Committee (1st Day)

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Housing), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 5:45 pm, 9th February 2016

My Lords, I support the amendments moved by the noble Baroness. I have one query about Amendment 12, which removes a requirement for information disclosed from the database to be anonymous. It would be helpful if it were made clear that any information concerning a tenant would continue to be anonymous. It is not clear whether there would be any information about a tenant revealed or recorded but, to be on the safe side, such a tenant should not have his or her details revealed. That ought to remain guarded by anonymity.

This group of amendments addresses a large range of issues designed to facilitate dealing with the problems occasioned by rogue landlords. Amendment 15 specifically bars any landlord on a database of rogue landlords from obtaining a houses in multiple occupation licence. It would be good to have that in the Bill.

The background to this group and much of what we are discussing today in the Bill was set out recently in disturbing statistics produced by Citizens Advice in its response to the welcome funding by the Department for Communities and Local Government to tackle the problem on the ground.

I am bound to report that a grant of £80,000 has been received to be applied in the ward that I represent on Newcastle City Council, in an area just half a mile away from the new properties that the noble Baroness visited recently. We got a selective licensing scheme for that area—eventually; it was not easy to obtain. About a third of the landlords in the area were clearly not conforming to the requirements. I am glad that we have received this funding to enable us, as a council, to pursue matters.

However, there are still too many properties in the hands of bad landlords who continue to fail to look after their properties, and indeed their tenants, properly. Given the lengths to which councils have to go to establish such schemes for selective licensing, this is particularly objectionable. The national picture is a cause for great concern. There are apparently 700,000 tenants—which probably means about 2 million people in all, if we add family members and the like—including 500,000 children, living in unsafe properties with exposed wiring, leaking roofs and even rat infestation. There are some 740,000 rented homes that constitute a threat to the health of residents, and apparently 80,000 tenants are faced with threats of retaliatory eviction because they seek repairs. Again, that probably affects around 200,000 people, with a particularly high proportion of properties in London—some 14%, it is said—falling into this category. This especially affects residents from a BAME background.

There is therefore a great deal to be said for strengthening the role of local authorities in overseeing the sector, and also in fulfilling this part of the Bill, in allowing and promoting tenants’ access to information about the owners of the properties that they seek to rent. Anything that can be done to bring pressure to bear on such owners to behave responsibly is welcome, and I hope the Minister will feel able to accede to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, and to my own amendment relating to the consequences with regard to HMO licensing.