Tenant Fees Bill - Third Reading

– in the House of Lords at 3:09 pm on 15th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords), Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:09 pm, 15th January 2019

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Tenant Fees Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Clause 11: Interest on payments under section 10

Amendment 1

Moved by Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth

1: Clause 11, page 8, line 31, after “10(8)” insert “—(i) in a case within paragraph 4 of Schedule 2”

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)

My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendments 1 and 2 in my name. They are minor and technical, and consequential to an amendment we agreed on Report that would require landlords and agents to be up front about why they are retaining a holding deposit. Amendments 1 and 2 to Clause 11(3)(c) specify the day on which interest is to be payable where reasons for retaining the holding deposit have not been provided within the required period, and the holding deposit needs to be repaid. This date is the day after the end of the relevant period. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Grender Baroness Grender Liberal Democrat

My Lords, on these Benches we accept this amendment. I take this opportunity to thank the Minister and his team for all their hard work. The last time I thanked them, they were a little busy trying to sort out a little local difficulty regarding definitions of damages. I am pleased to learn from Citizens Advice that it is now reassured that sufficient clarity will be given in guidance. If there is a latest draft of the guidance, having suggested some of the amendments, I would be happy to take a look at it. I am sure that my noble friend will do the fulsome thanks in the next bit but I just wanted to thank the ministerial team and the Minister very much for progressing the Bill. I look forward to its further rapid progress and would like to hear from the Minister when he thinks it will be enacted.

Photo of The Archbishop of York The Archbishop of York Bishop

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for listening. He has been very attentive in listening to the suggestions, comments and evidence from tenants and all those people involved with this part of the Bill. I have been in correspondence with the Minister, starting in the Moses Room. He has been very attentive to people’s concerns and cares. The Bill is what it is because of that attention.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

I have a question for the Minister about the definition of the day. Does it include any day of the week or is it just a weekday, excluding Saturdays and Sundays?

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 look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to my noble friend. I accept that these amendments are minor and technical and I am happy to support them.

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)

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions concerning these amendments. I will say more at the final stage of the Bill—the passage, I hope—about the points the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, raised, but I thank her very much indeed. As always, I thank the most reverend Primate very much indeed for his positive contributions and engagement, and his most kind comments. He is extremely gracious. As always, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, asks a question that goes straight for the middle stump. I will write to him, if I may, on that issue because I do not want to mislead him.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

I am grateful and anticipate being the recipient of a letter. However, if we agree it may be too late because, before we agree, should we not know if Saturdays and Sundays are included, or if it is only weekdays? I normally find that weekdays are the only days counted for this purpose, and that Saturdays and Sundays, when offices are closed and people are unable to take payments and so on, are not included. I do not know if help is on its way, but I think it would be helpful to know exactly before we agree this.

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)

My Lords, I now have the answer, and it is “any day”. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for coming back on the issue, which gave me the opportunity to get expert advice on it. I hope he is content with that. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his contribution.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Amendment 2

Moved by Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth

2: Clause 11, page 8, line 33, leave out “paragraph 4 of Schedule 2” and insert “that paragraph, or(ii) in a case within paragraph 5 of that Schedule, the day after the end of the relevant period within the meaning of that paragraph.”

Amendment 2 agreed.

Motion

Moved by Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth

That the Bill do now pass.

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)

My Lords, I will make a few concluding remarks. It has been clear throughout that this is a Bill that we all support, and one that will deliver important changes to the private rented sector, improving lives for millions of tenants. I am grateful to all noble Lords from all parts of the House who have engaged so thoroughly and passionately during the proceedings in this House.

Specifically, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, for her work to date in promoting a ban on letting fees, which has been notable. I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Shipley, for their significant contributions during our debates. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, who is not in her place at present, for helping to ensure that the client money protection regulations work as intended and the considerable work that she has done on this, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill. Finally, I thank my noble friends Lady Barran and Lady Jenkin for raising the important issues of home share schemes, which I think we all value.

