My Lords, Amendment 17, which is in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Beecham, seeks to extend the services of the Housing Ombudsman to the entire private rented sector. Following a successful pilot scheme in London, the Government decided to proceed in that manner. Ombudsman services are available for a variety of matters. They have proved highly effective and seek to resolve complaints having investigated the issues at hand independently and in a less confrontational way than proceedings in court can be.
At present, the Housing Ombudsman provides ombudsman services to housing organisations that are registered with it. The service is free, independent and impartial. It has two classes of membership: a mandatory membership, which includes all bodies registered with the Homes and Communities Agency; and a voluntary membership, which includes landlords and letting agents in the private rented sector who want to provide a good service to their tenants and who also have, and wish to retain, their good reputation.
My amendment seeks to extend the service on a trial basis to cover all disputes between landlords and tenants in the private sector in the Greater London area. It provides that the trial would last for between six and 12 months and that subsequently, within three months of the ending of the trial period, a report must be laid before Parliament with any statement the Secretary of State thinks appropriate about the extension of the scheme. That could be anything from welcoming the trial and extending the scheme to concluding that it was not a success and ending it there. The Secretary of State has complete flexibility in this regard. If it is deemed to have been a success, we have also included in subsection (4) of the proposed new clause the power to extend the scheme to cover the whole private rented sector in England. This is a sensible and proportionate measure and amendment, which I hope will receive a positive response. I beg to move.