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It is a pleasure to follow Eddie Hughes. Like him, I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as my partner and I rent out properties, although we are also private sector tenants.
I wish to congratulate the Government on introducing this Bill. I was proud to be elected last year on a manifesto to increase rights for tenants, although any Bill should protect the role of good and ethical landlords too. Unfortunately, rogue letting agents have for too many years been allowed to profit from insecure tenancies, with some charging renewal fees every six months. Nearly all charge administration and referencing fees, and huge deposits, which are completely out of reach for low-income families.
I support the broad aims of this Bill, but I would like to draw the Government’s attention to one aspect that continues to leave tenants vulnerable to unfair fees. I have particular concern with schedule 1(4), which reserves the right for landlords and letting agents to charge tenants who are forced to default on their tenancy agreements. I believe people who rent through the private sector could be better supported by this part of the Bill. I understand that some agents and landlords currently charge a full month’s rent for tenants to be granted an early release, then every month’s rent and utilities while a new tenant is found. There are genuine instances where tenants are forced to end tenancy agreements, which they entered into in good faith, through absolutely no fault of their own: for someone living in the private rented sector who is made redundant from their job, benefits might not cover the rent, and any delays in receiving benefits will leave them in rent arrears. Someone might have had a family bereavement and might need to move to another part of the country or of the world. Someone might have a mental health crisis and need to be admitted to hospital. Someone might be off work with a serious injury and not receive sick pay, or they might need to flee domestic violence. Many letting agents and landlords are unforgiving in such circumstances and trap tenants in situations that they need to escape.