New Clause 1 — Energy efficiency aim

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 14th September 2011.

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Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons) 4:15 pm, 14th September 2011

I had intended to raise later the issue of retaliatory eviction and the fact that landlords put pressure on tenants. More specifically, the short answer to my hon. Friend is the Channel 4 programme “Landlords from Hell”, which was broadcast last month. In it a landlord openly boasted that he could act above the law. If tenants did not like what happened, he would take a baseball bat to them. He could manipulate their rents however he wanted, and if they did not like it, violence resulted. The tenants who were interviewed understood this and lived in fear. That is the worst case, but there are many cases where the law on retaliatory eviction is weak, and something needs to be done about that. My hon. Friend raises a good point, which I may return to later.

The Minister seems to be on the landlords’ side, which does not work for a constituency such as mine, and he is being complacent. Rather than landlords’ behaviour improving, it seems to be getting worse as a result of his inaction. In March, Shelter recently reported a 23% increase in the number of people seeking help for problems with private landlords in the past 12 months. Only this week, Shelter found that complaints to local authorities about private landlords have increased by a fifth in two years, with 86,000 made last year.

In Hyndburn, the stark reality is that we have a second-world Britain, with shocking housing conditions that would not have been found in the old East Germany. Private landlords condemn parents and young children to housing misery. As the Housing Alliance reported last week, the UK has some of the worst housing in western Europe, and constituencies such as mine are plagued by this housing crisis. It condemns people to worklessness, as wages cannot keep up with rising costs, and that will impact on the introduction of the Bill.

One measure that would help to tackle the conditions in the private rented sector is a national register of landlords. The Government have seen fit to drop the proposals made by the previous Government for such a register, and that is such a shame. The Bill represented a good opportunity to introduce a register. However, we can still achieve some good by ensuring that the energy performance certificate register records the tenure of the property, where it is rented and the name and address of the landlord. Amendment 23, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree, would achieve that. I cannot see what possible objection there could be to that most minimal of measures. Some might say that it is the thin end of the wedge, or a “landlords register lite”. I wish it were, but it is not, because local authorities would be unable to access the information for other matters they have to deal with. However, it would help them to get accurate information to landlords about the green deal, the landlords’ energy efficiency tax break, their legal duties and other such advice.

Disrepair can take many forms, but in this debate we are obviously concerned with one of the most serious threats to the health of tenants: cold. The increased risk of death for the elderly resulting from cold homes is well established. We have recently seen new evidence in a report by Professor Sir Michael Marmot of University College London about the dreadful damage to the health of children and teenagers that can result from living in a cold home. Children are twice as likely to suffer from respiratory diseases, such as asthma, if they live in a cold home. The very worst insulated properties, those in band G of the energy efficiency rating, are more than four times as common in the private rented sector as they are in the social sector. There are 680,000 private rented properties in England with the worst energy efficiency ratings of F and G. More than 40% of those households live in fuel poverty.

Almost all Members of the House must be aware of, and grateful for, the coalition of 40 organisations that have campaigned during the passage of the Bill to raise our awareness of the problem of cold housing in the private rented sector and that have proposed a solution by championing the idea of a rising minimum standard of energy efficiency for rented homes by 2016, rather than 2018. Without wishing to overlook the contribution of any other organisations, I congratulate Friends of the Earth, Citizens Advice and the Association for the Conservation of Energy on the well-run campaigns that they have pursued.

The Government have responded to this campaign, which is strongly supported by the Opposition, by including legislation that will make it mandatory to improve F and G-rated homes from 2018. This is a step forward, but it is not nearly good enough. Improving F and G-rated homes could have considerable health, climate and consumer benefits, lift 150,000 households out of fuel poverty and save an average of £488 in the annual energy bills of the homes improved. All these benefits will be unacceptably delayed if the introduction of the minimum standards is pushed back to 2018. More than 180 MPs, including many Government Members, have called for the introduction of those standards in 2016. Seven years is an unnecessarily long time to wait, and 2018 is two years after the date by which the Government have a legal obligation to end fuel poverty. In addition, introducing the minimum standard in 2016, rather than 2018, would cost the Treasury nothing.

In Committee, the Minister was unable to give any clear explanation on why 2018 was chosen. He said:

“Ultimately, the date is a matter of judgment and balance. I do not think that we would pretend that there is anything perfect about 2018; there are arguments in favour of setting an earlier date, and I am sure that some would argue for further delay.”

The only reason offered was the proportion of tenancies that would have to be turned over by 2018. The Minister argued:

“Most tenancies, I am told, are 12 to 18 months, so by 2018, we expect that 80% to 90% of tenancies will have changed. .”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 14 June 2011; c. 182-85.]

He was unable to say why 80% or 90% of tenancy turnover was the right proportion, or what the turnover would be by 2016, two years earlier. However, Friends of the Earth has calculated that the number of private rented sector tenants who had resided in their current home for five years or less is 80.3% and that the number of people who have resided in their current home for 10 years or less is 89.8%. So when the Minister argues for a delay until 2018 because there is likely to be an 80% to 90% turnover by then, he is wrong; there may in fact be an 80% to 90% turnover earlier than that—it could be expected to occur by 2016.

The independent Committee on Climate Change, in its recent third progress report to Parliament, specifically called for earlier introduction of regulation for the private rented sector, stating that

“there is no reason to delay implementation of this aspect of the proposals.”

It would be a tragedy if the Government’s response to the news that 5.5 million households—many in the private rented sector—are in fuel poverty was to delay a vital measure that would tackle fuel poverty and cut energy bills.