Committee (1st Day)

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat 5:45 pm, 9th February 2016

My Lords, when I spoke previously I should have drawn your Lordships’ attention to my entry in the Register of Interests as a district councillor of South Somerset District Council and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I will speak, in the first instance, to Amendment 9. I will then speak to Amendments 10, 12, 13 and 14. On Amendment 9, it is only fair and proper that those who have the prospect of a banning order being imposed on them should have the right of appeal. My colleagues and I are happy with the process laid down for dealing with appeals, with one exception. Both the landlord and his tenants, plus the local housing authority, will be in some uncertainty during the appeal process. Uncertainty leads to stress, and this will be extremely unwelcome for tenants, who are already fraught because of the situation in which they find themselves. The state of their accommodation may be less than we would wish, and they may have been threatened. They will want their ordeal to be finalised as quickly as possible. Likewise, the landlord will be waiting for the sword of Damocles to fall, and this could be unjustified, as we heard from the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, earlier. It is only fair and equitable that this uncertainty be as short-lived as possible for all concerned. That is why I have tabled this amendment, requiring the appeal to be heard within 28 days so that the decision is reached quickly and efficiently for the benefit of all concerned. I hope the Minister can agree to it.

Turning to Amendment 10, the register of rogue landlords is one of the most important steps forward in this Bill. Those of us who have been, or are still, councillors will know at first-hand what misery can be caused by a tenant who has what is now classed as a rogue landlord. All housing department officers know who they are as the tenants of these landlords are frequently in their offices or on the phone complaining about the treatment meted out to them. The frequency of evictions by these landlords or the sudden ending of tenancies alerts officers to where they are and the properties that they own and run.

It is essential that a register of rogue landlords be set up which can be accessed by those agencies supporting their tenants. These agencies will be well-known, trusted deliverers of advice and support, including the local authority, the CAB, the DWP, jobcentres and possibly food banks. It is vital that tenants are also able to access this register if they are not to go from one poor landlord to another. It will always be the case that those who are the most desperate to find a roof over their head for themselves, their partner and perhaps even their children will be most at risk of being exploited. They need this information to assist them to make the right choices.

It is not as though the names of those who are likely to arrive on the register will not already be in the public domain. Local newspapers are full of court reports. Someone on the register is also likely to be engaged in other activities and will have come to the notice of police and local authorities. If they have previously held a licence for a HMO, that will have been reported in the local newspapers. I can understand that there are some sensitivities here, but we must protect tenants by allowing them access so that they can make value judgments. This is a freedom of information issue and I hope the Minister will be able to concede to this amendment.

I turn now to Amendments 12, 13 and 14. As already said, it is important that all those who are operating in the private housing market are able to provide for and assist their tenants to have a secure and untroubled home. It is to no one’s advantage for people to be continually seeking alternative accommodation; to be moving within an area where they are currently living or having to move to a different area is stressful. This is especially true if there are children involved. Disrupting a child’s education as they are forced to move schools is very harmful and will set back their education progress.

It is essential that tenants are able to access the register of rogue landlords so that, having moved from one such landlord, they do not fall foul of another operating in a similar type of accommodation. Let us not forget that the people and families looking for the accommodation which is likely to be provided by those on the register will have little choice because of their straitened circumstances. However, like everyone else, they deserve to be protected from exploitation.

As I have already indicated, the information on rogue landlords is likely to already be in the public domain through court proceedings and other avenues. I urge the Minister to consider these amendments and respond positively to them. I beg to move.