Private Sector Renters: Eviction Protection - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 6 September 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Grender Baroness Grender Liberal Democrat 3:00, 6 September 2023

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to protect renters in the private sector who are seeking help with energy-saving improvements from eviction.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My Lords, the Government are committed to ending Section 21 no-fault evictions. We introduced the Renters (Reform) Bill in the other place to do this. Without the fear of retaliatory eviction, once Section 21 is abolished, tenants will be more empowered to act within their legal rights, complain about unacceptable standards and seek improvements. Private rented properties should be warm and decent, and we have several schemes to support energy-saving improvements to provide this.

Photo of Baroness Grender Baroness Grender Liberal Democrat

Does the Minister agree that the balance is wrong if, according to a report by Generation Rent, nearly 40% of fuel-poor households rent privately but only 14% of energy company obligation grants help them in any way? Will the Minister ensure that the Renters (Reform) Bill protects tenants from either eviction or prohibitive rent rises if they get these grants? That is surely urgent, and important above other tenures.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I agree. I looked at the figures showing where private renters were utilising the Government’s grants for energy efficiency in their homes, and I think we should be spending more time trying to improve take-up. The Renters (Reform) Bill is important because it will deliver a fairer, more secure and higher-quality private rented sector. It will deliver the Government’s commitments to a better deal for renters, as well as for landlords, by improving the system for responsible tenants and the good-faith landlords who are in the majority.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, many families are paying the price in higher energy bills because of the failure to improve the energy efficiency of homes. Cold homes could also have a serious impact on public health, given that 4% of UK homes have a serious damp problem and 17.5% of the UK’s population has been diagnosed with a form of asthma. Has the department carried out any assessment of the savings which could be made to the long-term NHS budget by increasing the energy efficiency of UK homes? The Minister may need to write to me on this.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I do not have that information with me but I will certainly look at it and write to the noble Baroness. However, the Government are investing £12 billion in Help to Heat schemes. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, it is sad that not enough private rental landlords are taking up those grants. We also have the ECO Plus scheme—the GB insulation scheme—for which both tenants and landlords can apply. In the energy security strategy, the Government have just announced zero-rated VAT for the next five years on the installation of insulation and low-carbon heating. It is important that landlords know what is available and that tenants ask them for it.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I welcome what my noble friend said on the Renters (Reform) Bill, but what action is being taken to address the delays in the courts that are asked to process cases relating to tenancies?

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My noble friend is absolutely right about the court system: it is too slow. On difficult cases that escalate to the courts—not all of them do—we are working with the judiciary, the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS to target areas that frustrate proceedings, including through digitising more of the court process to make it simpler and easier for landlords to use.

Photo of Baroness Thornhill Baroness Thornhill Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, the system is just not working. It relies on the tenant applying for a fuel poverty grant and, as is clear from the statistics that my noble friend just gave, that simply is not working. These perverse incentives are working against each other and not helping the poorest in society. Are there any plans to review this, because it is so obviously not working? What did the Minister make of the Secretary of State’s remarks that he wants to relax the pace of energy-efficiency standards in the private rented sector, given that it has the fewest decent homes?

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

We are still committed to raising efficiency from band E to C by 2028 and will keep the fuel poverty grant under review. I think the important issue, as I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, is the grants that will make private rented properties more energy efficient in the first place.