.

Even if it were true – which it isn’t – s.21 enables landlords to be judge and jury in their own case. There’s no need for them to prove that the tenant really is at fault, nor any provision for the tenant to be able defend themselves against accusations that they’ve breached the terms of their tenancy. In almost every other instance we recognise that procedural fairness and the rule of law demand that people accused of wrongdoing that might lead to serious consequences are entitled to have that accusation put to them, to be able to answer that accusation and ultimately to have a court determine it. There’s no reason why losing your home should be any different.

Let’s imagine a counterfactual. Suppose it were a provision of landlord licensing schemes that local authorities could revoke landlords’ licences by giving two months notice, without having to prove that the conditions of that licence had been breached, and without any provision for an appeal. Doubtless councils would assure landlords that there really was a breach every time, perhaps carrying out a survey of themselves to prove it. Would landlords’ groups think this fair? No? Then why expect your customers to put up with the same?

Scrapping s.21 will increase homelessness.

It is suggested that landlords will either sell up, leaving the market completely, or move into short-term lettings, both of which will increase homelessness by reducing supply. Alternatively, they will become more selective about their tenants, rejecting those on benefits, leading to those becoming homeless.

We can dispose of the first of these in short order. Houses don’t disappear in a puff of smoke if a landlord sells up. Either they’re sold to another landlord, or they go to a first time buyer either directly or as part of a chain. In the latter case supply is reduced, but so is demand. Given that the current Government’s professed policy is to increase home-ownership, complaining that a policy will lead to more homes available seems exceptionally poor politics.

It’s far from clear that there’s unlimited demand for short-term lets in every area, but reforming s.21 has to be part of a wider reform of the private rented sector. If this is shown to be significant loss of supply then proper regulatory reform, including through the planning system, can be used to deal with it.

Similarly, experience shows that landlords are already highly selective about their tenants and renters on benefits already experience significant discrimination. Perhaps there’s an unlimited supply of perfect prospective renters, but if that were so landlords would already be favouring them. Again, we need to deal with DSS discrimination as part of wider reforms.

The end of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy is already a leading cause of homelessness. It is a remarkable proposition that making it harder to put people out on the street will increase homelessness. If it looks like scaremongering, that’s because it is.

Ending s.21 is an interference in landlords’ property rights

This is a Larry Sweeney special which it is impossible to ignore:

Section 21 is part of a statutory scheme of regulation set up by Parliament and which Parliament is perfectly entitled to reform. It’s Parliament’s job to balance competing rights and interests – in this instance, a landlord’s property rights against his tenant’s right to a safe, secure and habitable place to live and bring up their family. Landlords only have rights under s.21 because Parliament chose to give them: and what Parliament has given, Parliament can take away.

To descend into legal pedantry for a moment, a tenancy is an estate in land, the property of the tenant. Landlord and tenant both own estates in the property, freehold and leasehold respectively. S.21 already interferes in someone’s property rights.

Incidentally, using the same tweet to complain about interference in property rights and to demand that a charity (a private company limited by guarantee) be abolished and its private property seized is a joy to behold.

Let’s be clear. In the relationship between landlord and renter, renters are consumers purchasing a service from a business. Like every other consumer, we’re entitled to expect the state to impose effective consumer protection: and that’s particularly true where there’s a significant imbalance of power between businesses and consumers.

Of course landlords don’t want s.21 scrapped. No businessperson wants more regulation, and every reform of consumer protection has been greeted by hand-wringing from businesses explaining that, sadly, consumers would suffer.

No, landlords have abused the power handed to them by Section 21 for far too long. Ending it is a necessary and proportionate step, essential to help renters to have a secure home to bring up their families and put down roots in local communities.

And no amount of special pleading by landlords will change that.

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Fergus Blows the Gaff on Section 21

Since the Government announced it was scrapping no-fault evictions by repealing section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 – which enable landords to evict tenants with just two months’ notice for no reason – landlords have been fighting a rearguard action against abolition, claiming that they really only use them when the tenant is at fault.

Renters have always known that landlords use section 21 to retaliate against tenants who complain about their conditions or who object to their landlord’s actions. I’ve been the victim of a revenge eviction myself, and I know of many other renters who’ve been afraid to complain – and current restrictions on revenge evictions aren’t fit for purpose. Renters put up with poor conditions and bad behaviour because they know the alternative may be eviction. Indeed, the ability of landlords to put their tenants out on the street without the renter being at fault is absolutely fundamental to the unequal relationship between them. No wonder they want to keep it.

