Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 12:53 pm on 23rd November 2018.

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Moved by Lord Best

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench

My Lords I begin by declaring my interests as in the register and, in particular, as a part-owner, with my wife, of rented property. I am also currently chair of a working group for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which advises the Minister for Housing and Homelessness on regulation of estate agents and letting and managing agents.

It is a great honour to be piloting this important Private Member’s Bill through Your Lordships’ House. Its promoter in the other place has been the heroic Karen Buck, MP for Westminster North. She has been the most dedicated and committed campaigner, not just for this Bill, but for her many constituents with serious housing problems. Her desire to see the provisions of the Bill on the statute book comes from valiantly seeking to resolve hundreds, possibly thousands, of awful real-life cases of housing misery. I salute her for all her work and for successfully taking the Bill through the other place. I also pay tribute to Giles Peaker and Justin Bates, two lawyers with extensive and highly relevant experience, who have worked tirelessly to draft and perfect the Bill. I commend the Government for having the good sense to give the Bill their full support.

The Bill comes to us with backing from all quarters including, prominently, those bodies representing both landlords—the National Landlords Association and the Residential Landlords Association—and tenants, such as Shelter, Generation Rent and others. As Alan Ward, chair of the Residential Landlords Association, has written:

“The Bill seeks to achieve what we all want: better enforcement of existing laws and regulations against ... the criminals who bring the sector into disrepute”.

It seeks to improve housing conditions for those living in circumstances that can well be described as unfit for human habitation. The public at large may think that slums are a thing of the past and that, if any still exist, there are plenty of laws and regulations to force recalcitrant landlords to bring them up to minimum standards. Sadly, neither of these assumptions is correct. There are around 1 million households forced to live in so-called non-decent properties. The English Housing Survey of last year recorded 750,000 properties which present a,

“serious and immediate risk to a person’s health and safety”, with 225,000 in the social housing sector. Yet the law is woefully inadequate in compelling the owners of these properties to bring them up to standard.

Karen Buck has quoted many examples from her own constituency. One tenant living with her partner and two children writes that her son has been,

“in a coma at St. Mary’s hospital due to a virus caused by excessive cold. The mould and damp in the house”, says this tenant,

“turns our clothing, toothbrushes and cups black. I cannot begin to explain how many hospital visits we have had”.

Another tenant complains about her,

“freezing cold, smelly, damp, mouldy flat”. and says,

“the cold aches my bones and muscles. The damp and mould affects my asthma. As a type 1 diabetic and asthmatic I am constantly ill living in this flat”.

She concludes:

“I guess the way they are progressing, it will be done the day I am being removed from this flat in a coffin”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/10/18; col. 536.]

These cases demonstrate not only the hardship caused by bad housing conditions but the cost of this to the NHS and wider society.

The Bill addresses the need for a serious overhaul of current legislation in England. Separate measures apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland and, for the most part, in Wales too. It addresses the current legislative inadequacies in three key ways. First, it makes it clear that it is not lawful to let substandard property. Currently, there is indeed a requirement in law, in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, which consolidated much earlier legislation, for privately rented homes to be “fit for human habitation” at the beginning of a tenancy and to be maintained at this level. But this requirement has ceased to have effect because it covers properties only with rents below a limit set many decades ago—a rent limit of £52 per annum, or £80 per annum in London. The Bill would remove this wildly outdated constraint, obliging landlords to ensure that all properties are fit for human habitation, with no exceptions, based on a rent limit.

With the offence of letting an unfit property restored once more, tenants would have the chance to take an offending landlord to court. This constitutes a significant change in the landlord/tenant relationship. Currently, tenants cannot take direct legal action themselves and are entirely reliant on their local authority to serve environmental health enforcement notices on the landlord and to enforce these. With local authorities short of funds, few have found it possible to take such action on any scale: in 2016-17, half of all councils served no such notices, or only one. The position changes radically with this Bill affording tenants the right to take action themselves and, on their own behalf, enforce their right to a safe and healthy home.

Secondly, the Bill addresses the problem of defining what “fit for human habitation” means. It does not add any new regulations or requirements on landlords but simply draws together all the existing obligations in this regard: the nine criteria used in the 1985 Act and the key health and safety features covering the core hazards used in the current housing, health and safety rating system—HHSRS—brought in by the Housing Act 2004. The Bill, therefore, consolidates and clarifies what constitutes an unfit property.

It is true that the HHSRS has itself been criticised as too complex and open to varied local interpretation. However, the Government have undertaken to review and revise it next year and the Bill’s definition of fitness will take on board, without further legislative action, any changes made to the HHSRS.

Thirdly, for the first time, the Bill gives the same rights to tenants of local authorities to insist on the fitness of their property as tenants of private landlords. At present the local authority, as the enforcement body, cannot take action against itself, which leaves council tenants powerless in this respect. The Bill enables these tenants to compel their local authority to carry out the works needed for the property to meet proper standards.

Moreover, thanks to an amendment to the Bill in the other place, its provisions cover health and safety hazards in shared areas and communal spaces in blocks of flats. As we all know from the ghastly tragedy of Grenfell Tower, there are apartment blocks where tenants are exposed to serious dangers. The residents of Grenfell Tower raised their concerns about the safety of the building on many occasions, but their voices were not heard and they had no means of forcing their landlord to take action. This Bill gives council tenants, like private sector tenants, the power to take their case straight to the courts.

The vast majority of landlords and tenants will be unaffected by the measures in the Bill but it will redress the obvious imbalance in a market where acute shortages currently favour the provider at the expense of the consumer. The Bill empowers all tenants by replacing a now defunct legal obligation on the landlord with a real, enforceable obligation. It defines what the legal obligation covers for homes to be fit for human habitation and extends that obligation to council landlords as well as private ones. In every respect, this is a valuable and commendable legislative measure.

Will the Bill mean an end to the problems faced by tenants in the private rented sector? No—it is limited in scope and there remains much to do. Now that Westminster and Whitehall have begun to catch up with the phenomenal change in the scale of private renting and the effects of this on millions of households in this country, there is a new willingness to bring forward a range of legislative changes.

The Government have started with action against rogue landlords: fining and banning the criminals; laws against retaliatory evictions; the enforcement of electrical safety measures; an extension of licensing for houses in multiple occupation; the ban on tenant fees, which we are currently debating in your Lordships’ House; the regulation of property agents; an exploration of longer tenancies and the possibility of new housing courts; the creation of an ombudsman for complaints against landlords; and more.

