Data protection and its rules have received more coverage than ever in recent years, principally due to the General Data Protection Regulation (more commonly known as GDPR), which the EU introduced in April 2016.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) oversees the Data Protection Act 2018 – the UK's implementation of GDPR post-Brexit. You can find out more about it here.
Below, we explore where landlords stand regarding data and whether they must register with the ICO.
Data protection registration and fees
In its own words, the ICO is 'the UK's independent authority designed to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals'.
Under the Data Protection (Charges and Information) Regulations 2018, organisations that process personal data must pay a data protection fee to the ICO unless exempt.
As a landlord, you will store or use a tenant's personal information, meaning you are officially a 'data controller' and will be responsible for ensuring that information is used in line with GDPR.
Last year, the body called on landlords to check whether they needed to register and pay a fee as part of a campaign to spread awareness of the importance of granting full protection.
However, some agents claim their landlords aren't registered with the ICO, and some haven't even heard of the independent body.
In aid of the campaign, the ICO developed a self-assessment tool for landlords to check if they must register, along with answers to frequently asked questions.
The body notes that fees apply no matter how many properties you have, the number of tenants, or how many people you work with.
Should landlords register with the ICO?
The ICO and National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) both state that most landlords should already be registered with the ICO, paying a fee under current data protection laws.
The difficulty is that some landlords think they are exempt as they do not see themselves as a business and, therefore, depend on their letting agent to hold this registration. But, even if your letting agent is registered, that doesn't mean you don't need to.
Landlords who are processing personal data to produce tenancy agreements/contracts, perform credit checks via a credit reference agency, and obtain references are seen as a business and are required to pay a data protection fee.
The ICO fee is paid annually and can be between £40 and £2,900 per annum, depending on the size of the business and turnover. You should give the ICO direct debit details to avoid missing a payment.
To register, landlords must provide the office with details including your name, address, trading name, turnover, credit/debit card details and number of employees. The process takes up to 15 minutes and is not something an agent can do on your behalf. You can register here.
Those who purely process data manually are exempt from registration. However, this will only account for a select few, as most landlords process data via mobile phones, PCs or tablets.
Penalties for non-compliance
As with all regulations, landlords have a duty of care to their tenants and must remain compliant at all times.
In this instance, it is important that you identify any records containing personal information and assess whether you comply with GDPR laws.
If tenants believe you're misusing their data, they could raise a complaint to the ICO, who will then investigate.
Similarly, if you had a complaint about the tenant, such as unpaid rent, the tenant could use your non-registration against you.
Failure to register with the ICO and getting caught in the process could land you a civil penalty between £400 and £4,350.
Will GDPR come into play with the new property portal?
The widespread reforms recently announced in the Rental Reform White Paper include the prospect of a new property portal that will provide landlords with necessary information.
The portal will provide a single 'front door' for landlords to understand and comply with their responsibilities and give tenants and councils the information they need to tackle rogue operators.
In his foreword to Parliament, the then Housing Secretary Michael Gove said the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) consulted with the ICO on the portal and intends to incorporate some of the functionality of the Database of Rogue Landlords.
With more importance than ever given to data protection, it is in your best interest to register with the ICO as soon as possible – if you aren't already – and remain on the right side of the law. If you don't, you could be hit with severe penalties and could also have your non-registration used against you by tenants, meaning it's not worth the risk.
Working closely with an experienced local letting agent – who can advise you about the need to register and which exemptions apply – will also help your cause as a landlord.