ANNEX 3: CENTRAL ONLINE SYSTEM FOR LANDLORD REGISTRATION
The online landlord registration website provides a central hub which can be used by:
- landlords and agents - to make applications and update their details
- local authorities - to manage registrations and provide online access to their register
- tenants and neighbours - to check whether relevant landlords are registered
This is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to the landlord registration IT system - a full user guide is available. This Annex will outline:
- late application fee
- public searching
- local authority reports
There are a number of key processes for consideration:
- authorised users
- review lists
- fees and discounts
- the registration process
• Authorised users
The system uses 'role-based security'. This means that each user is assigned to one or more roles, and each role is authorised to carry out different actions and view different information.
- the Overall System Administrator sets up accounts for local authority system administrators and Scottish Government users
- Scottish Government Users deal with payment processes and have access to statistical information. They do not have any access to personal information on the system
- Local Authority System Administrators set up accounts for local authority users
- Local Authority Registration Officers and Registration Managers have access to all information, personal and public, for all records for their own local authority area, as well as access to the public information on other authorities' registers. They are able to upload and download information and reports, change the status of applications, and create and edit user accounts for public users and registered persons. Some changes of status (e.g. refusal, approval after review) are restricted to registration managers
- Registered Persons and Companies are able to view their own records for all local authorities to which they have applied, and view the status of all their applications. 'Registered person/company' includes landlords, agents and prospective landlords who do not yet let property
- an Anonymous User is a person without a user account who will only be able to view public information for approved registrations, in one local authority at a time (see 'Public Search')
• Local authority review lists
Each local authority needs to maintain its online 'review list'. This is the information which triggers an application for registration to be diverted for review by a local authority officer, including landlords, agents or property addresses about which concerns have been raised or where the local authority wants to make contact with the owner. Every record must show the source of the information, for example a file number, so that the registration officer can check the reason for review. The system will divert applications if they match the review list on:
- individual's name and home address
- individual's name and date of birth
- company name
- let property address
Because there may be several applicants with the same name, the system requires additional information and will not match on name alone. It will, however, use a probability system, so it can manage some degree of mis-spelling or use of initials versus full name, for example. Local authority staff can upload a new review list at any time and it is recommended that the list is regularly reviewed and maintained.
A principal fee of £55 is charged for registration. The system will hold the rules to calculate all additional fees and discounts. Information on the site will provide details of how these additional fees and discounts will be applied.
• Registration process
This is how a landlord or agent will make an application for registration online. Where applications are submitted on paper forms, local authority staff will need to enter them in the system and the process will then follow a similar path.
- Obtain a user account
In order to register using the online system, the person requires to have an email address. The person will be prompted to enter a username and password, with some basic information about him or herself. The account then needs to be activated. An activation code can be sent out by email. This is to prove there is a real person involved, to avoid the system being spammed by systems that can generate automatic account requests.
- Enter personal details
Having logged in and activated their account, the user enters all their personal or company details, including statements about any convictions, accreditations, and any information required for discounts, such as charitable status.
- Enter property details
The user enters details of the properties they own. The system uses address-matching software to ensure that addresses are always entered in the same format, to make searching and matching more reliable. It will ask for the postcode, or partial details, and complete the rest of the address. For flats, the system can offer a list of all flats in the building to select from, and there will be tips on how flat numbers are presented. If the address is not found, the person will need to contact the local authority - only registration officers and managers can override the address software for let property addresses. In particular, this will allow local authorities to use their own standards for identifying flats. (All users can override the software for home addresses, to allow for addresses outside the UK.)
The system will identify the local authority area for each let property address, and allocate the application to the relevant authorities. Agents and prospective landlords will be able to select the authorities they wish to apply to from a drop-down list.
- Add co-owners and agents
For each property, the user can add an agent or joint owner(s). If an agent or joint owner has already applied for registration, the user can just enter their reference number, or enter their name and address and the system will match the records.
If an agent is not yet registered, the user will need to contact their local authority. This is because the system will not currently allow an unregistered agent to be specified within their application for registration. In these circumstances, the local authority will need to take steps either to encourage the agent to register in their own right, or to assess the agent as fit and proper.
Joint owners can be added directly as new users, within the main application, and the applicant can indicate if the joint owner is a member of their family and lives at the same address. The system will generate a user account and password and a letter will be generated prompting the co-owner to correct/complete the information. Co-owners or landlords and agents will not have access to one another's personal details (unless they choose to share passwords).
Joint owner applications do not have to be approved at the same time; therefore there may be situations where joint owners have different approval and expiry dates.
The applicant must also identify a contact address for the property. This may be, for example, an office address rather than the owner's home address, or the local office for a company which has several addresses
- Make payment
The system calculates the total to be paid, showing an itemised "shopping basket" of all the elements - each local authority, each property and any discounts. In order to use the online system, the user is required to pay online by credit or debit card. The payment is approved by a third party online payment service (Worldpay), and the money goes into a central account (held by the Scottish Government) before being split up and distributed to local authorities by bank transfer. The payment is accompanied by the registration reference number, for reconciliation purposes.
