Housing Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 20th July 2004.

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Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips 2:30 pm, 20th July 2004

Both Amendments Nos. 17 and 20—which is in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock—should be seen as consequential to the removal of Clause 50. I will therefore comment on why we believe the clause is unnecessary. The minded-to procedure was introduced by the last government as a measure of deregulation. Its repeal is now proposed by the present Government as a measure of deregulation.

The procedure was introduced under Sections 81 to 86 of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 as a deregulatory measure to save costs and avoid formal regulatory action being taken when it could be avoided. It was the answer to widespread concerns by landlords that local authorities were proceeding immediately to service of formal notice.

Under the minded-to procedure, before serving a formal notice the local authority must serve a notice of its intention to do so and give the landlord the opportunity to object and make representations. This includes a right for the landlord to appear in front of an officer appointed by the local authority to make representations before any informal action is taken. This procedure can be overridden in urgent cases.

Experience has shown that the procedure has worked well. It removes a source of friction between local authorities and landlords. It gives the landlord an opportunity to negotiate with the local authority. More time may be needed to do the work or it may be agreed that substitute works are satisfactory or indeed a particular item may not need to be done at all. In the majority of cases in response to the minded-to notice the landlord has given an undertaking to do the work so as to avoid service of formal notices.

The landlords' association in Leeds—the Leeds Property Association—has had direct experience of the operation of the procedures and they have worked well in practice. The ODPM has argued that the enforcement concordat provides an alternative, but that is only guidance from central Government and not binding in law. In any case, particularly in relation to HHSRS there will be a mandatory duty under primary legislation to serve notices. There is a mandatory duty to serve notice where a category 1 hazard exists, under Sections 5(2) and (3). The retention of the minded-to procedure would allow less formal procedures to be adopted in the first instance.

The serving of a formal notice attracts a fee of up to £300. The imposition of fees of this magnitude will lead to hostility between landlords and EHOs. The responsible landlord will say, "If you had only written to me or telephoned me about this I would have dealt with it straightaway". This is the very reason that the minded-to procedure was instituted in the first place.

The Bill rightly contains, in Schedule 5, Parts 1 and 2, a consultation procedure to enable representations to be made before an HMO licence is issued, varied or refused, Why, therefore, cannot a similar procedure be retained for the service of notices especially those under Part 1 of the Bill, in respect of the HHSRS. If there is no preliminary procedure a landlord served with a notice may well have to make a protective appeal to the residential property tribunal if he contests certain aspects of the notice. There are strict time limits for such appeals. Although there is power for the tribunal to extend the time for appealing there is no guarantee of this. Unnecessary appeals may be needed simply to protect the landlord's position.

Formal service of a notice automatically sets the landlord in confrontation with the local housing authority, whereas the minded-to procedure enables good relations to be maintained so that the landlord can work with the authority to tackle a problem. If a landlord fails to take remedial action the option of serving a formal notice remains, although in most cases that would not be required. Abolishing the minded-to procedure is an unnecessary piece of heavy-handed regulation that is not conducive to creating a constructive atmosphere in which landlords and local authorities can co-operate.

Amendments Nos. 17 and 21 are consequential to the removal of Clause 50. I beg to move.