Sadly, these changes do not include restoring full legal aid to enable tenants fighting cases about unfit property to claim damages. Nor have the Government yet agreed to reverse the reductions, in real terms, to housing benefit. The current caps and cuts mean that many tenants face real poverty because they have to cover a rental shortfall from their meagre income from other benefits. But these are matters for other government departments and another time.

Meanwhile, this Private Member’s Bill—a great example of cross-party co-operation in the cause of social justice—takes pride of place amid the other new measures to upgrade the private rented sector. It is a particularly valuable piece of the whole because it gets to the heart of the matter. It addresses the key issue of whether the product on offer— the house or flat for rent—is fit for purpose and, if not, it empowers the tenant to get that sorted.

I close by underlining the deep appreciation of all of us with an interest in housing matters for the dedication, compassion and commitment of this Bill’s parent, Karen Buck. I hope noble Lords will give it a very fair wind. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Conservative 1:06 pm, 23rd November 2018

My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Best for piloting this limited but important Bill through the House of Lords. As he said, we are also particularly grateful for what he rightly described as the heroic efforts of Karen Buck, the Labour MP for Westminster North, for conceiving of this Bill and taking it through the other place highly successfully. I had 31 years in the other place and in all that time never managed to get a Private Member’s Bill through, so I know how successful she has been in doing that.

The Bill, as my noble friend said, also has the support of Shelter, the Landlords Association and, most importantly, the Government. I am glad to see the Minister in his place listening attentively, as he always does. Indeed, the degree of cross-party support on this might have been a feature of other arguments we are having on a wider scale at the moment, but sadly Brexit does not seem to be producing that degree of understanding.

It is truly appalling that we have 1 million families—2.5 million to 3 million people—living in private or social rented accommodation with category 1 hazards. As my noble friend Lord Best said, category 1 properties pose a serious and immediate risk to a person’s health and safety. Although part of this problem is in the social sector, as was tragically revealed by the Grenfell incident, most of it is in the private sector. Three-quarters of the people living in this category are in the private rented sector.

We simply have really inadequate old properties badly renovated to low standards, often by absent landlords seeking to maximise their income by splitting an old house into as many small spaces as possible and then not maintaining it properly. This is the real issue here. In many ways, housing benefits contribute to this problem and make it more difficult to make the necessary renovations. My memories go back to the Rachman period in the 1950s, and of course Karen Buck represents in Parliament the North Westminster area—and previously represented Kensington North—where that was evident. It still exists in our big city areas.

It is also a problem in seaside resorts. Many of us got in the post today the excellent agenda 2030 brochure put forward by the pride of place team from Blackpool. I know Blackpool well; I was born in Preston, not far away. Blackpool has eight of the 20 most deprived neighbourhoods in the country and much of that is property of this kind. What were once bed and breakfast hotels have now been converted into appallingly low-standard accommodation of the kind we are concerned about.

The Bill will extend the definition of what is fit for purpose—that is, fit for human habitation—and will also extend people’s right to take a bad landlord to court, but the truth is this is just a Bill and a very restricted Bill. We need far more if we are going to deal with this problem satisfactorily.

As was pointed out in the letter that many of us will have got from the leader of Blackpool’s pride of place project,

“Many of the tenants living in the private rented sector … are vulnerable, lead chaotic lives and would lack the confidence to commence legal action against their landlord. For the proposed legislation to be used effectively by tenants, extra resources would need to be made available to local authorities or voluntary sector advice agencies, like the Citizens’ Advice Bureau or Shelter to support the most vulnerable tenants in taking their landlords to Court”.

I know that well from my own constituency experience, both in Gateshead and in Orpington. People in this category do not think of going to a solicitor. They lack the confidence to do that, they have no contacts and their first thought is to go the CAB, their local council or a Member of Parliament. We need resources for those voluntary agencies to help them effectively. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, touched on in the latter part of his remarks, this is part of a wider issue with housing, not just related to substandard private rented property, which we have to tackle.

I made the point in my speech in the Budget debate that this is part of the poverty issue that so disfigures our country at the moment. It exists, and we have the resources to do something about it. It will mean raising taxation, but we should not forget that we are a comparatively lightly taxed country. We only take about 35% of our national income in taxation. In Germany it is 39%, in the Netherlands it is 41% and in France it is 47%. That is the difference between this country and other neighbouring European countries, and the extent to which we can tackle these problems because we have the resources to do so. It could be done if we had the willingness to raise taxation. In this case, for example, we could probably put a couple of extra layers on the council tax for higher, more expensive property to raise the money to give councils the funds to deal with this problem.

I wholeheartedly support the Bill and hope it goes through unamended. I also wish my noble friend on the Front Bench well, because I know his heart is in the right place, in his and his colleagues in the department’s discussions with the Chancellor, because I believe that the Chancellor has to provide the funds to deal with this aspect of poverty as well as other aspects. I hope they will be forthcoming in the next Budget. They were a little in the last Budget, but we need a far bolder and more radical approach in the next Budget.

Photo of Baroness Grender Baroness Grender Liberal Democrat 1:13 pm, 23rd November 2018

My Lords, good Bills on housing are like buses: you wait ages and then three come along at roughly the same time. This Bill, the Tenant Fees Bill and the Homelessness Reduction Act have all provided an opportunity for me to stick my hand out and happily climb on board.

I recall one of the first meetings I had when I came to this place in 2013, sponsored by my noble friend Lord Tope. It was a meeting with Shelter and Electrical Safety First about this very issue. Both organisations have campaigned for this change for many years. The horror stories they put before us were compelling. The solution they presented was almost simple—reviving a clause from the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 requiring all rented homes to be “fit for human habitation”, a clause long defunct because the rent levels were no longer relevant, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Best.

I say “simple” but, as we all know in this place, nothing is ever simple. I therefore congratulate Karen Buck MP on her excellent Bill, the Government on giving it time and technical support, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, on carefully guiding it through this place with—we hope—no amendments.

Karen Buck MP is a fellow vice-chair of the APPG for the Private Rented Sector and has regularly updated her colleagues on that group, for which I thank her. She tried to get this Bill first in 2015, and then we all tried to amend the housing Act in 2016 to include these proposals. The superb addition to include social tenants is a real credit to her hard work and determination to ensure that all renters do not have to live in homes that are a real hazard to their health and well-being. Any of us who has been an activist in some of the more challenging areas in the UK with high levels of social rent are only too well aware that it is not just the private sector that has horror stories about poor conditions. I note, however, that the English Housing Survey shows social rented housing as the lowest percentage across all tenures of non-decent homes. It is yet another strong argument for more social housing—which we have debated many times and will continue to do. Another welcome addition is the extension to communal areas.

