Committee (1st Day)

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 6:45 pm, 9th February 2016

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for moving Amendment 17, which seeks to place into the Bill a power to widen the Housing Ombudsman’s role to cover private sector housing and disputes between tenants and private landlords. As the noble Lord said, private sector landlords can already join the Housing Ombudsman scheme on a voluntary basis. Indeed, many landlords who wish to assure their tenants of the quality of their services have already done so.

The Government’s interest is in protecting tenants and provisions elsewhere in the Bill already address this; for example, tenants whose landlords have failed to carry out repairs can complain to their local authority, and through the Bill the Government are strengthening the powers of local authorities to deal with landlords who do not comply with the law.

We do not wish to introduce unnecessary regulation on landlords or institute a national register, which would be the ultimate effect of this amendment since, to make it work, all landlords would be required to sign up to the scheme. Despite the excellent work of the Housing Ombudsman in resolving complaints, we think that for private landlords membership of the scheme should remain voluntary, although we encourage landlords to sign up.

Where private landlords have signed up voluntarily, they are signalling to their tenants that they are committed to a high level of service and can be expected to comply with any determination. Were they to be required to sign up, we might not see the same level of engagement with the process or level of compliance, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, intimated, and determinations would not be enforceable. We would risk increasing the number of complaints and the associated costs, while the tenants of reluctant landlords might not see the benefit.

The measures in the Bill are focused on tackling rogue landlords, but we must remember that the majority of landlords in the private sector provide good-quality and well-managed accommodation. We know that 84% of private renters are satisfied with their accommodation and stay in their homes for an average of three and a half years. The Government want to support and encourage good landlords so that they become more professional and continue to provide good-quality rented accommodation. Part of that approach involves ensuring that the regulatory framework is appropriate and proportionate, keeping red tape to a minimum and having a level playing field so that good landlords are not undercut by less reputable ones.

To support that objective, the Government have introduced a number of measures, as the noble Lord, Lord Foster, said, to drive up standards across the board, including: publishing How to Rent and other guides for tenants; developing a model tenancy agreement for use by landlords and tenants; requiring letting agents to display their fees in a prominent place so that prospective tenants will always know from the outset how much they will be charged; and promoting voluntary accreditation schemes and the industry-wide code of practice.

In answer to the question about making the code of practice statutory, we have no plans to do so because it is currently working well and we do not want to add further burdens. In relation to the Housing Ombudsman, we have no plans at this stage to merge it into a single ombudsman service because the Housing Ombudsman performs a specific role and needs to retain its independence.

I hope that on the basis of this explanation the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.