If the user is unwilling or unable to pay online, they can choose to submit a paper application form. The paper application should be accompanied by the appropriate fee. An application is not valid until it is paid and all mandatory information has been completed. The online discount and multiple area discount is only available when the application is completed and submitted online.
NB. Once all mandatory fields have been completed and payment has been made, the user has made a valid application and is not committing an offence by letting.
- Details issued for signature
The IT system has the facility for local authorities to send confirmation letters, which can be used to confirm the details entered by the user. If local authorities choose to use confirmation letters, they should print the details from the system and send them out to be checked, signed and returned.
If a signature is not received back within a reasonable time, the local authority should issue a reminder. After a further period, the application should be rejected. Failure to take action if confirmation letters are not returned can lead to a backlog of unapproved applications and this should be dealt with swiftly and decisively.
- Applications diverted for review
When the application is completed and paid, the system will check it against the review list. It will also check other triggers, such as declared convictions or unlicensed HMOs (see below). If there is a match to the review list or any other trigger, the application will be identified for review by local authority officers. If an application is diverted as a result of a match to the review list of one local authority, all other authorities involved in that application will be informed, so they can, if necessary, enquire about the reason for diversion. If a local authority wishes to review an application which has not tripped any of the triggers to be automatically diverted, the status can be manually set to 'review' when the application is received.
The review process is for each local authority to determine according to its own procedures and scheme of delegation. Once the review process is completed, the registration manager will update the status of the application on the system. Each authority makes its own decision, and registration may be approved in one authority and refused in another, depending on the applicant's circumstances. The system will also allow an application to be marked as "under appeal" if necessary.
The system will set the status of the application as 'pending approval' if the following stages are completed:
- application not diverted for review
- all mandatory fields completed
- payment received
A list of applications which have changed to "pending approval" status will be provided for each day. Applications can only be moved from "pending approval" to "approved" by a local authority user manually changing the status. This ensures that no applicant will appear on the register without active confirmation from local authority staff.
The local authority should then send a registration approval letter. Each authority will do this separately, to make clear that registration is granted by each authority individually. Either when seeking a signature or when confirming registration approval, the authority can ask the applicant additional, optional questions, and enclose information on private renting issues.
If the user amends his or her details at any time, the system will check whether any payment is required (for additional properties) or whether the new information triggers review, and will put the record back into the application and checking process if necessary.
Late Application Fee
The fee structure allows for a late application fee of £110 to be applied, if the application is submitted only after the local authority has issued two separate requests for an application to be made. To make such requests, the local authority must know the name and an address for the applicant. They can therefore create a user account for that person, and put a marker on that account that it should be charged the late application fee. The user account details can be included with the second request letter, or alternatively the system should match the details if the person obtains a separate user account and applies under that, or submits a paper application that is entered by a registration officer. It may be advisable to include information about anyone subject to a late application fee on the review list, to check that they have been caught and matched with the pre-existing user account.
Concerns have been raised about how people might use information obtained from online registers. Examples of problems that might arise include:
- downloading lists of names and addresses to create mailing lists for unsolicited advertising
- identifying landlords with large portfolios of property, to target for robbery or protection rackets
- providing lists of property belonging to a particular landlord could lead to vandalism, putting tenants at risk, or libelous letters to current tenants, from anyone with a grudge
- identifying all rented property in an area could lead to victimisation or harassment of tenants
For this reason, it has been agreed that public searching of the registers should be restricted to individual properties or persons, and should avoid giving lists that would identify additional people or addresses on the register. Further information can be provided by local authorities, if they are satisfied with the enquirer's reasons for wanting that information.
In all cases, the user must specify the local authority whose register he or she wants to search, or the property address. Only one register can be searched at a time.
- Property search
For neighbours or tenants who want to know the landlord / agent of a particular property. The user will be prompted to enter the address, usually the street number and name plus the town. The address matching software will complete the rest of the details, or offer options, to arrive at a single real address. The system will then search for that address in the register. If found, it will return the names of people registered in association with that address (owner(s) and agent) and the contact address.
- Registered Person/Company search
For prospective tenants, clients or business partners who want to know whether a particular person or company is registered in a particular authority. The user must first identify the local authority whose register he or she wants to search. As with the review list, a name on its own is not sufficiently unique to search on. The user must enter the name and either the home / registered office address or a contact address. The system will search for that data and will simply return a statement that the person is or is not registered with that local authority.
If no match is found, the user will be invited to contact the local authority. Local authority officers will be able to view the full register, and may be able to find a match where the details provided by the user are slightly inaccurate, or can note the person/company or property for further investigation