As the noble Lord, Lord Best, pointed out, the backing of the Residential Landlords Association and the National Landlords Association is excellent news. The good news for the landlords they represent is that all landlords who are good landlords need do nothing at all when this Bill comes into effect. But those 1.3 million social and private rented properties that are deemed a hazard under the housing health and safety rating system will be expected now to have to raise their standards.

The Bill rightly places greater powers with those who rent, without having to rely on their local authority. It treats people who rent like the consumers of a service that they are. I guess my regret is that this has come late when the impact has been significant for up to 3 million people, including children, who have had to live with damp, infestation, live wires in dangerous places and more, with little or no hope of changing that. The health impact is well known and estimated to cost the NHS £1.4 billion every year. I am sure that other noble Lords will share in the collective sharp intake of breath when they recognise that, according to Shelter, if these rights had been in place, particularly in communal areas—so that tenants could go to court regarding missing fire doors, emergency lighting, sprinklers and other safety devices—the anecdotal evidence is that more tenants’ lives tragically lost in Grenfell Tower might have been saved. Of course, we are still waiting for the inquiry to conclude.

So, what future buses, or Bills, are we still waiting at the stop for? The now chronic shortfall in housing benefit, which does not cover rents in 95% of the country, must be addressed. I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Horam, on that.

In order for this particular Bill to be effective, greater effort must be made to underpin the original intentions of Sarah Teather MP’s Private Member’s Bill in 2014 to stop retaliatory evictions through Section 21. While an amendment to the Deregulation Act 2015 was the best way of trying to achieve that, more needs to be done in this area so that tenants can complain about poor conditions. Evidence to the HCLG Select Committee inquiry suggests that retaliatory evictions in the private rented sector are still a problem. A Citizens Advice survey in 2017 found that nearly three in five renters entitled to compensation did not force the issue because of fear of eviction—and half said they feared a rent rise if they did.

Security of tenure will help to underpin the good work of this Bill. Scotland’s introduction of indefinite security of tenure is now one year old, and I would like to hear the Minister’s view of how that significant change is going. Does he believe it has had an impact and would he consider something similar here? Shelter has recommended three-year tenancies as an effective way of underpinning the Bill we are debating today. Can the Minister update us on the Government consultation on three-year tenancies, which finished in August 2018?

Sufficient resource for legal aid is essential, and I am sure my noble friend Lord Shipley will develop this point. I will wait to hear the Minister’s response on that. Likewise, I am sure that my noble friend Lord Tope will ask about the extraordinary foot-dragging on the introduction of a timetable for mandatory electrical checks.

I was particularly struck by the phenomenon of older renters, raised in a briefing by Independent Age. The changing nature of tenure in the UK means that we are now seeing larger numbers of older people renting privately. The need for accessibility standards and adaptations is something that this Government would do well to anticipate in policy before it becomes a significant problem. More than half of older renters live alone and almost three-quarters have a disability or an illness. Given the predictions for the private rented sector and population, this problem will become more acute. Will the Minister tell us whether there are any plans to look in particular at this phenomenon?

I thank the Minister for his letter of last night and the update on a public database of rogue landlords, which we will discuss when parliamentary time allows. It will be no surprise for him to hear that, on these Benches, we are a little frustrated given that we gave him ample time and opportunity to do that, both in my Private Member’s Bill on tenants’ rights in 2016 and during the passage of the Housing and Planning Act 2016. When parliamentary time allows, and as I said in my Oral Question of 13 November, I will return to a possible model for this open register—that of the food hygiene ratings. It operates in a commercial sector and empowers consumers. If we can measure where we eat, we can measure where we live, and have an open register for that.

That said, we on these Benches are delighted to welcome this Bill and the time the Government have allowed now. We look forward to seeing it progress to Royal Assent with as much speed as possible, so that, finally, tenants can say no, with strong legal back-up, to the appalling conditions they have been condemned to for so many years.

Photo of The Bishop of Rochester The Bishop of Rochester Bishop 1:22 pm, 23rd November 2018

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his advocacy of this Bill in your Lordships’ House and for his customary detailed and lucid comments in introducing the debate. I also salute the indefatigable work of the Member for Westminster North, who has already been referred to, and look forward to what we all hope will be a positive response to this debate from the Minister.

Like many others, I am very supportive of any efforts to improve and assure the quality of accommodation in the rental sector, whether that be individual, corporate or social landlords. I did, however, have a slight moment of hesitation about speaking on this, as I became conscious that the Church of England, in its various national and local corporate guises, is a not inconsiderable landlord.

Clergy housing is often let short term during parish vacancies; these are the properties of the parishes and dioceses, and are let to provide income. Rather akin to the agricultural workers referred to in the Bill, there are some 7,000 or more clergy who receive housing as part of their remuneration, and are thus in a quasi-tenant relationship with Church corporate bodies. They are, I think and hope, not in need of the provisions in this Bill because, in perhaps an extremely rare instance of the Church being ahead of the game, the Repair of Benefice Buildings Measure 1972 laid on diocesan authorities a duty not unlike that in this Bill, and was reaffirmed by the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure 2009. That said, I fear that there may be instances where Church authorities and Church-related bodies could do better. I welcome the fact that this Bill will, as I understand it, apply to those corporate bodies when they let residential properties to tenants other than the clergy. If those bodies are not already ensuring that their let properties are of the best possible standard, this Bill will help to make sure that they do.

More generally, I welcome the provisions of this Bill that make clear the implied covenant within a tenancy and those which seek to clarify and extend the definition of “fitness for human habitation”. Reference has also been made to the right of tenants to take action, not being dependent on local authorities to do so. That is an important provision, though I will refer to a slight proviso around that.

Clearly, as has already been indicated, not least by the noble Baroness, this will bring no added burden for those landlords who already make this a priority and operate in the best possible way. Indeed, the safeguards built into the Bill relating to those matters which are not a landlord’s responsibility also help to clarify this and, I hope, reassure landlords.

An anecdote of good practice by a landlord came to me unexpectedly on my journey here this morning. My train was, for reasons I do not yet understand, curtailed at Denmark Hill and never reached Victoria, so I shared a taxi with a gentlemen who, when he discovered I was to speak in this debate, told me how he sought rental accommodation for his son, who was having a year out from university on a work placement and needed to find accommodation. He told me of taking over the tenancy of a flat, and it being very clear that the landlord and his entire family had spent most of the night before cleaning and redecorating the property to hand it over in an absolutely immaculate condition. We know that many landlords operate in that particular way; our concern is those who do not.

