Housing and Planning Bill - Report (1st Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 11th April 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 7:45 pm, 11th April 2016

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and other noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. If enacted, Amendment 27 would require the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice for the letting and management of private rented sector housing in England. A code to promote best practice in the letting and management of private rented sector housing in England already exists. A cross-sector code for the letting and management of private rented sector housing in England was originally published in September 2014. A wide range of industry members was involved, including all the stakeholders referenced in the noble Baroness’s amendment. The department also contributed to the wider stakeholder consultation and Brandon Lewis, Minister of State for Housing and Planning, provided the foreword. Although the code does not currently have statutory force, which would mean that a court or tribunal would have to take it into account when determining relevant cases, in practice, a court or tribunal would already be likely to take the contents of the code into account, where relevant. The code has been in operation for a year and a half, and was last updated in July 2015. The Government are continuing to work with industry to monitor the effectiveness of the code and organise any necessary revisions to ensure that it is relevant and remains up to date. In addition, since October 2014, all letting and property management agents have been required to join a redress scheme, offering a clear route for consumers to pursue complaints. This, in conjunction with the code, protects the consumer and supports good agents.

Amendment 28 seeks to introduce a mandatory national register for all letting agents in England that would be maintained and operated by the relevant local authority. As the noble Lord said, the vast majority of letting agents provide a good service to tenants and landlords and the Government do not believe that a mandatory register is the answer to tackle a minority of irresponsible agents. As my noble friend Lady Gardner said, the Government believe that this could add excessive red tape to the sector which would push up the cost of rents and reduce choice. The Government believe that providing routes for redress and ensuring full transparency is the best approach by giving consumers the information they want and supporting good letting agents. As I mentioned, that is why we recently required all agents to join a redress scheme and prominently display a breakdown of their fees and statements about redress and client money protection. This allows landlords and tenants to vote with their feet when looking to let or rent a property. Each redress scheme also displays a list of members, fully accessible to the public, on its website. What is also important is to help local authorities focus their enforcement action on the rogue agents who knowingly flout their responsibilities and leave the majority of good agents to get on with running their business. As we have just discussed, that is why we plan to introduce a database of rogue property agents and landlords.

In addition, we are also including provisions to allow local authorities to issue civil penalty notices of up to £30,000 as an alternative to prosecution for certain housing offences, which will support their capability to enforce action on rogue agents.

In response to the question from my noble friend Lady Gardner about letting agency fees, from May 2015 letting agents have been required to publish a full tariff of their fees on their websites and in their offices. Anyone who does not comply will face a fine of up to £5,000. Given the commitments I have mentioned and the action that we have already taken that I have outlined, I hope that these amendments will not be pressed.