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 Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 2:00 pm, 23rd January 2019

I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

It is a pleasure to follow Melanie Onn. I had the opportunity to chair—and the challenge of chairing—the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee during pre-legislative scrutiny in the absence of the elected Chairman of the Committee, Mr Betts, who unfortunately was undergoing health treatment at the time. I take absolutely the praise that the hon. Lady pours on me for reaching the judgment of Solomon—[Interruption.] It was possibly unintended at the time. From the outset of our pre-legislative scrutiny, on an all-party basis, we sought to balance good landlords and tenants, who are the overwhelming majority, with the small minority who are rogue landlords and rogue tenants. The risk here is the balance that is struck.

I do not intend to go over all aspects of the Bill but, clearly, I am absolutely delighted that the Government have seen fit to endorse all the Select Committee’s recommendations, especially the reduction of deposits from six to five weeks’ rent. I will again set out why we came to that conclusion. As Members might recall, we had a long discussion about it in Committee. Some promoted the concept of a six-week deposit and some a four-week deposit. No one but no one on the Select Committee promoted less than four weeks, for very good reasons.

Our view was that a six-week deposit was clearly too onerous for tenants. I accept what the hon. Member for Great Grimsby says about the cost to tenants of a six-week contribution, but there is also a clear risk with only a four-week deposit—or, worse still, her proposed three-week deposit—because we might get to a position in which, in the last month before the end of a six-month assured shorthold tenancy, a tenant has no incentive whatever to pay their last month’s rent. Tenants could just skip, and the landlord would then have to pursue them through the courts, bearing incredible costs unreasonably.

The issue for us was that four weeks would lead to a position whereby the tenant had an incentive to say, “Okay, I won’t pay the last month’s rent—just take it out of the deposit,” and then if the landlord could reasonably wish to claim money from the deposit because of damage or other reasons, they would have to pursue court action to recover it. That would be grossly unfair on good landlords, who are the vast majority in this country. Other members of the Committee promoted six weeks, so we ended up with the view that five weeks struck a balance between giving tenants an incentive to pay their last month’s rent, in the knowledge that they would get back their deposit had they been good tenants, and landlords being forced to go through a proper claim process to recover moneys as a result of damage by a tenant.