Noble Lords will be aware that we have to legislate for those who do not act in the best way for the common good and for the good of human kind. Many of us will be aware of instances where standards of rental accommodation fall below what is right and proper in a society such as ours. Sadly, that may particularly apply to housing which accommodates those among the most vulnerable in our society—those whose desperation, or lack of alternatives, mean that they take whatever they can, even if it is unfit. As Bishop to Her Majesty’s Prisons, I have a particular concern about those who have been released at the end of a custodial sentence. The provision of housing for them is a particular challenge in our society. They are among those who often end up in housing which is frankly appalling, but it is all that is available.

Even in the student sector, one still hears tales about overcrowding and below-standard accommodation. The noble Lord, Lord Best, referred to properties with mould, which affects people’s health and well-being. Without naming names, as a former board member of housing associations over some 30 years, I have in the past visited housing association properties which have been infested by mould. That is not how it should have been. For myself and my fellow board members, I hope we took that seriously and did something about it.

The empowerment of tenants to take action, with a clear right to do so if this Bill passes, is an important area already referred to. We are in an economic situation where we find real financial pressures on institutions such as community law centres, and where, thank goodness, many lawyers still offer pro bono services. If tenants—particularly vulnerable tenants—are to be able to make use of the provisions here, then we need to look at that whole area. I know this lies outside the scope of this Bill, and the noble Lord, Lord Horam, has already referred to it—I was intrigued by his comments about taxation and welcome them—but this is an area that needs to be looked at if people are to be able to exercise the rights given to them under this Bill.

The place where we live is one of the key contributors to human well-being or, in some instances sadly, the lack of it. For all to have the realistic prospect of a decent home is surely not beyond us in this society. The Bill, albeit limited in scope as others have mentioned, will make a valuable contribution to that in a particular sector of housing provision, and I welcome it.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat 1:29 pm, 23rd November 2018

My Lords, I join everyone in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Best, for introducing this Bill in this House. I join him and everyone else in the tributes paid to Karen Buck MP for her indefatigable work and for promoting this Bill in the other place.

I must declare some interests. First, I am one of the many vice-presidents of the Local Government Association. I am co-president of London Councils, the body that represents all 32 London boroughs and the City of London, and I am a patron of Electrical Safety First, a charity whose name is self-explanatory. All those bodies and I welcome this Bill, support it entirely and wish its speedy enactment in due course.

Let me start with electrical safety, which my noble friend Lady Grender has already trailed for me. I am going to ask the Minister when the Government intend to introduce the five-yearly mandatory electrical safety checks. After years of campaigning for this, they finally announced in July this year that they would do so. In his letter yesterday, the Minister used the time honoured phrase that they would do so, “when parliamentary time permits”. I have been here long enough to know that the Minister will say he is not responsible for the allocation of parliamentary time, so I will not ask him when parliamentary time will allow. May I ask him when his ministry hopes and expects that legislation to be introduced? Is it shortly? Is it in due course? Maybe it is as soon as possible. Can he give some indication that it is really is a priority, at least in his department, if not yet, sadly, for his Government?

May I also ask the Minister to clarify, when this Bill is enacted, whether landlords will actually be prevented from renting a property where there are no records of electrical safety checks? As I understand it—and the Minister will know better than I do—it is the intention of the Welsh Government not to allow landlords who cannot prove evidence of an electrical safety check to be able to rent out a property. Is that also going to be the case in England?

On perhaps a more positive note, Electrical Safety First commissioned York University to undertake a research project on the state of electrical checks in the social rented sector. The research found that the social rented sector has a lower proportion of properties that require electrical repairs than any other housing tenures, and properties in the social rented sector are far more likely to have modern electrical safety devices present. This is the case especially with properties owned by housing associations, which have the highest proportion of homes built after 1990. The researchers found, too, that councils and housing associations are doing a much better job in maintaining fitness-for-human habitation standards in terms of electrical safety, probably due to the decent homes standard. They found that the majority of social housing providers voluntarily conduct checks at five-year intervals already and support mandatory checks. However, if the Government intend to legislate for electrical safety checks in the private rented sector, will the Minister confirm that it will also include the social rented sector?

I turn to London and London Councils, where I have some interest and responsibility. In London, the capital city, private renting is the fastest growing housing tenure. It is estimated that, by 2026, 1.4 million dwellings in the capital city will be private rented. That sector is dominated by small-scale landlords. Sadly, we all know that there are far too many documented concerns about poor management standards.

I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Horam, who I think used to represent Orpington. He gave examples of some inner-city places, and I think Blackpool and other seaside resorts, all of which are sadly well known for such cases. I wanted to give an example that was given to me in my own borough, the London Borough of Sutton, by the chair of our housing, economy and business committee—I always have to think about that title. It is a borough where the council has had majority Liberal Democrat control for nearly 33 years, so I take no pride from giving this story. It is a property very close to where I live, but perhaps more relevant, it is less than half a mile from the green-belt border with Surrey—the leafy part of London, apparently. My former colleague said to me that she had come across a family of two adults and three children in a privately rented flat with two bedrooms and a reception room, in a 1960s-built, tall block of flats. From the outside, which I pass every day, it looks perfectly good and decent, but as well as being overcrowded, the state of disrepair in this place is, as my friend who has seen it described, appalling. Electrical fittings do not work and bespoke heating that has been set up as the underfloor heating is too expensive for the family to use. There are wires trailing everywhere. The oven supplied by the landlord works poorly; the smoke alarms do not work at all. There is mould and insect infestation. The family have lived there for 12 years and repeatedly asked for repairs. Although the landlord sends someone round to have a look, nothing happens.

This example, and sadly there are all too many, from the leafy part of outer London, is now drawn to the attention of the chair of the housing committee, and of course action is now being taken. But none of us looking at the outside would have been aware of that. It is not the image that is presented of much of outer London, and yet it exists—I am sad to say—nearly as much in outer London as it does perhaps in Blackpool or in Paddington.

London Councils says that it believes boroughs need to be empowered and given adequate resources to help improve protection of private tenants. It makes the point that London boroughs have suffered a 63% reduction in government funding between 2010 and 2020. It also says that councils should have local licensing powers and be allowed to recoup costs of enforcement against rogue landlords.

