Landlord licensing schemes intended to raise standards in the rental sector “do not work” according to the RLA.
The Residential Landlords Association claims the schemes have created a “postcode lottery”, as some local authorities are charging landlords 21 times as much as other councils for licences.
Research by Direct Line for Business found that the cost of a new licence ranges from just £55 to £1,150.
Across the UK the average cost of a landlord licence was £591, but not all local authorities operate the schemes.
In 2017 the average amount of revenue raised by individual councils through their licensing schemes was £144,629.
The average number of licensing offences reported by each local authority with a scheme was 5,069 in 2017, a jump of 46 per cent on the previous year.
Breaching the licensing rules is a criminal offence and landlords can be prosecuted or hit with a civil penalty of up to £30,000.
However, the average fine for licensing offences in 2017 was just £926.
One major landlord group claimed that the scheme is not working to protect tenants or guarantee the quality of rental homes in an area.
The Residential Landlords Association says the scheme “does not work” and pushes up costs for good landlords while criminals carry on “under the radar”.
It argues that price increases for landlords mean that ultimately the cost for tenants will rise too.
RLA policy director David Smith says: “Whatever the cost of licensing, it fails to provide any assurance about the quality of accommodation.
“The RLA’s own analysis shows that there is no clear link between a council having a licensing scheme in place and levels of enforcement against criminal landlords.”
He adds: “The fundamental problem with all schemes is that it is only the good landlords who come forward to be licensed.
“They completely fail to identify the crooks. They just mean landlords, and therefore tenants, having to pay more.
“Instead, councils need to be more creative in how they identify landlords by better using the powers they have to collect data using council tax returns and accessing information from deposit schemes.”
But another landlord group disagrees.
National Landlords Association policy officer Gavin Dick says: “If selective licensing schemes are used appropriately and in a targeted fashion, they can be an effective tool for councils to improve housing standards.
“Wales and Scotland differ in that they have a register of landlords rather than licensing.
“However, this doesn’t tackle issues such as anti-social behaviour – one of the main reasons councils in England introduce licensing.”
He adds: “The variations and costs are due to the localised nature of enforcement in England.
“Each local authority should have set out its aims within their licensing schemes, including how it plans to tackle social issues such as drug and mental health problems, and how it is to be funded.
“What tends to happen is good landlords pay the fee and get their licence, but all too often don’t see any enforcement against the criminals operating in the private rented sector.
“We all need local authorities to properly enforce against these people, but few are able to do so to any effect.”