Committee (1st Day)

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 7:30 pm, 9th February 2016

My Lords, if I may, I will take note of what my noble friend Lord Flight has said and deal with it in the relevant group so that I have both heard him and responded at the relevant time and we do not move amendments out of kilter.

Amendments 18 and 33A are very similar, so I will address them together. These amendments would involve local authorities operating an accreditation and licensing scheme for private sector landlords in their area. The current licensing arrangements were introduced to give local authorities the ability to deal with problems that might arise in connection with rented property and provide for three types of licensing: mandatory licensing of larger houses in multiple occupation; additional licensing of smaller houses in multiple occupation; and selective licensing of all types of private rented housing, should the local authority see fit to do that.

A major drawback of licensing is that it impacts on all landlords and it places additional burdens on reputable landlords who are already fully compliant with their obligations. As my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy says, this creates unnecessary costs for reputable landlords which tend to be passed on to tenants. The majority of landlords—the non-rogue landlords, to quote my noble friend—provide a good service and the Government do not want to impose unnecessary additional costs on them or on tenants who may see their rents rise as landlord costs rise.

Accreditation is of interest only to good landlords who rent out decent accommodation, so it does not help to identify and tackle criminal landlords nor lead to improvements in the sector. Local authorities are in the best position to decide whether or not there is a need for an accreditation system in their area. Indeed, voluntary accreditation systems have been introduced by many local authorities and are also promoted by the main landlord associations. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked whether these could be extended if they were successful. They most definitely could, but it would be a local decision-making process. I hope, with that explanation, the noble Lord will agree to withdraw the amendment.

I would like to thank my noble friend Lord Flight for tabling Amendment 21. I see that my noble friend Lord Cathcart is in his place; he has spoken to this. The amendment would require local authorities to request tenure information from residents, owners and managing agents whenever the local authority requests council tax information. As my noble friend Lord Cathcart and I have already discussed, it happens in some councils, as noble Lords have pointed out, particularly in London. It is already being practised by some councils, but not all. I am very supportive of ensuring that local authorities have the tools necessary to tackle rogue landlords in the private rented sector in their areas. Parts 2 and 3 of this Bill demonstrate our commitment to this.

Local authorities already have powers in existing legislation to request tenure information on council tax forms—as I have said, some do—through the Local Government Finance Act 1992 and the Housing Act 2004. They can also access the tenancy deposit protection schemes. I am very sympathetic to the purpose of this amendment but, before jumping head first into legislation to require it, which could potentially increase financial burdens, the Housing Minister and I intend to investigate the matter further and have taken steps to establish a working group to explore this important issue. It will be chaired by none other than Dame Angela Watkinson herself. The working group will assess the extent to which local authorities are currently using their existing powers, examine how they could currently use this information to tackle rogue landlords and, crucially, consider how and whether requiring the collection of tenure data will assist in tackling rogue landlords. It is due to meet in March and will report back to Ministers within three to six months.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, came back on the point about the ability of the Inland Revenue —or HMRC—to access rogue landlord data.