Protection from eviction
‘(1) In the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 (c. 43), after section 3(3), insert the following—
“(4) In this section premises shall be treated as let as a dwelling, or occupied as a dwelling, if the occupier is for the time being residing there, except that B & B accommodation and hostel accommodation shall not be regarded as a dwelling.
(5) In subsection (4), “B & B accommodation” has the same meaning as in the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2003 and “hostel” has the same meaning as in section 622 of the Housing Act 1985”.
(2) In the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, after section 3A(9), insert the following—
“(10) Where a person lawfully occupies any residential premises under an excluded tenancy or excluded licence, he shall not be evicted from such premises except following the expiry of a reasonable period of notice.
(11) For the avoidance of doubt, an excluded tenant or excluded licensee shall not be compelled to leave accommodation by the landlord or the landlord’s agents following the expiry of a reasonable period of notice while he is physically present within those premises.
(12) For the purposes of subsections (10) and (11) above, a licence of accommodation in a B & B or hostel shall be treated as an excluded licence.”.’.—[Mr. Love.]
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
New clause 59 would amend the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 to give the most basic protection from eviction for some of the most vulnerable occupiers of certain types of property. To expand on that, the 1977 Act provides various types of protection to some occupiers by giving them the right to remain in that accommodation until they receive a 28-day notice to quit. It also provides some protection in that the landlord has to obtain a court order for eviction. Of course, not all occupiers have those rights. There is a group of excluded occupiers who do not have the benefits of minimal rights who are not entitled to a formal notice or a court order. The excluded groups include not only occupiers but people living in hotels and hostels, homeless people living in temporary accommodation provided by the local authority, and homeless people living in self-contained accommodation.
The options for those excluded occupiers are rather bleak. Although they are meant to have some protection in common law, in reality they have virtually nowhere to turn when evicted. Most of those who want access to the private rented sector will have to raise a deposit, and they may have to provide rent in advance. If they have to apply to the social fund, we all know that there can be real difficulties with its administration, and even then they may not get a loan once a decision has been made.
Many will have to turn to the local authority for a rent deposit, and although we are seeing a significant improvement in the coverage of rent deposit schemes, it is still the case, in practical terms, that many people are refused rent deposits. People who have children may then have to apply to the local social services, under the Children Act 1948, but threats are sometimes made to people in those circumstances that the children will be taken into care, often scaring the parents off from approaching the local authority.
The new clause would first extend the groups covered, and those groups will therefore be spared some of the hardship that ensues from being evicted in very short order. As I say, they often find it difficult to obtain suitable alternative accommodation. We want to bring self-contained temporary accommodation within the ambit of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.
Secondly, I think everyone understands that, for people in bed-and-breakfast, hotel or hostel accommodation, it is not practical to give them entitlement to a court order before eviction. Currently, the common law suggests that they should be given a reasonable period of notice. We know that that is not happening for many people up and down the country. We want to bring that within the ambit of the Bill, so that people in such circumstances will at least have a strengthened possibility of receiving a reasonable period of notice before they are evicted.
Of course, “reasonable” has different definitions in various circumstances. For example, there may be occasions when someone living in a hostel is being very difficult, and the reasonable test would be rather shorter than for someone in real difficulty. I hope the Minister will respond sympathetically, but the essence is to reach out to some of the most vulnerable people. They often do not understand the situation that they are in and find that they may have made wrong decisions along the way, and as a consequence will eventually be evicted. The hope is that by extending some legal rights to them, we will give them the opportunity to find alternative accommodation and to have a little more balance in their lives.
I am a little confused by one element. The proposed new subsection (11) states:
“For the avoidance of doubt, an excluded tenant or excluded licensee shall not be compelled to leave accommodation”— and so on. It seems to me that that means that an excluded tenant or an excluded licensee can simply squat in the premises and never be compelled to leave. Perhaps I misunderstand the provision.
I do not think that that is the legal implication. Yes, for excluded tenants or licensees we clearly want to extend the right to remain until they have received a period of notice. However, I do not think that we would extend to them the right to squat in the property for good, as has been suggested.
