Tenant Fees Bill

Part of Gaza: Un Human Rights Council Vote – in the House of Commons at 9:36 pm on 21st May 2018.

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Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 9:36 pm, 21st May 2018

It is a pleasure to wind up the debate and I thank Sarah Jones for her constructive support for the principles of the Bill. I very much look forward to discussing the details with her in Committee.

At the outset, I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Mrs Wheeler, who could not be with us tonight. She deserves enormous praise for the way she has brought the Bill to the stage in which we are discussing it tonight, through her tireless engagement not only with colleagues across the House, but the sector at large, and extensively with the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. I thank her for all her work. She is the reason that we are talking about a Bill over which there is so much agreement.

I start by agreeing with my hon. Friend John Stevenson. Like him, I am a committed believer in the power of free markets and competition. I approach cases of caps and bans with some scepticism as well, so I am pleased to tell him that after careful consideration of the Bill’s provisions, I came to the same conclusion as my hon. Friend Richard Graham: what this Bill does is address a failure of competition and a failure of the free market, which Government Members believe so passionately in. There is an inherent unfairness in a situation where a potential tenant is faced with a monopoly provider of a letting agent, and it does not strike any of us as being right. That unfairness was highlighted by my hon. Friends the Members for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) and for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) and is most clearly evidenced in the charging of double fees, where letting fees are charging fees on both sides of the transaction. This is evidence of the broader imbalance in the market that my hon. Friend Bob Blackman highlighted, and the Bill seeks to redress the balance between landlords and tenants.

We have heard many helpful contributions from members of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on both sides of the House. I pay tribute to its work and in particular, to Mr Betts and my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow East and for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer), as well as their colleagues. They did an excellent job. It is worth pointing out that I counted 19 separate recommendations of the Select Committee’s report and the Government were pleased to accept 15 of those. I hope that that speaks to the value that we place on pre-legislative scrutiny—[Interruption.] We should not dwell too much on the differences that separate us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East and many other hon. Members asked about retaliatory evictions, and I am pleased to say that the Government are considering the Committee recommendations arising from its wider inquiry into the private rental sector, including on retaliatory evictions, and will reply in due course.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South raised the issue of new burdens funding. I can tell him with my other hat on—as a local government Minister—that there is probably no more passionate defender of new burdens funding than me, so I will ensure that the funding is there for our local authorities to enforce the Bill properly.

That brings me to the comments by my hon. Friend Maria Caulfield. She asked about enforcement and about the fees that would be charged and gave examples of exorbitant £200 or £300 fees charged when tenants want to add a second tenant to their contract or request permission for a pet. I am pleased to tell her that the Bill seeks to end that practice. Such fees will be capped at £50 or reasonable costs, which I hope gives her some comfort.

Enforcement is, of course, incredibly important. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend and others that there are multiple avenues by which tenants can seek enforcement of their rights: first and foremost, through redress schemes, which the Government made mandatory for letting agents some years ago and are consulting on making mandatory for landlords today; secondly, through trading standards authorities and district councils where they are not the trading standards authorities; thirdly, on the advice of the Select Committee, through the first-tier tribunal; and, if none of that works, subsequently through the county court. The fines, starting at £5,000 and scaling up to potentially unlimited fines, are significant and will act as a deterrent to errant landlords.