Landlords and their lobby groups, of course, hotly deny this. They claim that they really only use section 21 when their tenants actually are at fault, and that delays in the civil justice system force them to use a provision that denies renters the ability to effectively defend themselves. Who would want to evict a good tenant? they ask, as though butter wouldn’t melt in their innocent rent-seeking mouths.

Now support for our argument has come from an unexpected source. In a remarkable article on the landlords’ website Property118, Fergus Wilson has lifted the lid on how he – and many other landlords like him – actually use section 21. Deriding renters who complain about their conditions as “Mona Lott” he explains that he serves notice on tenants if they complain, including about a rent increase:

The young couple on Panorama complained about a rent increase and produced a “shopping list” of defects. If a tenant objects to an increase one year they will do so a second year. I deal with it straight away and served a Section 21.

And, he points out, renters who are afraid of eviction stop making complaints:

I have a number of tenants, who have been with me for 10-15 years, who never complain about anything. I assume they must be happy!

Of course they are, Fergus. Although, if you evict everyone who complains, how would you know?

In case Fergus is tempted to sue me again, let me make it crystal clear that there is nothing unlawful in doing this. From a landlord’s point of view, it probably makes good business sense, and he is perfectly within his legal rights to do so. But it’s the job of lawmakers to protect the rights of consumers, including the right to stand up for themselves. Conditions only improve when renters have the confidence to complain, and we need the ability to protest about unfair rent increases, too. This is why section 21 needs to go, and Fergus has illustrated it perfectly.

If I were a landlord doubtless I’d want to save section 21, too. It’s the bedrock of the unfair relationship between landlord and tenant. So please, save us the protestations that it’s never used to maintain that power.

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Maybe I was wrong about the National Landlords Alliance

Heaven knows I haven’t been an unequivocal supporter of the National Landlords Alliance. I’ve reported on its curious origins, how its members don’t acquire any of the usual rights of members and are effectively just making a donation, the Information Commissioner’s probe into them, queries about their staffing, and their overreaction to being scrutinised. And I may have mentioned them on Twitter once or twice.

Up to now, I’d always taken it for granted that the Alliance was a bad thing. Take, for example, their continuous, not to say obsessive, attacks on Shelter. Surely, nobody who cares for renters’ rights could support them when they demand the abolition of the most significant organisation providing housing advice and campaigning?

But recently I’ve been thinking: what if I’m wrong? What if the Alliance is, in fact, an unalloyed force for good?

Let’s look at the evidence. In the year or so since the Alliance was founded, the Tenant Fees Ban has come into force, the Government has announced the end of section 21 no-fault evictions – a development once practically unthinkable from a Tory Government – and the Labour Party plans to give renters the right to buy their homes from their landlords. It’s hardly a great record of success for the Alliance. In fact, for renters’ rights the past few months have been some of the best in recent years. You only have to look at the constant moaning on landlords’ forums – or the Alliance’s Twitter feed – to see that landlords feel under constant attack.

If the Alliance’s campaigning is having any effect at all, it is the precise opposite of what they intend. It’s like having the Midas touch in reverse: everything they touch turns to shit.

And it’s not hard to see why. The Alliance have an unerring, laser-like ability to fatally undermine their own argument.

Maybe there are legitimate criticisms to be made of Shelter. Any organisation which seeks to influence public policy should expect, and welcome, some public scrutiny themselves – and there’s every reason to suppose Shelter do: they’re an admirably open organisation. If the Alliance do have anything sensible to say, it is completely drowned out by relentless demands for Shelter to be wound up, and near-obsessional quote-tweeting of Shelter’s CEO’s personal Twitter:

These attacks are bizarrely self-defeating. The Alliance dislikes Shelter because they give advice to renters that landlords find personally inconvenient. But instead of explaining why they disagree, all we get are constant demands for Shelter to be abolished. Evidence-free demands like these persuade nobody, because they make no attempt to persuade. Instead, all they do is reflect badly on the organisation making them: most people, rightly, like and admire the work that Shelter do and to demand its abolition for no real reason just makes the Alliance look nasty and mean-spirited.

