Tenant Fees Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 23rd January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 2:30 pm, 23rd January 2019

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

The Bill has returned to the Commons in a much better state than it was in when it left. The loophole relating to default fees has now gone. The detail on default fees will be on the face of the Bill, which will specify

“a key…or other security device”.

There is much more transparency in relation to the holding of deposits, with a fairer transaction between letting agents and tenants, and the deposit levels are better aimed at people on low incomes, having been reduced to five weeks’ rent.

I listened carefully to both sides of the argument about the length of deposits. I listened to what was said by Melanie Onn, but I also listened to the counter-arguments. I entirely agree with the hon. Lady that we need to protect tenants and make the system easier for them, because there is a tough world out there for people on low incomes. I also agree that we should not inadvertently disadvantage renters. As long as we do not have the number of affordable and social homes that we need, they will always be in that tough world in which, ultimately, they are at the mercy of landlords when it comes to charges. This is only the beginning of an overall improvement for renters, and I hope very much that we will continue to make changes in the law that will make life easier for them, but I also hope that we will eventually provide the number of homes that we need in order to create an entirely fair rental market.

I pay tribute to my colleagues in the House of Lords, Lord Shipley and Baroness Grender. Lady Grender initiated these proposals in a Private Member’s Bill in 2016 and, with Lord Shipley, worked assiduously with the Government to improve the Bill. I also congratulate the groups that have long campaigned for this change in the law, including Shelter, Generation Rent and Citizens Advice.

For too long, upfront costs—often rip-off fees charged to tenants by unscrupulous lettings agencies—have pushed people into unmanageable levels of debt, and sometimes into homelessness. The current system means that people, particularly those on low incomes, must pay as much as £3,000 to move, even if they will be paying a lower rent. Some have predicted that we will see a rise in rents as a result, but evidence from Scotland suggests that that is unlikely. If rents rise, the relatively small amount per month will be manageable in comparison to the extortionate amount that it costs to move.

For too long people living in the private rented sector have been treated as second-class citizens, and the Bill goes some way towards putting that right. The Liberal Democrats welcome it, and welcome the Conservatives’ change of heart. We look forward to its introduction on 1 June, with only the small regret that it has taken so long for it to reach this stage. As I said earlier, I hope that we will continue to make changes in the law to make it easier for people to rent in a fair market where there is a good number of affordable and social homes.