Clause 40 - Power to make domestic energy efficiency regulations: England and Wales

Energy Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee on 14th June 2011.

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Amendment proposed (this day): 121, in clause 40, page 26, line 13, leave out ‘.’ and insert ‘, and

(c) provide for the establishment of a national or local register of domestic PR properties for the purpose of distributing information relevant to this Act to landlords of domestic PR properties and their tenants and for other purposes relevant to this Act.’.—(Luciana Berger.)

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

We have had a helpful discussion of the amendment, which would provide for a national or local register of domestic private rented properties. The Committee will recall that I said that that would place an unnecessary burden on local authorities. The sector is already governed by a well-established legal framework and we oppose a national register at this point in time. I am keen to avoid unnecessary burdens on local authorities, but that does not preclude local authorities from choosing to use a local register for themselves.

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

Is the Minister suggesting that he will allow local authorities, if they want, to mandate or develop a register?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

In the spirit of localism, which runs through the coalition like the writing through a stick of Blackpool rock, local authorities will certainly be able to do so, should they think it a good solution for their area. However, I think that many of them will not feel that that is necessary because, as I have said, they will have the energy performance certificate register to assist and guide them. This morning, I might have underplayed just what a fabulous tool the EPC database will be. It will be an interactive and live web-based tool. It will be updated 24/7 and will contain a map of local areas highlighting each property that has been EPC’ed on any given street, road or village, and a little coloured dot will denote the status of that EPC. Given that the database will be updated on an ongoing basis, it will be a much more impressive, useful and accessible visual aid than a dull and dreary database register.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change)

Will this fantastic visual aid tell us which of those properties are in the private rented sector?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

Yes, we hope that it will. We anticipate that the database will cross-reference council tax details so that it will give an indication of tenancy. For data protection reasons, it will not tell us who lives in the home, but it will identify, as does the Land Registry and other records, exactly what is involved—[ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion has just entered the room, so she has missed that exciting piece of news. I should tell her that I have updated the Committee that the EPC register, far from being a dull and dreary catalogue of addresses found in a dusty library in the local town hall, will be an exciting, interactive, map-based tool on the world wide web. It will be available not only to local authorities, but to Netmove and a plethora of other 21st century internet enterprises.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change)

I must press the Minister on whether the register will show if individual properties are in the private rented sector. He has talked about council tax. I have lived in a private rented property for many years, but I have never had to specify that I am a private rented sector tenant. Will the Minister confirm how this fantastic new tool will specify whether properties are in the private rented sector? The obligation is on only those properties in the private rented sector, and I am unclear about how the tool will distinguish between different sorts of properties.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

We are confident that the tool will be effective. Council tax records are available to local authorities. We expect the tool to enable local authority users to differentiate by type of tenancy. We are in discussions with the builders of this 21st century database tool about how that will work in detail.

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Scotland)

I am trying to follow the Minister’s last point. How will local authorities be able to determine what is private rented accommodation and what is not?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

With a facility to enable cross-referencing with council tax and other council records.

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Scotland)

I am sorry to press the Minister on this point. I might be mistaken, but I am not aware of what records local authorities keep that would enable them to determine whether accommodation is privately rented so that they can differentiate it in the database with the yellow dot that he mentioned.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

Obviously a property cannot be rented out without an EPC. All rentable properties will have an EPC and qualify, because it is an infringement of the law to rent out a property without an EPC, and subsequently a declaration will be required. There are data sharing issues. We are developing the model now—it is not fully built—but we expect that we will use the information available to town halls to cross-reference.

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

I think that the Minister is trying to say—this involves another point—that councils draw on a variety of resources to find out which properties are rented. They will use the housing benefit list and so on and then aggregate the information along with the council tax register. That is what councils generally do,  although the system is cumbersome and he might want to look at it. However, beyond that, we come back to the fact that in terms of the identification and aggregation of that data, the information on unitary authorities is much better than that on district authorities due to data sharing between shire and district, as I said during an earlier sitting. Again, I draw the attention of the Minister and his civil servants to that point, and perhaps he will consider it.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; that is useful. However, the point that he raises about the difficulties between district and county in non-unitary authorities is one that I took away from our debate last week. Having asked various officials in different parts of the Department and outside it, I must tell him that that has not been encountered as a major obstacle. We are optimistic that this will work. Obviously, if there are such obstacles in practice, we will tackle them. If a property is to be rented out, an EPC will be necessary. When an EPC is produced, the assessor will record whether the property is owned or rented, and private or social. The EPC itself will volunteer that information.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

The terrific list of EPCs that we will get fairly shortly will indicate the tenure of a property. Will the landlord’s name and contact address be on the register of EPCs? If not, will it be kept somewhere else or will it not be kept?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

I am confident, although I will correct the hon. Gentleman if I am wrong, that that will not record the name of the owners—certainly not for public scrutiny, for data protection reasons. The idea is that there will be a heat map—no pun intended—of the area that will convey simple information without giving anybody’s name. It will specify the properties and which have EPCs. If a property has an EPC, it will be colour-coded to show what level EPC has been reached. EPCs will record whether the property is privately owned, rented or social housing. Given that, in order to rent out, one is obliged to have an EPC, that neatly gets round the problem.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

I have two further questions about the register. If someone has not provided an EPC but is renting a property out and that rental has not changed, how will that be found out from the EPC register? If landlords’ names are not placed on the EPC register, how would the register in any way help to prevent someone from renting a property if they do not reach the level for the EPC? Would it not be necessary to find out separately who that landlord was, which might require a register to be complied? Can the Minister shed any light on those two points?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

Clearly this is not something that will happen overnight. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point, but the idea is that the change will take place over the next five years. He is right that if somebody has been renting a property since before October 2008, there is no need for an EPC, so there is a problem if someone remains in tenure. The landlord’s name will not be on the EPC as such. However, given that we anticipate that up to 90% of properties will have changed tenancies by 2018, and will therefore have an EPC, we are dealing with the nub of the problem.