The Alliance’s line of attack, such as it is, is to complain that Shelter don’t directly house anyone themselves. But people aren’t stupid: they can recognise an organisation that provides advice, research and campaigning, and if they needed a reminder they need only look at the Alliance itself. One campaigning organisation is criticising another for campaigning. If it’s such a hideous crime, why does the Alliance do it? At least the majority of Shelter’s work is in giving advice which helps people to find somewhere to live or keep a roof over their heads.

Similarly, a radical policy like Labour’s proposal to introduce right-to-buy for private tenants deserves proper discussion – but to be clear, Labour have said that they will ensure that landlords will not lose out financially. Doubtless there are still legitimate criticisms, and if it’s going to be introduced it needs to be done properly. Sensible landlords organisations can make that kind of argument. But, if the Alliance has any sensible criticism, it has completely failed to make it, instead going straight for vicious and frankly bizarre ad hominem attacks on John Mcdonnell:

Stay classy, guys…

If you can’t come up with anything better than ranting about how your opponents are Nazis, with added mental health smears, you can’t expect to win any arguments.

There’s no point in complaining about a policy for interfering with other peoples’ property, if your own policy is to abolish a charity and seize all its money. And there’s no point in denouncing people who disagree with you as ‘vile’ – as the Alliance does to Shelter with monotonous regularity – once you’ve resorted to Nazi smears yourself.

So maybe I was wrong about the Alliance. Not only do they completely undermine their own arguments, such as they are, but they condemn all other landlords and their organisations by association. There is no point denying that they represent a significant element among landlords, and they say the kinds of things that others might be too embarrassed to admit. It’s remarkable how little criticism the Alliance receives from other landlords or their organisations. Yet the Alliance’s CEO Larry Sweeney is a one-man wrecking ball for landlords’ credibility.

Keep up the good work, Larry. You’re the renters’ best friend.

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In court with Fergus Wilson

A few weeks ago I reported on Fergus Wilson’s attempt to bankrupt me over my reporting on this blog. Today the County Court at Canterbury heard my application to set his demands aside.

Despite Wilson being represented by a barrister, the court upheld my application, and ordered him to pay my costs. For now at least his attempts to bankrupt me are at an end.

I want to thank everyone who has supported me through this, whether you’ve given moral or practical help: I do appreciate all your help and, while it’s not appropriate for me to name names, I know you know who you are.

I have been advised not to gloat, so I am not going to do so. But I want to say this:- To every renter who thinks they can’t stand up to their landlord, to everyone who doesn’t think their rights will be upheld against the rich and powerful: don’t be intimidated. It’s not easy, but there is help out there and you will get a fair hearing. Today I saw off a millionaire and his barrister who wanted to take me for over fifty grand. And if I can stand up for myself, so can you.

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On being sued by Fergus Wilson

When I started this blog a little over three years ago, my first story was about millionaire landlord Fergus Wilson and how his conviction for assault disqualified him from election as Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner. I’m proud of that story and I stand by it. Now it appears Fergus Wilson is seeking to bankrupt me for telling the truth about him.

In March this year I received a notice that High Court Enforcement Agents – the sort of people you see on daytime TV taking people’s stuff away when they can’t pay their debts – intended to visit my house, and take my stuff. This, apparently, to enforce a judgment for £50,000 obtained by Wilson’s wife Judith against someone with a very similar, but crucially slightly different name to mine, and quoting the reference “Up the Creek” – presumably a reference to this blog. Fifty grand. Fifty bleeding grand.

I’d never heard anything of this claim before: no letter before action, no Claim Form, no notice of any hearing or a judgment: no clue that the claim existed or what it was about. And no opportunity to defend myself against whatever was going on. Nothing, until the point that people were preparing to drill the locks and take away my TV.

You might think there are things you can do, legal action you can take, when this happens to you: and you’d be right, normally. If you’ve never been given the opportunity to defend yourself against a judgment before it was made, you can apply to have it set aside, so that a proper hearing can take place. But because Wilson had given a slightly different name to mine as the defendant, the courts wouldn’t entertain a claim from me to set the judgment aside: I’m not a party to the case. They wouldn’t even let me have a copy of the judgment. To this day I haven’t seen it.

This left me in a legal limbo: not able to apply to set the judgment aside, but still having to deal with the HCEAs planning to take my stuff away. All I could do was to ask them nicely to leave me alone. Fortunately, they’ve left me alone.