Finally, the penultimate paragraph of the Minister’s letter to us yesterday said that the short guidance document for tenants will be published as soon as the Bill has completed its passage, to explain their rights and how to represent themselves in court if necessary. I strongly welcome that. Part of the York University research I mentioned found that consumers are being left behind in their awareness simply of their rights and opportunities, never mind the difficulty they will always experience—and some particularly so—in exercising those rights, if necessary, through the courts. Will the Minister confirm that this guide will include specific reference to electrical safety? If it does not, he can rest assured that he will be hearing more about it from me, and I am sure from other noble Lords in this House. That said, I wish this Bill a swift passage through your Lordships’ House, and a rapid enactment as well.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench 1:39 pm, 23rd November 2018

My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lord Best on bringing this Bill to the House and Karen Buck on all the work that she has done in another place. I referred in the previous debate to some of the singular peculiarities of your Lordships’ House. Perhaps I should have said the peculiar advantages, for we have had two Second Readings each presented by a true expert in the field that each Bill covers. I know that my noble friend has given a great part of his life to quality and safety of housing, and the issues covered in the Bill. He is highly regarded, particularly throughout the architecture profession and by housebuilders.

I declare an interest: I happen to be chairman of the not-for-profit company Design for Homes, which organises the housing design awards each year. One of the purposes of those awards is to reward not only the beautiful, but large-scale housing that provides safe spaces in good-quality environmental conditions for families, particularly in mixed communities, where people seem to flourish best.

I can say from my experience as a lawyer and sitting as a part-time judge as a recorder in county courts, and, indeed, in the criminal courts, that I have seen the dangers presented by bad housing. One can truly observe that crime, child abuse, respiratory disease and mental illness are all caused—I mean caused—by poor-quality housing and poor housing maintenance. Anybody who is in a caring profession, such as the right reverend Prelate, if he will forgive me for describing his calling as a caring profession, sees that on an everyday basis. I have been involved in some safeguarding inquiries relating to abused children. The effect of poor housing has been all too obvious.

May I be allowed one anecdote? My noble friend Lord Best referred to local authorities. He is absolutely right. Local authorities are sometimes just as much to blame as private landlords. On one occasion I was sitting as a recorder in a central London county court. A woman who had a disabled son of some 20 years had been living without any heating or hot water for two years in her council flat, which was owned by a south London council that I will not name. In the end, a solicitor came to court pro bono to try to get something done. The local authority’s housing director’s answer was that he or she was unavailable that day because they had meetings and could the case be adjourned. My reaction was, “Yes of course, I’ll adjourn the case until 2 o’clock and if he or she doesn’t turn up then there will be a warrant for their arrest”. Of course they turned up, but why should that mother and that disabled young man have had to have gone through months of difficulty and come to an intimidating county court, with wigs, gowns and the rest of it, to get their hot water and heating repaired—the ordinary requirements of life, particularly for that disabled young man? It just should not happen.

I echo something the right reverend Prelate said in this context. It is disgraceful that people who face low-quality housing conditions below fitness for human habitation cannot obtain legal aid to ensure that they get their rights. If they are given legal aid and the landlord has not provided the necessary facilities, the landlord has to pay the costs. I would have thought that this is an area in which legal aid should be glaringly and obviously available.

If I could stray on to the grass verge on the margin of this Bill, I will say something relating to my chairmanship of Design for Homes. We note that, under Sir Roger Scruton, the Government appointed what is called the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. This Bill does exactly what it says on the tin, but one has to read that commission’s title with great caution. It seems that the Government have fallen into the trap of appointing “taste tsars” who seem to believe that the bypass variegated, as Osbert Lancaster called it, of old represents the best quality housing and that modernist architecture has no place. Some of the best housing we have seen in the housing design awards—I have been involved for several years now—has appeared in modern, contemporary-looking buildings, which have certain obvious advantages. They have large windows so that you can see what you are doing without having to turn the lights on; they have modern efficient heating systems which do not necessarily take up wall space; and so on. I invite the Minister and the Government to link with the purpose of the Bill: the need to be broadminded about architecture and not be lectured to by people who think they have a monopoly of good taste, particularly when they expressly and explicitly reject best modern practice.

There are many examples where one would not necessarily expect it of poor housing which is not kept in good repair by landlords. In rural areas, many small cottages are let by large estates which spend as little as possible on maintaining those properties. There are more cottages without inside lavatories in the rural areas of England and Wales, at least, than in the urban areas of England and Wales. That requires attention.

Many in this House have had children at universities and we have all seen, in some quite distinguished university cities, terrible accommodation in which landlords simply do not carry out the repairs. They are able to let the properties six months before the tenants move in because there is such demand for them, and if you deliver your student children to those properties you find despicable states of repair. On one occasion recently I had to go out to a supermarket to buy 24 lightbulbs so that one could see anything happening in the students’ accommodation. That was in one of our great university cities. This area needs attention.

As to young working singletons, there have been grants of planning permission, particularly in the London boroughs, in which office premises have been turned into small and inadequate flats and flatlets. One can almost predict what they will be like in five or 10 years’ time because they are plainly unsuited to that kind of conversion. I can understand the reasons why local planning authorities give consent in those cases—it brings properties quickly into residential use—but you are asking for trouble if you do that unless you impose, as a local authority, proper conditions so that those buildings are big enough, clean enough and properly serviced for the future, otherwise you are perpetuating the Rachmanism to which the noble Lord, Lord Horam, referred.

With those thoughts in mind, I strongly support the Bill. It is high time that it was enacted and I hope we will see strong government support for it.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative 1:48 pm, 23rd November 2018

My Lords, I join the debate on the Bill because I am very interested in the subject and have always strongly supported Karen Buck, who has done a marvellous job.

I do not agree with the view of the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Tope, that the good thing about the Bill is that people will be able to take their issues straight to the courts. We should have a return to the leasehold system, under which people did not require special measures to get their legal fees paid. The Leasehold Valuation Tribunal did a huge amount of good. There should be an ombudsman to deal with matters prior to people going to court—they could be dealt with more quickly—and court should be a second choice only if the first one does not work. That issue needs thinking about.

My noble friend Lord Horam mentioned properties being split into units as small as possible. I agree particularly that action is needed on these.

Something that has not been mentioned, and here I must declare my interest on the register, is the abuse of the letting system whereby holiday lets are taking over a lot of property in London. The Mayor of London has commented on the great loss of accommodation. I would like to see powers returned to local authorities to determine whether or not people are entitled, and at least to be able to check how many people are living in these places. As I have said before in your Lordships’ House, there are three one-bedroom flats in the block that I have concerns in, and 10 people are bussed in for one or two weeks’ holiday. Sometimes they come all bandaged up—they are national health tourists—but otherwise they come in and make life hell for any long-term residents living in the block. It is important that we restore powers that were taken away from the London local authorities. We should go back to that system and encourage local authorities to be more involved. Although the statement is made regularly that they have all the powers they need, if you ask them, they will say that they do not have the powers. I think Newham is the only London borough that has continuing powers.

