Tenant Fees Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 23rd January 2019.

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Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing) 1:45 pm, 23rd January 2019

It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate. I would like to thank the Minister for her approach and the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), who steered the Bill through Committee and was open to hearing the Opposition’s views on this small but very important Bill.

I shall speak in support of amendment (a) to Lords amendment 36; amendments (a) and (b) to Lords amendment 37; and amendment (a) to Lords amendment 48. I shall also pay tribute to the work that has been done in Committee, where there was a lot of fruitful conversation and consideration, and in the other place, which has resulted in the Bill arriving back in the Commons in a far better state. It is not just my hard work or the Minister’s hard work that has gone into the Bill. We are backed up by an enormous number of people, including charities, members of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, who are listening keenly to our debate, and civil servants, who have put in many hours to make sure that the Bill is fit for purpose. I am very grateful to all those people who have participated.

In Committee and on Report, we discussed at length the default fee clause. Originally, the Government fought very hard against opposition from Labour and charities such as Shelter to remove a gaping loophole, which would have left the definition of a default to the discretion of those drafting tenancy agreements. It is interesting that Lords amendment 47 bears a striking resemblance to amendment 3, which I pressed on Report. Back then, the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks), said:

“We believe it is for the tenant and the landlord to determine what it is necessary and fair to include as default charges, on a case-by-case basis. There are other potential default charges besides those for late payment of rent and lost keys.”—[Official Report, 5 September 2018;
Vol. 646, c. 208.]

It is welcome that the Government have rowed back on that, despite being so bullish about it during the Bill’s passage through the Commons. I do hope that they bear that in mind when considering amendments to future housing Bills, in which I hope to play a role, and are more thoughtful. If amendments are tabled in good faith, I hope that Government Members would accept that, and if they are worth adopting, do so at an early stage, so that we do not appear conflicted on measures that are positive overall, particularly in this case for people in the private rented sector who are seeking a home and trying to access one.

As the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Mrs Wheeler, pointed out, Labour always welcomes Government acceptance of the principles and details of our ideas, and we welcomed their acceptance of a Labour proposal in Lords amendment 47 to enshrine what counts as a default fee in the Bill. We believe that that will close a significant loophole in the Bill, moving it far closer to the type of tenant fees Bill that Labour has been proposing since 2013.

We have a number of concerns about the Lords amendments, as the Bill still does not reach its full potential to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords who want to charge unfair fees. We are very keen to point that this is about the unscrupulous few, not the fair-minded, reasonable and proper many who exist out there. First, Lords amendment 48 adds a new permitted payment of damages to the Bill. The Minister touched on that, so I may have to revise what I am going to say—I hope that hon. Members will bear with me. We tabled an amendment because we are concerned about Lords amendment 48, but that does not extend to a belief that damages in principle are fundamentally wrong. Landlords should not have to pay for repairs when tenants cause damage to their properties, but we do not understand why the Lords amendment is necessary, and why it seemingly misses out a number of protections that are present in other parts of the Bill.