Monday, 23 October 2017

Not all Landlords and Agents are Cowboys…

But there remain far too many operating in the private-rented housing sector.
The Private Rented Sector (PRS) has grown from 1 in 10 households in 2004 to 1 in 5 households in 2016 with the under-40s making up 70% of households.
More than four years ago, the all-party Communities and Local Government Committee (which I chair) reported on its investigation into the state of private-rented housing in England and Wales 1 . We concluded:
  • there had to be better, simpler regulation;
  • all tenants and landlords needed to be fully aware of their rights and responsibilities;
  • councils had to be given the flexibilities they require to enforce the law and raise standards, especially in relation to landlord licensing;
  • councils should be able to recoup housing benefit and tenants the rent paid, when landlords have been convicted of letting substandard property;
  • letting agents should be subject to the same controls as their counterparts in the sales sector. There needed to be a crackdown on the unreasonable and opaque fees charged not only by a few rogues but by many well-known high street agents.
  • with the sector home to an increasing number of families, the market needs to offer longer tenancies to those who need them;
  • we need action to speed up eviction processes where tenants breach tenancy agreements;
  • a halt to the vicious circle whereby rents and housing benefit drive each other up; and
  • action to finance new housing-to-let.
We followed up with information about the situation in Scotland where landlords and agents can’t charge letting fees. But the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government was complacent. In 2015, it said that the current legislation struck a fair balance between the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants, and that it had no plans to ban letting agent fees in England.
We have kept up the pressure on the government, particularly to act to deal with fees, substandard housing and rogue agents and landlords.
And, this month, we’ve launched a specific new inquiry 2 into concerns about the ability of local councils to protect tenants by tackling bad landlords and their practices. We’ll also be investigating whether landlord licensing schemes are promoting higher quality accommodation and the effectiveness of complaint mechanism for tenants. Find out more and submit your evidence by 24th November.
Meanwhile, last November, the government finally caved in and announced plans to ban letting agent fees paid by tenants. An official consultation ended in June. How much longer are tenants going to have to wait for the government to act?


Raising the Cap

Around six months ago, following an investigation, a joint all-party Communities and Local Government Committee (which I chair) and Work and Pensions Committee report made some important recommendations to the government about what it needed to do to find a long-term, sustainable funding mechanism that ensures quality, provides value for money, and which protects and boosts the supply of supported housing.
More than 700,000 people in the UK benefit from the support and supervision provided within the supported housing sector. The vast majority of provision is sheltered accommodation for older people, but this sector also includes housing for people with learning and physical disabilities, individuals at risk of homelessness, refuges for women and children at risk of domestic violence, and many other client groups.
In 2016, the Government had announced proposals, for a new funding model for supported housing, to come into effect in 2019. Our investigation concluded that the government’s proposals were unlikely to achieve these objectives. That’s why we made some clear recommendations about what the government should do.
In fact, the government’s plans have caused an outcry, with social housing providers asserting that the system would be bureaucratic and  unworkable ,and would put elderly and disabled people uncertain about whether they could afford to remain in their homes. It would be like another phase of Bedroom Tax.
Charities which work with and support elderly and disabled people have also waded into the debate. Caroline Abrahams, a director of Age UK, said: “The consequences for older people of pressing ahead would have been disastrous…”
As important for the long-term, the financial impact of the proposals would lead to a massive cut in the building of new supported accommodation and make many existing sheltered accommodation schemes and hostels unviable. The chaos caused by the plans has already halted 85% of planned new supported housing schemes.

The communities secretary, Sajid Javid, told me recently that our report had been “very helpful”. This week, there is a Parliamentary debate about the issues. So, this will be the opportunity to show that he listened and is going to act.