Mention was made of mould in buildings. When I was on the Greater London Council, I was responsible for one-eighth of London’s housing. We introduced systems building, which was a marvellous concrete thing that was meant to be great. As chairman, I went out to visit the properties because people were very unhappy with them. Someone’s lovely wedding dress, laid out on their bed for use, had been damaged and virtually destroyed by green mould. It turned out that the whole problem was a lack of ventilation; these places were heated in the morning and then people went out to work and closed the door behind them, and the lack of ventilation meant that the mould had its perfect growing conditions. Once that was discovered, they were able to deal with the problem and put in small permanent ventilation, and the mould vanished. The problem is that, for every improvement you believe you have made in housing, there is some downside. You have to be aware of that and check that things are going well.

Many speakers, including the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Carlile, mentioned legal aid. Legal aid is not that easy to come by. It is a more serious issue to have to spend the time taking a matter to court than the previous system of someone looking into things. Indeed, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Best, himself has some sort of ombudsman qualification that he deals with. It is unfortunate that powers have been taken away from local boroughs and I would like to see them reinstated.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat 1:53 pm, 23rd November 2018

My Lords, I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. This has been a helpful debate. I noted very carefully the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, and no doubt the Minister will respond to them. The problem is that the English Housing Survey, which was two years ago, found that one-fifth of the homes in this country fail to meet the decent homes standard, which I regard as very serious. As we know, category 1 hazards are growing and enforcement activities by local authorities are falling.

There is a very serious problem here, and I am delighted that the Bill has cross-party support and, crucially, very strong support from the Government. We have heard the list of all the organisations that support it externally, and it is a tribute to the mover of the Bill in the House of Commons, Karen Buck MP, and to the noble Lord, Lord Best, in this House that it has attracted such a degree of unanimity. That is a rare event in Parliament and a clear demonstration that this is a problem that needs a solution. We on these Benches, as noble Lords have heard, commend the Bill.

A few years ago I had the privilege of leading Newcastle City Council and one of my aims was to ensure that the decent homes standard was reached in the 30,000 or so homes for which the council had responsibility. It was vital that we achieved that and we did. However, I also recall at the time not understanding why a tenant in the private rented sector could ask the council to take enforcement action against their landlord but a tenant of the council had no right to seek enforcement by one department of the council against another. Crucially, this Bill puts that omission right.

My noble friend Lord Tope reminded us about electrical safety issues, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the specific points that he raised. I will just add that we should always remember that the Grenfell fire began through an electrical fault, so the questions asked by my noble friend Lady Grender about the problems raised by Grenfell residents and the points raised by my noble friend Lord Tope about the need for better electrical safety checks are very pertinent. To be specific, can the Minister tell us, first, whether the social rented sector will have the same statutory application that is planned for the private rented sector and, secondly, when the parliamentary time is likely to be secured to pass the legislation that the Government have promised? In particular, I would like to know whether the Government will prevent a landlord renting a property where there is no record of an electrical safety check. This matters greatly.

I do not seek to repeat all that has been said in this debate, which has been compelling, but I want to raise two or three other issues that have not been covered so far. One relates to how tenants can represent themselves in court. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has said that guidance will be produced on how tenants can represent themselves in court—but, given the cuts in legal aid, a great deal of thought needs to be given to how this will work.

Reference has been made to legal aid. It would help enormously if it could be restored for cases involving the disrepair and unfitness of properties, but I also wonder whether the Government might look carefully at expanding systems of advocacy. The councils for voluntary service, certainly in my area, support advocacy systems, and I would like to think that systems might be made available to simplify the process for tenants. They need to be briefed properly on their rights as tenants but they also need to have the confidence to take forward any problems they have. Therefore, the way in which tenants represent themselves will become an increasingly important issue.

There seems to be a problem with security of tenure in that, if a tenant makes a complaint, action must have been required by the local authority. It must have inspected the premises and served a notice on the landlord to protect the tenant’s security of tenure. I hope that the Government will look very carefully at how they can ensure that, if the local authority is not involved in the process, a tenant is protected.

In conclusion, let us re-emphasise that we are dealing with a small minority of landlords. As the Minister in the other place, Heather Wheeler, said, with this Bill the Government plan to disrupt their business model. The Bill provides a critical opportunity to achieve better enforcement and higher standards. It enables tenants to be empowered to take action directly, bypassing the local authority if they wish to, and leaving local authorities better able to concentrate on the worst cases. It is extraordinary that tenants today do not have an automatic right to live in a home fit for human habitation. With this Bill, they will have that right.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing) 2:00 pm, 23rd November 2018

My Lords, as other noble Lords have done, I refer the House to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I am very much in support of the Bill and congratulate my honourable friend in the other place the Member for Westminster North, Karen Buck MP, on bringing the Bill forward and on securing government support for it, which is quite an achievement. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Best, is taking this Bill through your Lordships’ House, and I join him and other noble Lords in the fulsome tributes paid to my honourable friend. The noble Lord, Lord, Best, also listed some of the examples that Karen Buck made reference to in the other place, which were truly dreadful. We should not forget that she represents one of the richest parts of our country and our capital. Those were examples of the dreadful conditions some people have to live in today.

I am pleased that the Government have decided to support the legislation; it is very welcome, and I was very much encouraged by reading the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth.

The Bill, as we have heard in this debate, will improve standards in the private rented sector by giving tenants the ability to take legal action where the landlord fails to keep the property in a state that is fit for human habitation, and where they fail to ensure that the property is maintained in that state as the law requires them to do so. Presently, the only way a tenant can seek to rectify matters is where an environmental health officer, using powers contained in the Housing Act 2004, takes action against the landlord, as they are prevented taking direct legal action themselves to put the issues right.

So we have the situation where a landlord could rent out a property that is not fit for human habitation but only the local authority can take action against them. In many cases, the local authority will take action, but as we have debated many times in this House, local authorities are under severe financial pressure on a range of matters. According to estimated figures from the Local Government Association, the funding gap next year will be £3.2 billion. Having said that, I agree with the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that, unfortunately, some local authorities themselves have been proved to be guilty of providing properties that are unfit for human habitation. Unfortunately, that is a matter of fact.