And then last week I received a Statutory Demand from Wilson. This is a serious business: it’s a notice served by a creditor on a debtor under the Insolvency Act, giving them a limited time to pay or face bankruptcy. It’s specifically for debt collection, and absolutely not to be used where a debt is disputed. Wilson says I owe him over £50,000 and that he has judgment against me, but the claim number he’s quoted on his demand is the case his wife brought against a man with nearly-my-name: not a case that either he or I are even a party to.

This isn’t something anyone can ignore. If not dealt with you can be bankrupted quickly. I’ve had excellent legal advice and will be making a formal application to the Court to have this demand set aside, and for Wilson to be ordered to pay my costs. And all this time, I’ve never been given anything to do with this supposed claim, apart from demands to pay up.

There is a clue out there, though. Some time ago Wilson wrote an article for the Property118 website about plans he apparently has for a website for women victims of domestic violence, which included the following passage, now deleted:

As far as I’m aware I’m the only person that complained about Wilson’s nomination, but for the avoidance of doubt, I’m not responsible for his nomination being rejected: it was rejected because he didn’t fill in his nomination papers properly. He must know that’s the case because he tried to have the Returning Officer’s decision overturned by the courts. And I don’t believe I’ve made a false claim about his eligibility: I set out my reasoning in the post I linked to above and I’ll leave you to make up your own minds.

This isn’t the first time that Wilson has tried to sue people who’ve critcised him publicly. Last year he sued YouTuber Danny Hyde for making a video that was critical of his policy of excluding people of Asian origin from his houses: a policy that was overruled by the courts. (Wilson brought proceedings in his wife’s name, apparently by accident – doesn’t that sound familiar?) The year before, the courts struck out his attempt to sue a woman who had reported him to the police for alleged sexual assault. Meanwhile he is reportedly suing Kent Police for a million pounds after he was arrested as a result of that report.

It seems, though as things stand I have no way of knowing for sure, that Wilson is pursuing these demands for payment from me because he wants to silence scrutiny and criticism from me.

I refuse to be bullied into silence. Wilson tried to stand for high public office and it’s right that he should have faced proper public scrutiny. His eligibility for that office, which was at the very least called into question because of his own record of violent crime, was and remains a matter of legitimate public concern.

In the meantime, if you’re reading this, Fergus (and I know you are), I have one message. See you in court.

Postscript: the morning after I published this, Wilson published an article on the Property118 website, complaining that debt collectors working for a utility company had demanded payment from him, but wouldn’t give him any details of the supposed debt. He advocates keeping a detailed log of all the time spent dealing with this terrible situation, and seeking costs at the legal rate of £19 per hour. Thanks for the heads-up Fergus, I will.

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The Remainer’s Dilemma – D’Hondt Go Breaking My Heart

Like many people I’ve struggled to decide who to vote for in the European Parliament elections tomorrow. I think I’ve made my mind up now.

The dilemma for me and for many Remainers is deciding what we want to achieve in these elections. Do we want to reduce the number of MEPs from Nigel Farage’s loathsome and sinister Brexit Party? To achieve a higher vote share for Remain parties? Or to elect the greatest number of pro-Remain MEPs? These three things are not the same.

Stopping MEPs from being elected from Farage’s party is an important consideration. There are many deeply unpleasant people involved in it, it’s sources of funding are troubling to say the least, and Farage himself has played a key role in getting us to the terrible situation we now find ourselves in as a country – for which he seems unable to accept any responsibility. If you want to do that, as a Remainer, the best thing to do is to hold your nose and vote Labour. Despite a few polls to the contrary, it seems obvious that Labour is going to finish second and is best-placed to hold Farage at bay. The price of supporting Labour, of course, is to have your vote interpreted as being cast for a pro-Leave party. That was the lesson of the 2017 General Election and the local elections a few weeks ago.

But that is a price I’m not prepared to pay.

If you want to increase the vote share of pro-Remain parties, well, you have the luxury of picking and choosing. At some point on Monday morning, someone will add together all the votes for the Lib Dems, Change UK, the Greens and so on, and compare them with the votes for Leave-supporting parties. Just pick whichever one you want, and the job’s done.

For me, however, this approach seems misguided and a touch cynical. Fundamentally, elections have to be about electing politicians to represent us, and we break that link at our peril. No, I believe that we should use these elections to return the greatest number of unequivocally pro-Remain MEPs.

