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 Lord Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Liberal Democrat 7:15 pm, 9th February 2016

My Lords, we seem to be discussing two slightly separate issues in this group of amendments. The first is whether or not we need to have a register of all private sector rented landlords, and I certainly believe that we need to have that. As my noble friend Lord Greaves made very clear, if we do not know who owns a particular property or who is its landlord, it is very difficult to take enforcement action against them. It is also very difficult, as the noble Lord, Lord Flight, has pointed out, for a number of bits of government legislation to be effectively enforced without having such a register—for example, the requirement for landlords to vet the immigration status of their tenants.

Amendment 27 from the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, proposes a mandatory register and suggests that the way of filling the data in it is by requiring all landlords to sign up to it. As the noble Lord, Lord Flight, has pointed out, there are some difficulties with that: those landlords who are not particularly good, those who are on the border of being rogue landlords, are not likely to bother to provide the information. The noble Lord provides an alternative means of filling the data sets: using the form that is initially sent in for registering for council tax, although, as my noble friend Lord Greaves has pointed out, that is done by very many tenants only once in a blue moon.

So there are problems with how we fill the data set, but what is most important is that we hear from the Minister whether it is the Government’s view that we should be having a national database. Whether it is run at individual local authority level or nationally I am not that concerned about at this stage, but it is important to know what the Government’s thinking is about having a database of all private sector landlords. Then perhaps we could get together from all sides of the House to work out the details of how we could fill the data set and ensure that people registered appropriately.

The second issue is local authorities operating an accreditation or licensing scheme. There is a straight -forward difference between Amendment 18 from the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and my noble friend’s Amendment 33A. My noble friend suggests that this should be voluntary and local authorities can decide whether or not to do it, while the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is suggesting that all local authorities must do it. I make it clear that I side entirely with my noble friend. It is right and proper that local authorities do this, but it is also important that we recognise that some local authorities have already found ways of doing it; across many parts of London there is already such a scheme, and other councils—for example, by using an Article 4 direction—have been able to do that.

Still, it is important that we treat these two issues as separate: first, with regard to the list of all private sector rented landlords so that we can ensure that legislation that we pass in your Lordships’ House will be enforced; and, secondly, that we allow discretion to local authorities to decide how best they wish to operate in the best interests of the people that they seek to represent in local authority areas.