Housing and Planning Act 2016 (Banning Order Offences) Regulations 2017 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 22nd January 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Grender Baroness Grender Liberal Democrat 5:15 pm, 22nd January 2018

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of the banning orders. This is one part of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 where we agreed with the Benches opposite, regarding the need to introduce measures to address rogue landlords. Where we parted company—although we would still like to pursue the argument—was about the need to ensure that if there were a register or database of rogue landlords, it should be transparent and made available to prospective tenants. There is still a danger of the attitude that tenants in the UK are second-class citizens. The Government are introducing lots of measures on this issue and we on these Benches are delighted with them. I am personally delighted—following my Private Member’s Bill—that the banning of letting fees is now in a draft government Bill. Nevertheless, a growing number of people are tenants. Some should not be in the private rented sector at all but on a social rent, while others need to be advocates for themselves and strong consumers. The best way for them to do that is to have as much information as possible. If the register of rogue landlords is simply held as a DCLG database and not made available to tenants, we think that that would be a missed opportunity.

By 2021, nearly one in four people will be renting, and a quarter of those will be families with children. The Minister rightly talked about how many responsible landlords there are. Indeed, there are many responsible tenants. Just under 80% of tenants pay their rent on time and in full. That is why I am delighted to support the Creditworthiness Assessment Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, which is about trying to even up attitudes about private lending to tenants. These tenants are having real difficulty, and there is a significant gap in the way they are treated by the private sector.

In both the consultation and the Government’s response some opposition was expressed about immigration issues in terms of the banning orders. I ask the Minister to look at that again. As there is a danger that the attitude of landlords will be that non-UK nationals are a risk, non-UK nationals could be pushed into the properties of more unscrupulous landlords. One of the case studies in the consultation presented a terrible scenario where there were 40 beds in a set of properties. Quite rightly, the Government described that as an unacceptable form of accommodation. With immigration banning orders, there is a danger that people will be pushed into even worse accommodation. We all know some of the stories. We have heard about people renting sheds in back gardens and that sort of thing. Although we support the principle, is there something else that can be done so that they are not driven into a kind of underworld?

In the consultation case studies I was also struck by the issue of electrical safety. Will the Minister update us on that? There is a reference to gas safety, but we are still waiting for the mandatory electrical safety checks that we discussed. The working group on electrical safety checks concluded in 2016 that such checks should be mandatory, but we are still waiting for them to be introduced. I would have thought that this moment and these regulations would be a perfect moment to include them. As the Minister will be well aware, 70 people are killed in the UK through contact with electricity every year, while carbon monoxide poisoning, gas leaks, fires and explosions are responsible for 18 deaths. We believe that mandatory electrical checks are extremely urgent, and I am sure the Minister will agree.

I conclude with enforcement. We often debate on these Benches how local authorities can enforce the rules given their reduced resources—we all agree, across the House, that local authorities have had their resources reduced. As banning orders such as these come in, there is other legislation already in place that is not being fulfilled. Why not? Because the resources to enforce it at local authority level are so reduced. That brings me back, again, to this issue about the transparency of the register. If local authorities are so underresourced that they cannot enforce this, surely the Government need to change their mind and allow tenants to have access to the information about who the rogue landlords are in their area, so they do not have to rely on the local authority for enforcement every step of the way. The Government changed their mind on letting fees, which was the right thing to do for the growing number of people who are renting. It would be great if the Government could also change their mind on this issue.