Unfortunately, that still leaves me with a dilemma. Though the D’Hondt system used for these elections produces a broadly-proportional result, it’s difficult to game, and when it comes down to the final places on the list, it can produce results that are hard to predict. You can vote for smaller parties – and the split in the Remain vote means they’re all smaller parties – and still expect to get MEPs elected. But it’s still possible to vote for a party that performs so poorly that it can never hope to get anyone elected, and see the final place go to your opponents because the others don’t quite have enough support.

For me the choice comes down to the Lib Dems or Change UK. Sorry Greens – this is confusing enough without you guys.

The Lib Dems have been pressing their case hard. I voted for them in the local elections a few weeks ago, which was easy because they were the only Remainers standing. This time the choice is more difficult. There seems to be an assumption among them that taking on the mantle of the largest Remain party means they don’t have to address the coalition years and that we’re going to forgive and forget.

I find that difficult to do. I’m not going to go through all the coalition years but I do think they have issues to address. And I don’t think they should be able to take my Remain vote for granted.

Which leaves Change UK. I really, really want Change to do well. I find myself tribally still very much Labour, and I look forward to the day when can vote Labour again. One of the duties of smaller parties in the centre ground of our system is to keep the big parties honest, and prevent them from being captured by their extremes. If they become too extreme their support bleeds away to the centrist parties, and they are forced to tack back towards the centre to recapture it. The Lib Dems have notably failed to exert that kind of gravitational pull over the others. Neither party is paying the attention to the centre ground that they ought to. Change UK ought to have been able to apply that kind of pressure. For that reason I really want them to succeed.

But if you want my vote, as a new and untested party, you’re going to have to work for it. And some of their campaigning has been woeful. They’ve lost their lead candidate in Scotland overboard to the Lib Dems. They’ve contrived to lose control of their own Twitter handle by changing their name in the middle of the campaign. They’ve got some great candidates, but they’ve struggled to deploy them effectively.

All of this has made it difficult for them to break through. Their support remains at dangerously low levels. They may find themselves at that point where they just deny the last seat in my region to another pro-Remain party.

And so, with a heavier heart this time, I’m voting Lib Dems.

Information Commissioner launches probe into National Landlords Alliance

In a post on the landlords’ website Property 118, National Landlords’ Alliance CEO Larry Sweeney has confirmed that his organisation is under investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office in relation to a “Rogue Tenants Database” that’s referred to on his website.

There’s absolutely no information about this database on the Alliance’s website. For non-members the site just displays a message saying the information is available to members only.

It’s a matter of legitimate public concern (and of particular concern to tenants) how this database operates:

  • Where does the information on the database come from?
  • On what grounds is a tenant added to a list? How is “rogue tenant” defined?
  • How does the Alliance ensure it’s correct?
  • How does the Alliance ensure it’s up-to-date?
  • On what grounds under the GDPR is the Alliance keeping the database at all?
  • Who has access to the database, and how is it being kept secure?
  • How can a tenant tell if they’ve been added to the database, and how can they challenge any incorrect information?
  • Generally, what arrangements have the Alliance made to comply with the GDPR?

So it’s entirely appropriate for the ICO to enquire into this database, particularly given the limited information available on the Alliance’s website. Incorrect information might seriously affect someone’s ability to get access to housing.

Rather than engage sensibly with the investigation, Sweeney has doubled down and claimed that the ICO are targeting him because he’s repeatedly called for the resignation of Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham over what he claims is a cover-up of mass breaches of the GDPR by local authorities:

So, is there any truth in his claims that local councils are committing mass breaches of the regulations, aided by the ICO? Sweeney has been less than forthcoming about the breaches he claims are occurring, but in another post on Property118 he gave us a clue.

On its landlord application this authority demands addresses of properties owned by the landlord applicant in other boroughs. If the Council wanted to check with other authorities with respect to a landlords conduct, perhaps this might be acceptable. but it is an abuse to demand addresses of landlords properties licensed elsewhere.

Sefton quote HMO regs as a justification for obtaining this information. Irrespective of that this is a clear GDPR breach demanding excessive information. If readers are not convinced yet, then look at what follows. The authority as per GDPR has a duty to maintain the data held as current and up to date. If a landlord disposes of his holdings outside of Sefton or purchases a property in Devon or London, the Council will not have the relevant data on file, unless the landlord decides to become involved in assisting Sefton remain GDPR compliant by updating them every time he purchases or sells a property. There is no legal obligation on him to do so.

