Consumer Rights Bill — Report (3rd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 26th November 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative 9:45 pm, 26th November 2014

My Lords, this amendment seeks to correct an injustice from which a number of leaseholders are suffering at present. The leasehold valuation tribunal—LVT—set up years ago has now been abolished and replaced by a tribunal. An aggrieved leaseholder who has not managed to receive any satisfactory response from their landlord, be it for repairs to be carried out or any other problem of non-compliance with the terms of his lease, has to take his case to the First-tier Tribunal. I opposed this change when it was debated in Grand Committee.

It was interesting to read in the past week—I think it was in the EveningStandardthat as yet there has not been one single application to the First-tier Tribunal relating to the redress scheme in the new regulations. That is not surprising. Everyone is waiting to see how heavy the costs are and what the procedures are. I have asked questions in the House as to how people are able to find out exactly what the new procedures are and what steps they need to take. In reply, I have been assured that efforts are being made to see that this information is readily available, but I have not seen anything other than that piece in the press.

As a tribunal application is now a much more expensive process than the LVT process, where costs were intended to be limited to a maximum of £500, the present reaction is not surprising. No one wants to plunge in at what looks like the deep end but someone will be forced to dip a toe in the water sooner or later, and I expect that then we will eventually have a deluge of applications. It was always understood that if a case needed to move on from the LVT to the Lands Tribunal and was to be financially within the reach of any leaseholder, much higher costs would be involved. I opposed the move to close the leasehold valuation tribunal and the move to the new tribunal and I will be very interested to see how it will work. It was debated in Grand Committee at the time the change was proposed.

This change of tribunal, however, makes my amendment even more necessary. A most unfortunate practice has developed in the leasehold valuation tribunal, whereby leaseholders bringing their cases personally found that they were confronting capable and expensive solicitors, in some cases QCs. That might seem to be a free choice of the landlord, and I have no objection to it. What I believe is totally immoral and unjust is that some less scrupulous landlords are charging these costs, even when they lose the case, back to the very leaseholders who were right in their claims. Those costs come disguised as service charges.

Whenever I have raised this question in your Lordships’ House, the reply is always that it depends on the terms of the lease. My amendment covers that situation for now but would prevent such a new clause being inserted into any new lease or extension of an existing lease. Too many leasehold terms and conditions are not understood by leaseholders and it is time that the many Acts, made over very many years, should be reviewed and a consolidation Act was brought forward. This House would be the ideal body to set up a committee to consider this in detail. There are too many Acts, each changing the preceding Acts and making these laws very difficult to follow. Even highly experienced lawyers have to spend their time referring from one Act to another, backwards and forwards. I was very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who has long experience in consolidation, for supporting the principle of a consolidation Bill when it was raised recently in the House. I beg to move.