The Housing, Communities and local Government Select Committee continues its inquiries into the Private Rented Sector, and the draft Tenant Fees Ban Bill. The latest round of witnesses included the new Minister for the PRS, Heather Wheeler MP, representatives of professional bodies covering environmental health and trading standards, the Chartered Institute of Housing and council representatives responsible for enforcement.
Of note, all three councils invited to give evidence – Boston, Bournemouth, Wandsworth – have rejected selective licensing. The councils agreed that they had the tools to enforce, but that resources were an issue. This reflects the RLA’s position, that we don’t need more legislation, but better enforcement of existing regulations. The councils also felt that there was a lack of qualified and experienced staff – when there were vacancies, councils were all chasing the same people to fill them. Boston Council was also concerned about the impact of the extension of mandatory licensing. They will see an increase of almost 7000% in the number of licensable properties, from 23 to over 1400.
Th professional bodies also had concerns, feeling there was often little incentive for councils enforce, as the fines handed out by the courts were tiny and no deterrent to criminal landlords, who see prosecution as a risk worth taking. In the same week, the Local Government Association proposed that courts should have guidance on sentencing and hand out minimum fines of £30,000 for housing breaches. While the RLA has sympathy with councils faced with paltry fines and no hope of recovering the cost of prosecution, fines must be proportionate, as well as a deterrent. We agree that guidance for courts would be helpful, but a starting point of £30,000 is unrealistic.
We were, however, pleased to see the CIH support the RLA’s proposal of using the Council Tax registration process to gather data on housing tenure, property management and landlord contact information.
Committee members and the Minister, referenced the RLA frequently during Heather Wheeler’s evidence. She welcomed the close working relationship with the RLA, while committee members used RLA research and evidence to quiz her on standards, licensing and the fees ban bill. The full transcript can be found here.
The Government has, however, taken to slipping out announcements about the PRS at what could be described as anti-social hours. The consultation on Electrical Safety was published on a Saturday, the Consumer Redress consultation on the very next day – a Sunday, and the order confirming the extension of mandatory licensing, late last Friday afternoon. After promising a ‘grace’ period of 6 months from the introduction of the new mandatory licensing regime, this has now been abandoned, and affected landlords will have to apply for a mandatory licence by Oct 1st, unless the property is already subject to an additional or selective licence. These should be automatically passported, but we await more detail on how this will happen – just as we do on the minimum room size and waste management conditions.
Not to be outdone, the Welsh Government has published its response to their fees ban consultation, and Housing Minister, Rebecca Evans AM, confirmed their intention to press ahead.
The English Private Landlord Survey was launched last week, with 100,000 landlords and agents being invited to take part. The last survey was carried out over a decade ago, and the results will be crucial in providing evidence on the health and importance of the sector, although a cynic may say that it’s all a little too late to inform government policy.
And finally, some good news. In response to a written question from Sheffield Labour MP, Paul Bloomfield, the PRS Minister confirmed the Government had no plans for a mandatory national register of landlords, but did confirm a review of selective licensing will be undertaken, with more details promised later in the Spring.