Generally, this is a very welcome move, but that leads me on to the issue of legal aid, which many other noble Lords have referred to, to enable lower-income households to exercise their rights and have access to justice. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 cut legal aid for early advice on housing cases and restricted it to only the most serious disrepair cases, which is a matter of much regret. Even with this welcome Bill becoming law, if individuals do not have the means to seek redress in the courts, that is a barrier to improving housing standards for some of the most vulnerable people who need this protection. I am aware that the Government are conducting a review of the LASPO reforms, and I very much support the calls for legal aid to be restored for matters of disrepair and unfitness, including damage-only claims.

There is also the question of security of tenure and the protection from retaliatory eviction where tenants seek to enforce their new rights. I am aware of the protections that are currently in place—the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, made reference to those—but my point is that they require the local authority to protect tenants from eviction, and this situation risks undermining the new powers won for tenants if they have to rely on hard-pressed, cash-strapped councils for that protection.

I was pleased to receive the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, which I made reference to earlier. It expresses the Government’s support for the Bill, which is great. However, one of the most interesting sections of the letter was at the second bullet point on the second page, where it says that the remedies available to the tenant will include an order of the court requiring the landlord to take action to reduce or remove the hazard, and damages to compensate them for having to live in a property which was not fit for human habitation. I fully support and welcome that—it is wonderful.

However, that made me wonder why the Government are resisting compensation payments for tenants who have been ripped off and charged prohibited payments. We can see that in the Tenant Fees Bill. The line we get from the Government is that we can have compensation and fines, but it would be unfair on the rogue landlord to have both. I do not agree with that. I will come back to that bizarre position when we consider the Bill on Report; I am sure that we will come back to this issue then. It owes more to the funding regime envisaged by the Government for that legislation than any other consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Best, referred to electrical safety checks, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope. That leads me to ask, as a number of noble Lords have done, about the Government’s stated intention to bring forward mandatory electrical safety checks in the private rented sector. We heard the Government’s announcement on that in July, but they have been fairly quiet since then. Perhaps the Minister can use today as an opportunity to update the House on the action that the Government intend to take. We need progress on this matter. We are now in November; change has been a long time coming and it still has not got here yet. I hope that the Minister has some good news for us today; if not, I hope that he will write to Members of the House on these matters.

I want to add to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about whether landlords will be prevented from renting out a property where they do not have any evidence that a mandatory electrical safety check has been carried out. We heard that this is the case in Wales. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester was right to illustrate that most landlords provide a good product. We should be clear about that. Good landlords are providing a good product to people and meeting their legal obligations—we should not forget that—but here, we are talking about rogues and criminals who flout the law.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, also referred to licensing schemes. I am very much in favour of local licensing schemes; they are positive and improve local housing situations. I have mentioned the Newham scheme many times before. Recently, I went to Newham with the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, who was suitably impressed by the work undertaken by the council and the mayor there. I am sure that he has mentioned that to his government colleagues.

I will bring my remarks to a close. I support the Bill and thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for bringing it forward. I want to make it clear that I have no intention of tabling any amendments to it whatsoever, which I know may surprise noble Lords. It is important that we do not do that. The Bill is very good and needs our support. I urge noble Lords to do the same as me, no matter how tempting their well-intentioned or well-meaning amendments may be. They would do great harm. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

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) 2:08 pm, 23rd November 2018

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I am not at all surprised that the noble Lord opposite will not table any amendments because I know how responsible he is. I am grateful to him, as I am sure other noble Lords are. This Second Reading has been a debate of great content. Some very interesting and important points have been made, to which I will do my best to respond. In so far as I cannot do so from the Dispatch Box, I undertake to write to noble Lords and place a copy in the Library.

In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Best. I agree very much with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, about the quality of the sponsorship of the Bills we have seen in the House today. We could not have a better pilot than the noble Lord, Lord Best; I thank him for his hard work on such a great cause. As other noble Lords have done, I also thank the honourable Member for Westminster North for introducing her Bill. I acknowledge her hard work in the other place; she has shown considerable determination in taking it through successfully. I am delighted that the Bill has received such widespread support across this House and in the other place.

The noble Lord, Lord Best, has given us an effective overview of the Bill and why it is needed, and I echo that. It is an important Bill and we heard from many noble Lords in this debate about the fact that 20% of the housing in this country is in need of urgent attention. That underlines the importance of having this Bill. We heard that from the noble Lord, Lord Best, and my noble friend Lord Horam. The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, also echoed that point.

This fairly short Bill builds on work we have been doing to improve housing conditions and tackle rogue landlords. I must say that, although I am as guilty of using it as anyone else, I wish we could get away from the phrase “rogue landlords” because it tends to make them sound a little too cuddly for my liking. “Bastard landlords” or something stronger would probably be more appropriate because they are far from being cuddly. I shall try to deal with the situations raised by noble Lords, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, and the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Shipley. All three asked about electrical checks, as did the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy.

Since 2015, we have moved on the requirement to install a smoke detector on every floor in properties and carbon monoxide detectors where the heating system uses solid fuels. We have taken tough action in the private rented sector on civil penalties for recalcitrant landlords who need action to be taken against them, which can go up to £30,000. It is worth noting that those civil penalties can be retained by local authorities, which helps them with housing enforcement. We have seen Salford City Council use those powers recently against one landlord, issuing three civil penalties for the flouting of three separate legal responsibilities and fines coming up to £55,000. As I say, local authorities keep the proceeds of those civil penalties.

Local authorities have the power to issue banning orders for landlords and add to them to the database. As noble Lords will know, we propose that the database should now become public, but I am afraid to say that that will happen when parliamentary time allows. I know that is a standard phrase which is trotted out. This issue does need legislative action, but we are dependent on the business managers finding time for that. As far as the department is concerned, this is certainly a high priority.

Private tenants can now apply to get up to 12 months’ rent back if the landlord has not dealt with health and safety hazards and the local authority has taken enforcement action through rent repayment orders under the Housing and Planning Act 2016. We have extended property licensing so that more homes in multiple occupation now need a licence and we are going out to consultation, or perhaps review, on the issue of selective licensing. We will report on that in the spring. We have also announced that we will carry out a comprehensive review of the housing health and safety rating system. The noble Lord, Lord Best, rightly stated that if that is extended, it will automatically come within the compass of this legislation. We also plan to require all landlords to belong to a mandatory redress scheme, which I think is known and understood, and we are proceeding, as noble Lords have made clear, with the Tenant Fees Bill, which will reach its Report stage in your Lordships’ House the week after next. Subject to this Bill receiving Royal Assent, we will produce guidance for tenants, as has been suggested. I have covered that in a letter which has been sent round. In response to the question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, I intend that to include points on electrical safety. That was a point well made.

