Amendment 12

Part of Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 22 April 2024.

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Photo of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 4:15, 22 April 2024

My Lords, just before I move my amendment, I should say that I omitted to thank the Minister for her collaborative approach to the Bill in advance of it coming before the Committee. I now do so and rectify that omission. I also thank the Law Commission, as she did, and the many groups that have a leasehold interest and met us in recent weeks. I hope the Committee will forgive me for not mentioning that earlier on.

Amendment 12 requires the Secretary of State to publish a report outlining legislative options to provide leaseholders in flats with a share of the freehold. I shall resist the temptation to go over the ground again of why the Government did not include flats in their ban on new leases, although it would be helpful to know from the Minister what level of consideration was given to enacting the recommendations of the Law Commission in full in regard to this matter, particularly as it was the stated intention of the Secretary of State—that is what he wanted to do. There has been a commitment to this ban on leasehold at least since 2017. One would think that there has been plenty of time to get the work done. Indeed, the Law Commission has done much of the heavy lifting on what would be needed.

Our later amendments seek to determine the Government’s appetite to move in due course to a more widespread system of commonhold as the default tenure. The successful adoption and implementation of this in other jurisdictions has been well debated and discussed in your Lordships’ House. It is certainly the clear intent of my party to move as quickly as possible to that tenure. However, that would be a policy decision, as distinct from the implementation of the Law Commission’s recommendations, and would necessarily have to follow the legal scheme that those recommendations would introduce. As that is not proposed in the Bill but follows the Secretary of State’s intent to do away with the archaic system of leasehold altogether, there is a strong case to make a start with a transitional regime.

The introduction of a mandatory share of freehold in all new blocks of flats, as proposed in our amendment and that of the noble Lord, Lord Bailey of Paddington, alongside the requirement to establish and operate an RMC—a right to manage company—with each leaseholder given a share, would be a sensible staging post on a path towards a commonhold future. It would make conversion to commonhold at a later date a far simpler process. We urge the Government to accept these amendments as they would ensure that we have started on the path to confining leasehold to the dustbin of history, which is where we believe it belongs, and would make it clear that the Bill is not ruling in one set of homes and home owners to the ban and ruling out another. That other is affecting by far the greatest number of leaseholders, with 70% of leaseholders occupying flats. To be clear, this is not an alternative to leasehold. If such a measure were brought into force, any leaseholder resident in a new block of flats would own both the lease and a share of the freehold. It would ensure, in effect, that all new blocks of flats were collectively enfranchised by default, without the need for leaseholders in them to go through the process of acquiring the freehold.

The advantage of having a default share in the freehold is that it would give the leaseholder a direct say on what happens in their building, as is the case with those who have already been collectively enfranchised. It would also provide additional valuable rights, such as the right to a long lease extension on the basis of a peppercorn rent; in other words, the rights that will be accorded to existing leaseholders but without the cost of paying a premium to the freeholder that is still required to exercise that modified right.

We know that flat owners having a share of the freehold can cause tensions; for example, in agreeing how to proceed on crucial decisions, such as whether to cover the cost of major works through service charges. That is why it is essential that proper management arrangements are in place as a matter of course, to reduce the likelihood of damaging disputes between neighbours. That is why we propose mandatory RMCs on new blocks of flats as a corollary to the new clause.

Labour is unequivocal about the fact that commonhold is a preferable tenure to leasehold, in that it gives the benefits of freehold ownership to the owners of flats without the burdensome shortcomings of leasehold ownership. As we have heard, the Law Commission made 121 recommendations on commonhold, designed to provide a legal scheme that would enable commonhold to work more flexibly, and in all contexts. It is vital that if commonhold is to be the default tenure, it is enacted fully and properly, with full account of the Law Commission recommendations.

We have not sought to persuade the Government to incorporate any subset of the Law Commission commonhold recommendations into the Bill, but we need to reform the legal regime for commonhold in one go. Labour is committed to doing so if the British people give us the opportunity to serve after the next general election. In the meantime, it would be good to give current leaseholders a share in the management of their properties. I beg to move.