I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The Liberal Democrats have long fought for renters’ rights. The Bill is in many ways the result of the hard work of my colleagues in the other place, who have campaigned tirelessly for a ban on letting fees and for private rented sector reform. I am therefore pleased that the Government have listened and will make the sector fairer for my constituents in Bath and people across the country. However, the Government could be much more ambitious. The Bill introduces a ban on letting fees, but currently does not include provision for local government to enforce fines if the ban is breached. What is proposed is a self-financing system, and that often does not work in practice. Equally, we must ensure that the Bill covers all fees. We cannot permit letting agencies to attempt to bring in fees under an alias or to exploit the default fees loophole, as a couple of Members have already pointed out. We need more information from Government to understand how this issue is being addressed.
Many landlords are not badly intentioned, but we must do more to stop those who abuse the system. There must be compulsory registration for landlords. There must also be public access to the Government’s database of rogue landlords, and those landlords should not be able to obtain a licence for houses in multiple occupation. There should be support for longer tenancies; I completely agree with Maria Caulfield. We should have Government-backed loans to help people to afford a tenancy deposit. By tackling rogue landlords and supporting those struggling to afford a deposit, we would be reducing the key factor behind the rise in homelessness.
The housing crisis is denying young and vulnerable people in my constituency access to a place to call their own. The Bill is a step in the right direction. I am pleased that a practice that was a nice earner for some but an injustice to the young and most vulnerable people will now end. However, I urge the Government to be far more ambitious if we are truly going to make a difference to renters.