I firmly believe that all the amendments made in this House strengthen the Bill and offer greater protections for tenants while not unfairly impacting on landlords and agents. I thank industry groups and local authorities for their constructive engagement and support in strengthening the Bill’s provisions and offering feedback on our draft guidance.

We will continue to work closely with stakeholders to ensure that the ban is properly communicated to tenants, landlords and agents, particularly with regard to contractual damages, which were the subject of debate on Report. I reassure the House again that there are already large amounts of case law that deal with what is appropriate in a damages case. Damages are generally not meant to do anything more than put the innocent party—“innocent party” being a legal term—back in the position they would have been had the contract not been breached. They are not a back door to default charges. I will repeat that: they are not a back door to default charges.

We are committed to working with Citizens Advice, Shelter and other industry groups to ensure that tenants fully understand their rights with regard to paying and challenging contractual damages. I know that it is in all our interests to ensure that this vital legislation becomes law as quickly as possible.

Implementation is, of course, subject to parliamentary timetables, and amendments we have made need to be considered in the other place. We also need to allow a period of time following Royal Assent to enable agents and landlords to become compliant with the new legislation. We therefore intend for the provisions of this Bill to come into force on 1 June 2019. This would mean that the ban on letting fees would apply to all new tenancies signed on or after this date.

I conclude by thanking officials who have worked diligently on this Bill and have performed massive tasks in ensuring that we are in the position we are now. I thank Becky Perks, Rosie Gray, Tim Dwyer, Nigel Bousfield, Elly-Marie Connolly, Laurence Morton, Jane Worthington and, from my own office, Lucjan Kaliniecki. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his statement. He said that the Bill would improve the lives of millions of tenants, and he is absolutely right. It is a much better Bill as a consequence of the close cross-party co-operation it has undergone in your Lordships’ House.

I thank the Minister for his willingness to give a great deal of time, meeting regularly with us to identify outstanding issues. From these Benches, I thank my noble friend Lady Grender, whose assiduous campaign over a substantial period has led to fruition in this Bill, which is indeed a significant milestone in the support of tenants’ rights. I also thank Sarah Pughe, in the Liberal Democrat Whips Office, for her help. I also extend my thanks to the Bill team and all the officials who gave us a great deal of time in recent weeks while the detail of the changes that were being made in your Lordships’ House was finalised.

We lowered the level of the deposit cap to five weeks’ rent, listed default fees on the face of the Bill, introduced greater transparency around holding deposits, removed local authorities—I declare that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association—and those acting on behalf of local authorities from the definition of a “relevant person”, and we addressed deficiencies in the client money protection scheme, among a number of other changes. Some of those changes are very important, and enable the Minister to say that the Bill will indeed help financially a large number of tenants.

I thank the Minister for his co-operation throughout this process. The last few weeks have been very productive, making sure that the Bill will stand the test of its application.

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)

My Lords, the Bill before us leaves this House in a much better state than when it arrived. It has had a positive consideration across the House, and I thank every Member who has contributed to our debates and discussions, bringing their expertise and ideas. We have made a real difference and, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, outlined, some improvements to the Bill, so we have made progress. We have certainly made a positive contribution to the rights of tenants in the private sector, and it is important that we do that. I also thank the Bill team from the department, who have been courteous, helpful and informative, and have engaged with me and my noble friend Lord Beecham at any time. I am very grateful to them for that.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for whom I have great respect. We spend a lot of time on these Benches batting things back and forwards, and I have always found him courteous, friendly and engaging, and always willing to talk to me both inside and outside the Chamber. I also thank my noble friend Lord Beecham for his support and hard work, and I thank Rhian Jones from the opposition office. She has supported me with research and draft amendments and has helped me to understand the Bill—she understands it much better than I ever would—sending me out to battle with the right papers at the right time, fully briefed, so that I can raise things here. I am very grateful for all the work she does for us in our office, and I thank her very much for that. I am delighted that the Bill is where it is today, in a much better place.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons with amendments.