The change will roll out over the five-year period. When there is a change in tenancy, landlords will be required to have an EPC, if they do not have one already. If we add on to that the ability from 2016 for the tenant to request measures, and from 2018—regardless of the length or duration of the tenancy—the obligation on the landlord to achieve a minimum energy efficiency rating, it all adds up to a very robust regime. It is certainly much better than the passive, dusty catalogue that a national database would be. The EPC register will be usable, accessible and constantly updated, and it will be a big step forward in making sure that the green deal is used.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party

I am pleased to hear that exciting news, which I had unfortunately missed when I came in the room. The Minister says that the EPC register will be regularly updated, but given that the life of an EPC is about 10 years, how will that in itself be updated so that the information that is held is up to date?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

I know that the hon. Lady has tabled a new clause in relation to that good point. We are proposing to look again at the validity period of EPCs because the present period of 10 years is clearly not fit for purpose. Her suggestion of a one-year period might be slightly onerous, but without wanting to anticipate the decision that we will make, we are minded to move much closer to the hon. Lady’s position than the status quo. This autumn, as part of the consultation on the recast of the energy performance of buildings directive, we will be looking at moving to a much more progressive regime, which is likely to be much closer to the hon. Lady’s position.

I hope that I have persuaded the Committee that a great deal is happening on the matter and that hon. Members will have a lot more confidence in the EPC regime than previously.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change)

The Minister referred to the 2008 EPC legislation. We know that it applies when someone buys a home, but will he clarify whether it also applies when people rent property in the private rented sector?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

My advice is that there has been such a requirement if renting since October 2008. With that exciting news ringing in hon. Members’ ears, I hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change) 4:15 pm, 14th June 2011

I thank the Minister for sharing his news about his EPC register. I want to ask him some questions that I could not ask earlier. As can be seen from the number of contributions from Opposition Members, this is a critical part of the Bill. We believe that it is essential to have the register, whether it is national or local. I am grateful for what the Minister has said so far. Is he thinking of bringing forward amendments on Report to match his announcement this afternoon?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

I do not think there is any need to. We are talking about a product development. It does not require legislation.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change)

While we are delighted to hear about the step forward with the EPC register, there are obviously many issues with that. We are not clear that properties in the private rented sector will be identified in the EPC register, because those data are not collected when council tax payments are made. We are keen for the Minister to reconsider our proposals and bring something forward on Report.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

Just to be clear, the information on the tenancy will be recorded as part of the EPC. Regulations in April 2012 to open up the EPC register will make data on rental available, but we do not believe that there is a need for regulation to bring forward the interactive EPC information tool. As I said at the beginning, we are not currently minded to go to the expense and trouble of a national database. We are putting all our focus and energy into the interactive EPC register.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change)

I thank the Minister for his response. Having received those assurances, we will await further details following the announcement this afternoon. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I want to tease out a few points on how the database will work. The EPC will have to have a cost to it, and I should be interested to know what that will be. The Minister said that as part of the Government’s move towards localism there would be a local register, if local authorities wanted one. Again, would that just be an aggregation of data, or could local authorities compel landlords to add their details to it? I am concerned that the Minister has not told us how the data will be used, apart from in relation to some privacy issues.

There is a great consumer empowerment argument here. I have argued persistently that we should empower consumers. If that information is allowed to move into the private sector—into the public domain or public space—the green deal will be better, but the Minister does not seem persuaded by that argument. I hope that he will come back to me on the information that could be given—for example, on internet vertical search engines—on rental properties; that would be the ideal location for the information.

I am also concerned about the EPC database, which other members of the Committee have touched on. There is a real issue and a weakness with regard to non-compliance. Aggregating the data is all very well, but what happens in the case of non-compliance? How will the Minister deal with non-compliance, in terms of defective or missing information?

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change)

I want to make some brief but really important points. I am concerned about the fact that the Government are seeking to withdraw clauses 40 and 41. We are worried that that will sweep away the entirety of the provisions that enable local authorities to demand improvements from landlords. Government new clauses 32 and 33 do not address that. It is also contrary to the points that the Secretary of State made  on Second Reading. If clauses 40 and 41 are withdrawn, local authorities will not be allowed to do any work in default, because their permission to issue written enforcement notices will be removed. The Minister said that he did not think enforcement notices were necessary; he called them “clunky”. However, it was his Department that originally drafted the Bill, which included provision for those enforcement notices. Our concern is that without that provision, it will be difficult for local authorities to enforce the rest of the Bill. On that basis, we will vote to keep the clauses in the Bill.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

We strongly believe that we do not need clause 40, as we have made provision for minimum standards. I appreciate the points that the hon. Lady made, but we are not able—even in a spirit of consensus—to support what she wants. We propose removing clause 40 from the Bill.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 11.

Division number 5 Decision Time — Clause 40 - Power to make domestic energy efficiency regulations: England and Wales

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 11 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 40 disagreed to.