To ask His Majesty’s Government when they intend to introduce legislation to end the residential leasehold system.
My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I refer the House to my registered interests and the fact that I am a leaseholder.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State set out in the Commons his intention to bring the outdated and feudal leasehold system to an end. The Government wish to extend the benefits of freehold ownership to more home owners. That is why we have committed to end the sale of new leasehold houses and to reinvigorate commonhold so that it can finally be a genuine alternative to leasehold. We will bring forward further reforms later in this Parliament.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. The residential leasehold system is not fit for purpose. The Government need to make significant progress in this Parliament, as they promised. We are running out of time, and the purpose of my Question today is to seek absolute clarity. Will the Bill we are going to get in the next Session of Parliament abolish residential leasehold as a tenure? The answer is either yes or no.
Leasehold—the noble Lord is not getting a yes or no—is increasingly seen as an outdated form of home ownership and, as I said, the Secretary of State has set out his intention to bring this outdated and feudal tenure to an end. I cannot set out the precise details of the future plan at this stage. However, the Government are committed to creating a fair and just housing system that works for everyone, and we are taking forward a comprehensive programme of reform to end unfair practices in the home ownership market by reinvigorating commonhold, which will also give developers and buyers of flats a genuine alternative to leasehold.
My Lords, these are difficult times for leaseholders. Many face high service charges as a result of the cladding scandal, while others, as my noble friend just said, are exploited by a minority of freeholders, and there is uncertainty in the market while we await the Government’s reforms. Can my noble friend do more to publicise the existence of a free, independent advisory service for leaseholders, which is supported by her department, and can she give an assurance that it will have the resources and skills to meet demand?
I think my noble friend is probably talking about LEASE, which is a government-sponsored arm’s-length body. The Government provide £1.9 million of funding every year so that leaseholders and park home owners can get free information and advice. We recognise that these people face some parallel complexities and lack of control over some of their properties. We are looking at LEASE—a new chair is being recruited at the moment—and we are looking for it to be a little more impactful, customer friendly and cost effective into the future, as well as leading important work to ensure that the voices of leaseholders and park home owners are listened to.
My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the future legislation will take careful consideration of issues relating to retirement homes and villages?
I am sorry—somebody was talking behind me. Can the noble Baroness please repeat that?
Absolutely. It is extremely important; if the noble Baroness was in the Chamber last night she would have heard us talking about the planning system as well, making it clear that with an ageing population we need to consider homes of all types for older people in the future.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is participating remotely.
My Lords, have Ministers noted the large number of leasehold ground rent investments on property auction sites, as landlords, aware of potential changes in the law affecting valuations, offload their leasehold ground rent investments? Innocent non-professional buyers, ignorant of potential changes in the law, are now buying them—caveat emptor—placing themselves at risk of substantial loss. Should government not consider secondary legislation which would alert an innocent market to the dangers of buying these leasehold ground rent investments?
The noble Lord brings up a very interesting point. I will take it back to the department and we will discuss it further. These are the sorts of issues that LEASE will be helping potential buyers work their way through.
My Lords, since there is a considerable challenge in the housing market, arising partly from Grenfell and the related programme, and there is a shortage of homes at every single level, is this not a case where His Majesty’s Government need to move with speed but also with thoroughness before we take any action?
My noble friend is absolutely right. Leaseholder issues are complex and contain a lot of legal issues that need to be dealt with. Therefore, we need to take our time, and we are doing so, but the government manifesto says that we will deal with this issue within this Parliament, and we intend to do so.
The Government recognise that the existing statutory requirements do not go far enough to enable leaseholders to identify and challenge those unfair costs. We believe that leaseholders should not be subject to unfair legal costs and should be able to claim them from their landlords, and we are taking action to address that.
The Government are looking at all options but, as the Secretary of State has said on a number of occasions, we are looking at commonhold.
My Lords, the only potential benefit I can see is inserting restrictions on non-conforming developments, which the leasehold system provides. It is a good start to call the system outdated and feudal, but can non-conforming developments be prevented by other means, such as the planning system?
The planning system will have to be looked into, but I can say that, interestingly, through the recent rent Act, new builds are now no longer or are very rarely leasehold—they are now freehold—so the developers themselves are looking at this. It is more complex in flats and with multiple occupancy, but in terms of houses very few leasehold properties are available.
My noble friend the Minister will be aware that in many cases the freeholder is a local authority. Can she advise us on what conversations her department has had with local authorities across the country, or representative bodies of local authorities, to make sure that they make it easier for leaseholders to acquire their properties?
I will write to the noble Lord with all the details of those conversations. They are being had, but I will give him more information when I write.
My Lords, community land trusts, co-housing schemes and co-operatives offer different models focused on building community, delivering for the common good rather than focusing on individual profit. Will the Government look into how they can strongly support these creative, innovative models of housing?
The Government do support those forms of housing. We will continue to do so and will look into how we can support them more in the future.