Tenant Fees Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:00 pm on 23rd January 2019.

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Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing) 2:00 pm, 23rd January 2019

I have already given way generously.

The first point that our amendments seek to address is the financial staggering for the cap level that landlords are allowed to impose. I have sympathy with the Government’s aim of prioritising a reduction of the deposit burden on those at the cheaper end of the market, but the specific provisions in Lords amendment 36 could mean that those in joint tenancies end up being subject to the higher cap, despite individually paying significantly less in rent than is used as a threshold in the amendment. It is counterintuitive to create a cap that allows deposits to be relatively higher for someone paying £5,000 a year in rent in a 10-bed large house in multiple occupation than for someone paying £45,000 in an individual rent, so I would welcome reassurance that joint tenants will not be short-changed by the differential cap. If they will be, I would welcome an explanation of the logic behind the decision to allow those in joint tenancies to be charged relatively more.

Regardless of the functioning of the differential cap, the Lords amendment will do little for the majority of tenants in this country. The cap will have a negligible effect on the majority of deposits in the country and will allow the current system to function virtually unchanged. For the graduate who cannot afford the up-front costs to move to a city for a new job, or for the family given just two months to save enough money to find a new flat and avoid homelessness following a section 21 notice, the system is simply not fit for purpose and needs urgent change.

According to the English housing survey, a five-week rental deposit will set new tenants back an average of almost £1,000 across the country, and over a staggering £1,500 in London. For many in society who are living pay cheque to pay cheque, saving that sort of money would take an enormous amount of time, and certainly far longer than the two months that tenants are given when they are served with section 21 notices. That means that many struggle to access the flexibility that renting should offer. They fear being served notice to vacate because that could result in homelessness. That is simply not how the private rented sector should function.

Our amendments would change that. Lords amendment 36 introduces an ill-thought-through staggering system. Amendment (a) in lieu would reduce the cap on deposits from five or six weeks to three, and our amendments together will reduce deposits to three weeks for all, closing the loophole that could be opened by Lords amendment 36.

I was interested to hear the Minister’s announcement of the enactment date. A written statement is due today, which I look forward to reading. I was also interested to hear her comments in response to my hon. Friend Jeff Smith, who is no longer in his place, on enforcement and trading standards. She said that the consumer money protection measures in the Bill would be in place before enactment. I would appreciate clarity on whether she meant enactment on 1 June 2019, which is rapidly approaching, or whether she was referring to the commencement date of April next year.

Labour’s amendments would give private rented sector tenants a very welcome helping hand at a very expensive time. If passed, the amendments would reduce the deposit barrier by almost £400 across the country, and by over £600 in London, offering significant change to tenants from all backgrounds and building a better private rented sector for the many.