The reality is that the law is very firmly in favour of the landlord’s right to take their property back into ownership. I do not think that this proposal would upset that in any way other than in the two marginal ways that I have suggested: to provide that people who are in local authority self-contained accommodation have greater rights and, perhaps just as importantly, that people who do not have the right to hostel accommodation should at least be given a period of notice. I commend the new clause to the Minister and ask that he looks on it sympathetically. It would go a long way towards helping people in very difficult circumstances.
I know that the Committee needs to make progress so I will be extremely brief. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton for tabling the new clause. It enables us to focus on this very vulnerable group of people who can find themselves in a situation where they experience a lot of panic and hardship in being evicted from temporary accommodation without being able to find suitable alternative accommodation and without being given time to do so.
The new clause would bring self-contained temporary accommodation within the ambit of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. It would give the evicted person more breathing space to explore possibilities of finding alternative accommodation. It seems like a very reasonable and necessary protection for this vulnerable group. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
I have a lot of sympathy with what my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton has said on this issue. As he has mentioned, the principal purpose of the new clause is to extend the protection afforded to people who have been considered under the homelessness legislation, part 7 of the Housing Act 1996, and have been provided with temporary accommodation, but in respect of whom the local authority has no further statutory obligation. That could be because they do not have a priority need for accommodation or because they have brought homelessness upon themselves.
Under the current homelessness legislation, if a local housing authority has reason to believe that an applicant is homeless or is likely to become homeless within 28 days, it must make inquiries to satisfy itself whether any duty is owed under part 7 of the 1996 Act. Key factors would be whether the person is actually homeless, whether their homelessness is through no fault of their own, and whether they have a priority need for accommodation. Those inquiries can take time, but in cases where the authority has reason to believe that the applicant may be homeless and may have a priority need, it has an immediate duty under section 188(1) of the 1996 Act to secure accommodation until their inquiries are completed. At that point, in some cases the authority might find that it has no further duty to secure accommodation, for example, because the applicant does not have priority need. Subject to reasonable notice being given, the authority can end the provision of accommodation.
In other cases, the authority might find that it owes the duty under section 190(2)(a) of the 1996 Act, which is owed to applicants who have a priority need, but have made themselves homeless intentionally. The authority must secure accommodation, but for only a limited period, to provide the applicant with a reasonable opportunity to secure accommodation for him or herself. At that point, no further obligation will be owed and the authority needs to be in a position to end the provision of accommodation, subject to reasonable notice being given.
Although I have a lot of sympathy with what my hon. Friends have said, the Court of Appeal has ruled that temporary accommodation made available in these circumstances does not benefit from the protection provided by section 3(1) of the 1977 Act. In my view, that position is correct in policy terms, and to reverse it could jeopardise local authorities’ practical operation of their homelessness provisions. Because of that, I do not consider it necessary or appropriate to extend section 3 of the 1977 Act to people who have been provided with temporary accommodation under homelessness legislation, in circumstances in which the local authority’s obligation—this is the crucial point—is specifically limited to a short-term period.
I am listening to carefully to my hon. Friend. There is clearly a balance to be struck: a local authority needs to gain the accommodation that is being made available and does not want to delay the process any more than necessary, but the families involved are often the most vulnerable, moving from pillar to post and perhaps not receiving the best possible advice. Is there no way in which we can negotiate at least some additional time to give them the opportunity to make arrangements for the future, rather than leave them in limbo?
Again, I sympathise with my hon. Friend, but I suggest that if families are being moved from pillar to post and there are concerns about their cases, they will already be captured in the priority need for accommodation. I hope that the local authority would see it in that way.
On the basis that I have set out—the local authority’s obligations, and the short-term periods—I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw the motion.
I am somewhat disappointed by the Minister’s comments. Often people find themselves subject to an intentionality decision, or they have refused the first offer of accommodation—I have seen many cases of that nature—and the local authority therefore decides that it has no further responsibility to them. They may well have taken their decision for good reasons, but not fully understanding the implications. People often find themselves being evicted quickly, which comes as a complete shock and, because of their limited choice, creates great difficulties for them.
I hope that, after reflecting on that, the Minister will consider ways to ease the real housing difficulties of many vulnerable families without allowing people to effectively squat in a property, as the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire mentioned. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.