The point is that poorer tenants struggle the most. That is why we are trying to make the Bill as good as it can be. It comes back to reasonableness and whether there is sufficient rigour in the proposals to ensure that people are properly protected, and that goes for landlords as well.
The Government must bring back evidence during the remaining stages to convince us that this is a legitimate charge to make, rather than a simple amelioration of losses to agents and landlords. It is notable that the Government have opted to cap deposits at six weeks. The Minister should know that in practice this means all deposits will be six weeks, despite most rents being payable on a monthly basis. Shelter estimates that a six-week cap still means that London renters have to find on average a £1,800 deposit and that outside of London the figure is £1,100. Add to that one month’s rent and a week’s holding deposit, and people are looking at needing £3,750 just to secure a property in London and £2,290 elsewhere. That is a huge amount to save.
Wages are not keeping pace with rents and many people struggle to afford a decent place to live. Most low-paid workers are women. Will they be more disadvantaged by these measures than men, and what about those with disabilities, from black and minority ethnic communities or the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community? The Government have not undertaken a formal equalities assessment of the Bill. Will the Minister explain why and commit to ensuring that an assessment of the proposals is undertaken before the Committee stage? There has been an informal but not a formal process on this matter.
As I said earlier, none of the measures in the Bill will matter without their ability to be enforced. There is direction in the Bill for responsibility to lie with local authorities and their trading standards teams. The Minister will be aware that trading standards teams are currently responsible for checking on age-restricted products, agriculture, animal health and welfare, fair trading, food and hygiene standards, counterfeiting, product safety and weights and measures, and they do this despite having endured a drop in funding from £213 million in 2010 to £124 million in 2016 and a halving of their staffing capability—more in some areas.
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute has previously expressed its concern that the public are being let down in respect of its current areas of responsibility, let alone additional responsibilities—particularly ones that will not pay for themselves through the imposition of fines, which are limited to a maximum of £30,000, whose rules are not enforceable because the drafting provides too much scope for interpretation and for which the Government only plan to provide guidance rather than issue regulation to support tenants and those seeking to enforce the measures in the Bill.
Those in the private rental sector are in desperate need of clear and positive action from the Government to protect their rights. I hope we will see a strengthening of resolve from the Government as the Bill goes forward. They must not miss the opportunity to make a good Bill a great Bill, and I urge them to take this chance to make real changes that could improve this sector of our country’s housing market.