Committee (1st Day)

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of The Earl of Lytton The Earl of Lytton Crossbench 7:15 pm, 9th February 2016

My Lords, this series of amendments has raised some very interesting points. At Second Reading, I suggested a means whereby prospective tenants might get access to information on landlords who were signed up to a reputable body with established standards that it imposed on its members, and with current and valid membership of a dispute resolution and redress scheme. I am told that there is no such facility. My thought was to bring out the best and to lead from the front with the positives rather than try to deal with the negatives and, in so doing, squeeze out those rogues we have heard about. It was suggested to me by a residential managing agent of my acquaintance that it would be a bit like Checkatrade or TripAdvisor, particularly if it had user or customer—that is, tenant—feedback built into the system. However, I cannot see that that sort of thing can work by compulsion.

I am not an advocate of a compulsory scheme, as proposed by noble Lords in some of the amendments. It would have large costs; it would be readily circumvented, especially by the rogues; and it would suffer from a measure of disregard through ignorance among the 1.5 million one-unit property landlords. I tend, therefore, towards the solution of the noble Lord, Lord Flight, but, again, with some caveats. I would particularly like to know what proposed new paragraph 27A(2)(a) means in terms of the word “category”, and, with apologies to him, where airbnb fits into the framework. The Government have already moved to facilitate this trend, which may be here today and gone tomorrow. How, therefore, do you keep track of that as “category” in terms of art? A holiday let today may be an assured shorthold tenancy tomorrow, or vice versa. I see great practical problems in this regard.

There is, however, another problem about candid declaration, if one is going down this road. How frequently, given this quite rapid churn in the system, do you have to trawl for the information to ensure that it is bang up to date? What happens when something that has planning consent for, for example, holiday lets, turns out to be on an 18-month assured shorthold tenancy, potentially in breach of planning control? For that matter, what happens when it operates in the other direction? There could be issues to do with planning or potential breach of private contract, and I wonder who gets to see and use the information garnered by this process. There is quite a quite dangerous mix of stuff here, with all sorts of people coming in with different motives. The truth is that, over many years, housing has become commoditised. It has gone beyond being the roof over your head and the security for your family; it is now an investment vehicle, a pension pot and a place to park a significant sum safely where you can manage it and see what is happening, as opposed to subcontracting it to somebody who manages portfolios on the stock exchange, where you may have less control. That brings all sorts of different motivations and methods of managing, owning and occupying property.

I said earlier that I would hesitate, if I were a local government official—which I am not—to delve into this issue. It has very significant resource implications. I still tend, therefore, to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Flight, but it has a number of holes and would provide far from perfect coverage. That said, we are beginning to drill down and head in the right direction, which is somehow to find a method whereby people will voluntarily sign up because they see it as being in their interests to do so—because they want to be seen as the good guys and the providers of quality, and not to be associated with the rogues about whom we have heard so much today.

I hope the Government will feel that there is merit in that. Perhaps with one or two tweaks—a combination of some of the things discussed in this group of amendments—we could end up with something of long-term benefit that would defuse some of the adversarial nature of what we have been talking about, which is corrosive to the sector and to relationships between landlords and tenants and ultimately may end up leading us around the houses—excuse the pun—several times without achieving what we need: the long-term betterment of the landlord-tenant relationship in the private rented housing stock.