Housing Associations: Charges

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:16 pm on 22 November 2023.

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Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 7:16, 22 November 2023

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Whether Aster and others presuppose that merely the fact that a family or an individual has recognised that right to purchase their home suddenly makes them as rich as Croesus, I am not entirely sure. However, we can only imagine the very real anxiety that seeing these sorts of bills creates—particularly when this issue has come as a bolt from the blue, as I understood my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North to say. People were being told that everything was fine, that those local sewage works were absolutely up to scratch and that one could sell ones home in perfect confidence that there would be no extraordinary item for potential new purchasers to pick up.

Maybe it is a lack of investment, coupled with misleading those former tenants, that Aster will be questioned about at the departmental meeting—and they will attend; of that I am absolutely certain. We will make them attend to talk to Ministers and to make clear what they are going to do, because their current suggested modus operandi is neither sufficient nor acceptable.

Although it is in the future, I also point my right hon. Friend and her constituents to the leasehold and freehold Bill, which will be published later this month. That Bill is intended to drive up transparency of the estate management charges that homeowners have to pay, as well as giving homeowners the right to challenge the reasonableness—that is the key word, because after the Wednesbury case, reasonableness has a status in law—of those charges in the appropriate tribunal, which of course in England is the first-tier tribunal. The Bill will also include measures to help leaseholders to challenge service charges, including improved transparency requirements and scrapping the presumption that leaseholders should pay their landlord’s legal costs when challenging poor practice.

This Government are committed to providing the framework, but it is vital that potential homeowners have access to the right information before they buy. That information should, of course, be set out as part of the conveyancing process. I mentioned at the top of my remarks that, if a current homeowner such as those identified by my right hon. Friend is unhappy with the service they have received from the conveyancer or their solicitor, and the internal complaints process cannot resolve the issue, the legal ombudsman may be able to help.

In conclusion, I thank my right hon. Friend again for raising this issue in her inimitable style. The House always listens to her, because when she speaks she has something to say. She has spoken on behalf of her constituents very clearly and the Secretary of State, the Department and I share her concerns. She was right to quote directly from the Secretary of State’s letter to Aster of just a few months ago. My Department stands ready to work with her to ensure that her constituents, as well as those of my right hon. Friend Kit Malthouse and my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset, are not—and here I will close by using the word my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North used in her speech—rinsed.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.