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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 22nd January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 5:30 pm, 22nd January 2018

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate on these regulations and I will do my best to deal with the various points in the order in which they were made.

First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jones, for his kind words. Wales does indeed have provisions; they are not identical to these. I will write to noble Lords who have participated, covering the issues raised, and I will endeavour to give the noble Lord full details. He will know that in a devolved context, things are slightly different but there is legislation there and, I believe, in Scotland as well, which I will also seek to cover.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, for her general welcome for these regulations. She made points about transparency, which were echoed elsewhere. The noble Lords, Lord Beecham and Lord Shipley, talked about the regulations being cast in a way that would mean tenants could look at potential landlords to find out the position by having a register that is open to the public. Noble Lords will appreciate that that is not possible under the main legislation, which was discussed and passed. The Housing and Planning Act 2016 does not permit that. This is a register for local authorities to use. It is not a Ministry of Housing—to use our new title—register; it will be a national register for local authorities which will contain these details. In addition—although I am not an expert in this area of the law—there are considerations under the Data Protection Act as to what can be disclosed in such situations. Again, I will endeavour to give chapter and verse on that when I respond in more detail.

The noble Baroness referred to the letting agents’ fees legislation that she was highly instrumental in bringing to the House. Once again, I congratulate her on that. It will be open to us when that legislation is cast for there to be a banning order offence in relation to letting agents’ fees. I checked this to ensure that, in future, we will be able to add instances, perhaps as new offences come on stream. Indeed, if we consider it appropriate, existing offences could be added to the schedule of offences that are subject to banning orders. This perhaps addresses some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, made.

I will say something else that relates to points made by many noble Lords in the debate. We are producing—ahead of the regulations, so they will be available—guides for tenants on how to rent and guides for landlords on how to be a good landlord. I am paraphrasing what they will be called, but that is the essence of the guidance. There will also be guidance for local authorities.

I think that it was the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, who made the point about the potential for discrimination in relation to some of the immigration provisions. This is a very fair concern that was echoed, if I am not mistaken, by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. Obviously, illegal acts in relation to breaches of legislation in relation to equal rights and racial and religious discrimination and so on will be met with the full rigour of the law. Recently, for example, in November of last year, an injunction was granted against a landlord for discriminating against certain groups. That breach was met with the full rigour of the law: an order was made against the landlord.

On the point about gas and electrical safety—again made by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender—we will bring forward legislation in due course. Once again, offences in those particular areas could be added to the list, and there are some already on the list that relate to fire safety.

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, made points with a lawyer’s eye on the interpretation of different offences. I will try with a lawyer’s response to deal with some of the matters he referred to relating to offences in the schedule. I will pick them up as I go along. In so far as I do not cover them fully, I will certainly make sure that we do that in the response. For example:

“Possession … of articles for use in frauds”,

refers to Section 6 of the Fraud Act 2006, and I would be very surprised if that section does not set out possession and perhaps bailment and so on in relation to each of the matters the noble Lord referred to. In short, the description is shorthand for what would be in the section referred to in the list. I think that that would be true of some other points that the noble Lord raised—but, as I said, I will refer to them in the letter that I write.

The noble Lord asked about the position in relation to companies. This is dealt with in paragraph 2 of the regulations, if I am not mistaken, which states that,

“‘associated person’ has the meaning given by section 178 of the Housing Act 1996”.

Once again, I will try to pick that up in my written response if I may.

The noble Lord also asked for some examples of regulations that relate to violence. The Protection from Eviction Act covers unlawful eviction and harassment of an occupier. The Criminal Law Act 1977 covers the offence of using violence to secure entry. There may well be other, less obvious regulations: again, I will see whether I can pick up on that as I go through if I may. In relation to the two-or-more matter, I referred in my opening speech to the fact that the regulations were, essentially, seeking to prevent somebody being involved in various activities, or a combination of them. I suspect, therefore, that it refers to letting housing and so on, but I will pick that up in writing.

One or two noble Lords raised points about licensing. We are, of course, moving forward in due course with licensing of houses in multiple occupation, but the question was more widely cast. I will, once again, pick that up in my letter on selective licensing schemes so that noble Lords are aware of where we are on it. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, gave a general welcome to the legislation, for which I thank him. He, too, picked up the licensing issue, which I will cover in my letter. He also asked about the open register, which I have dealt with. More than one noble Lord raised the new burdens doctrine. The Explanatory Memorandum says that the impact on all sectors is not significant, but I will cover in my letter the point that the recent legislation, to which I referred, allows local authorities to keep civil fines up to £30,000. That is a not insignificant point to bear in mind.

Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, made the fundamental point about the need to build more houses, with which I—and I think all noble Lords—agree. He asked how considerable the impact of this is in relation to enforcement and what local authorities are doing at the moment. He cited Slough: I am not familiar with that case but, commenting on the generality, local authorities are, on the whole, very good at enforcing the existing law against rogue landlords. For obvious reasons, we are not setting a target for local authorities to come up to but we anticipate that there will be about 20 banning orders per local authority. We also anticipate, and this will be covered in the advice we are giving, that local authorities would be able to give information about a particular landlord if they were asked for it by a tenant. Without prescribing it, we anticipate that good authorities would want to do just that. Although it is not an open register, this would not prevent a local authority giving information in response to a question from a tenant.

I hope I have dealt with the generality of issues that were raised. I will try to pick up the specifics, and any issues that I have missed, when I write to noble Lords. In the meantime, I thank noble Lords for their general welcome for these regulations, notwithstanding some concerns, and commend them to the House.