So a landlord (in an area where selective licensing is in force) applies for a licence from his local authority. As part of that application he has to give the details of the properties he owns outside that authority’s area. Sweeney says this might be acceptable if the authority wanted to check the landlord’s conduct elsewhere. I agree. One of the problems that has been identified with licensing schemes is that rogue landlords are able to operate elsewhere with impunity – there’s not enough co-ordination between authorities. It’s unclear why he then goes on to say that it’s an abuse to ask for details of landlord’s properties licensed elsewhere.

Sweeney’s real complaint seems to be that, having obtained that information, the authority don’t keep it up to date – “The authority as per GDPR has a duty to maintain the data held as current and up to date” – and this seems to be the principal ground for his claims about mass GDPR breaches. If so, he’s profoundly misunderstood the requirements of the regulation. It’s true that Article 5 refers to information being kept up-to-date, but this isn’t an absolute requirement: it must be kept current only when necessary.

A landlord makes an application for a licence, and provides the information necessary for the authority to determine that application. The application is an event – once it’s been determined, there’s no need to keep collecting information. Indeed, given the requirement that data should be “adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed” it’s hard to see why that information could lawfully be collected. Sweeney is barking up an imaginary tree.

Look at an analogous situation: a tenant wants to rent a house from a landlord. He gives a lot of (let’s face it, pretty intrusive) information about his financial, family and employment status to his potential landlord. If Sweeney’s position that information of that kind has to be kept current is correct, every landlord who’s obtained that information has committed an actionable breach of the GDPR if he hasn’t kept that information current. No tenant would agree to give his landlord a running commentary of that kind.

No, Sweeney’s complaints are futile, and if the ICO hasn’t mounted an investigation it’s because he hasn’t identified a clear breach of the GDPR. He’s spent weeks demanding the ICO investigate others, and now it’s time for him to co-operate fully into their investigation into him.

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The National Landlords’ Alliance – keeping it in the family

I had not intended to return to the so-called National Landlords’ Alliance, not least because they’ve been well covered elsewhere.However, a curious incident on Twitter has brought to light a potential further issue with this organisation.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a number of replies on Twitter from someone called “Steff.” Steff seems a little obsessed with me and, specifically, what I do for a living. Over the past few months all of her tweets have been at or about me, and my employment has been a particular theme:

For the avoidance of doubt I’ve never claimed to be qualified to assist anyone: I’ve been open that I’m a layman, anyone who needs advice should see a solicitor or properly-qualified advisor. What I do for a living isn’t relevant to what I write about, I’m not going to go into it because I’ve agreed with my employers that I won’t discuss their business on social media.

But of course, this has caused me to look at who “Steff” might be. From the little information we can find in her Twitter profile, Steff appears to be from Merseyside: almost everyone she follows is from there. The National Landlords Alliance is registered to an address on Merseyside, its self-appointed CEO, and sole shareholder and Director also gives an address in Merseyside, and has written on the Property 118 website about his dealings with Liverpool and Sefton Councils.

And so it was that I looked again at who is involved in the Alliance. We’ve seen Sweeney, and also John Allan, former National Chair of the Federation of Small Business, who is their policy consultant and to whom press enquiries are directed.

However, in his article seeking members for the Alliance, Sweeney referred to another, unnamed member of staff:

Great! She sounds perfect – I wonder who this person might be? Well, here’s a likely candidate. Stephanie Sweeney (presumably a relation) has
experience in the industry (she currently works at an estate agent, and lists previous work experience at “Sweeney properties”), a journalism degree (from Liverpool John Moores University, and she did “Work Experiance” [sic] at the Liverpool Echo, where presumably she didn’t experience having to spell correctly), and lobbying experience (shadowing the Press and Parliamentary officer at the Federation of Small Business during her month as an intern, which seems to have coincided with “policy consultant” John Allan’s tenure as Chairman). All boxes checked.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with employing your family: there are plenty of family businesses. But the so-called Alliance isn’t an ordinary business, or it claims not to be: it purports to be a membership organisation funded by donations (I’m not going to call them subscriptions, because as we’ve seen before donors don’t get the benefits of membership in return). Previously I’ve asked what members of the Alliance got in return for their money, and now we know: Sweeney is paying his family out of it, or planning to.

I have no idea whether the Steff who’s been demanding to know what I do for a living is Stephanie Sweeney, but I do know this: Alliance members should ask Larry Sweeney where exactly their money is going.

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