Here is a question to the blog clinic from Gary (not his real name) who is a tenant.
I had a problem last year when I fell a couple of weeks behind on rent, being on Universal Credit, and my landlord decided to phone my dad (who is in his 80s) to tell him that I was in arrears.
The issues are:
(a) Her natural attitude is to be verbally aggressive and managed to reduce me to tears by her behaviour during a flat inspection
(b) In the light of that, I told the letting agents they are not to provide her with any way of contacting my parents.
(c) My parents are not guarantors
(d) The letting agents provided her with my parents’ address and phone number when she asked for these.
(e) When she phoned my dad, she inflated the amount of arrears owing
Clearly, there has been a data protection breach and I wonder what her motivations were for phoning my dad. How do I go about taking legal action over her obtaining my parents’ contact details?
The main thrust of this question is about the legality of the letting agent releasing the parent’s details to the landlord. However, I don’t think the agents can be criticised for this.
A letting agent is employed by the landlord and their dealings with you are as the landlord’s representative. As such they are not really entitled to withhold information.
For example, it is important that a landlord has details of next of kin in case anything happens to you. If (God forbid) they found you dead at the property, the landlord needs to know who to notify about this.
However, this does not mean that it is all right for your landlord to ring up your 80-year-old father and give false information about you.
In fact, if you had specifically told the agents (and therefore, in effect, the landlord as the agents are their representative) that your parents were not to be contacted – this will be a breach of the data protection rules.
Particularly as, bearing in mind that they are not guarantors, the landlord had no real justification for this and was clearly doing it to cause you embarrassment.
So I think your best course of action would be to contact the Information Commissioner and get their advice about making a formal complaint. I can’t really help you here as I am not a data protection lawyer.
But note that it is not the agents who have done anything wrong, it is the landlord. And the basis of your complaint should not be that the landlord was given your parents details but that she rang them up contrary to your instructions, thereby causing both you and your parents, distress and upset.