I will try to pick up the points made during the course of the debate, but if I do not address them all I will seek to cover them in a letter to noble Lords. On security of tenure, as is, I think, widely known, the department is considering the position on three-year tenancies and will respond to this issue in the new year, so an announcement will be forthcoming early in the new year on this point.

I was asked some specific questions relating to electrical safety standards. We put a question on the private and social rented sectors having the same requirements in the social housing Green Paper. I think the intention is that they should be dealt with in the same way. I cannot see any reason why they should not be. If I am wrong on that and there is a reason I will cover that in the letter, but it is not apparent to me. We will issue a letter announcing our intentions on this area before Christmas, so I hope noble Lords will bear with us on that.

I thank the right reverend Prelate for the points he made, together with perhaps an anticipatory mea culpa in case there was an issue for the Church, but I am sure it is following good practice in this area. He made a point about legal aid, as did other noble Lords. I am always grateful when noble Lords exaggerate my powers, but as I am sure can be anticipated, this is not an area where I can opine from the Dispatch Box. I will endeavour to cover the point and, as was rightly said, there is a review in this area. I hope noble Lords will understand when I say that I will cover that in the letter, but I cannot give a definitive statement of where we are on that issue.

I move on to points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. I agree with him on the importance of design. The design of buildings generally, not just for residences, has been a particular interest of mine. I also agree that modernist future design is important. In the National Planning Policy Framework we have, I think for the first time, a requirement to consider good design. It does not specifically mention modern design, but it certainly does not exclude it. Modern methods of construction and self-build will lend themselves particularly to more modern design. I know that the Secretary of State is committed to good design, but that does not exclude modern design. I will make sure that the points made in the debate are brought forward to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I agree with the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Tope, that sometimes in an area where you might good housing—university towns would certainly be part of that—something that looks like good housing from the outside looks very different once behind the door. That is something we need to bear in mind.

We talked generally and correctly about the impact that poor quality and non-decent housing has on individuals but, as was said in the debate, it also has economic effects in terms of pressures on the health service, and I am sure it has an effect on kids’ education if they are off school and so on. It certainly has dreadful social effects as well. The points are well made, hence the importance of doing what we are doing.

I thank my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes for bringing forward points about the ombudsman and a housing court, which she touched on, which are still very much on the agenda. As my noble friend mentioned, the noble Lord, Lord Best, is central to the issue of the ombudsman. We are looking at that ombudsman service and the housing court issue and will be responding on that, I think, in the new year as well. I will cover that in the letter.

On holiday lets, which my noble friend mentioned, there is a special power for London in that there is a restriction of 90 days for the Airbnb-type let in London, as in other capital cities and tourist destinations around the world, such as Venice. There is a 90 days’ accommodation limit. My noble friend will know that the UK Short Term Accommodation Association is doing effective work to try to make sure that that is enforced in London. There is a separate issue with landlords enforcing the provision in their leases. I know from speaking with my noble friend yesterday that that can be a particular problem and is particular problem for her. I have great sympathy with that issue. I will write to her on that point to see if there is anything specific we can do, but I thank her for bringing those points up.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for his contribution and support. He mentioned again the electrical issues and their importance in the context of Grenfell. We do not know with certainty about the cause of the fire—at least in a legal sense—because we have not had the criminal proceedings or the result of the inquiry, but he is right about the importance of this in general terms, so I appreciate the points he is making.

I will write on the retaliatory eviction point. Certainly, there is protection where there has been an inspection of the premises by the local authority and it has confirmed that there is a legitimate complaint on the part of the tenant, but I will write more widely to cover how that is dealt with elsewhere.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, once again for his support. I am very happy to discuss with him the point on compensation for loss. I can see why he thinks that is inconsistent, but I do not think it is. Our point here on compensation in relation to tenant fees is that it is legitimate for there to be a fine, where appropriate, of the landlord and for a return of the money, and compensation if there has been a loss, for example, if somebody has suffered illness and they can demonstrate that, which is what we are talking about here. Compensation for a loss is a bit different—I think the noble Lord is talking about exemplary damages. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, will know the precise legal word.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

We will come back to this on the Tenant Fees Bill. I thought compensation was for when you suffer some loss or injury and if you had money taken off you inappropriately for a prohibited payment. Why cannot there be compensation for that? We will come back to this on the Tenant Fees Bill, but I think it is for any sort of loss, potentially. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, may want to intervene.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

If it helps the Minister, I did not immediately realise he was talking about exemplary damages because they are given in very restricted circumstances. It is pretty unlikely that they ever will be given in an ordinary landlord and tenant case.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

I am certainly not talking about exemplary damages, but what if a landlord has been prosecuted and has to pay some compensation? Those are not exemplary damages.

Photo of Baroness Grender Baroness Grender Liberal Democrat

What we were looking at when I tabled the amendment in Committee was compensation for expenses but, in addition, some kind of incentive, especially for people who are not on high incomes, to take the case forward. However, I am sure we will explore this further.

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)

Without the conflating the two, it begins to sound like exemplary damages to me, but we will come back to that.

I am very grateful for the support this Bill has received and the Government are very strongly in support. I thank noble Lords who participated in the debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Best, for all the work he has done and no doubt will continue to do in piloting this Bill forward.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench 2:23 pm, 23rd November 2018

My Lords, I give deep thanks to everyone who has participated. Every Member of this House who spoke welcomed this Bill and paid tribute to its author, Karen Buck. I thank noble Lords for both things. I will make myself popular by not referring to all noble Lords and their excellent contributions this afternoon.

It is quite encouraging how many of the issues we have all expressed concern about over quite a period are coalescing. The buses are all coming down the road, with quite a few backing up to join in the queue. I had not realised that there was a selective licensing review—among the several reviews going on at the moment—looking at the things that may be improved for the future. There is an awful lot of good stuff coming down the line: security of tenure, the housing courts, electrical safety and the Housing Ombudsman.

I thank the Minister very much for that. I have been in the House some years and I think he is the most diligent Minister in writing to all of us about issues of concern and keeping us abreast of things. I much appreciate noble Lords drawing attention to the fact that amendments to this Bill will not be welcome. We need to press forward and get it done. We are under pressure of time and a swift passage is what it is all about. Nobody thinks that this Bill solves all the problems of the private-rented sector, but this is a really central piece of that big jigsaw. This is about the condition of the home in which people are going to live. It is perhaps the most fundamental of all the reforms that are going on now, welcome as all of them are. For that, I pay very special tribute to Karen Buck and those who have advised her. Karen Buck was twice described this afternoon as indefatigable and I have described her and do again as a heroine in these issues.

I thank noble Lords for their contributions. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.