“( ) The notice may be given—
(a) by delivering it to the tenant or tenants,
(b) by leaving it at the premises,
(c) by sending it by post to the tenant or tenants at the address of the premises, or
(d) in any other prescribed manner.”
Welcome back to the Chair, Mr Owen. Amendment 69 clarifies how a landlord may serve on tenants a notice terminating a tenancy. It provides that the notice may be delivered to the tenant or tenants directly—in other words, given to them by hand—left at the property, sent through the post to the property or delivered in any other prescribed manner. The clarification puts beyond doubt what constitutes effective service of the notice. I am pleased that in its evidence to the Committee Crisis welcomed the amendment as providing greater clarity. It ensures that, in circumstances where the illegal migrants choose to leave a property of their own accord once a Home Office notice has been issued, the landlord is able to use the powers in the Bill to recover his or her property at the end of the 28-day notice period and re-let it to someone with a legal right to occupy it. I note that the amendment has been welcomed outside the Committee.
The reference to possible future prescription in regulations regarding electronic means covers email. The wording is understood as referring to some means of service of documentation, and we give it that emphasis. I was about to say that the amendment future-proofs the provision—I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman took account of that. It enables the Government to introduce new methods of serving notice on tenants—email, for example—should such arrangements for dealing with tenancy agreements become more commonplace.
Amendment 15 ensures that a landlord can engage the powers of eviction in new section 33D only if they have a Home Office notice in respect of all the occupants. In the absence of such a notice a landlord cannot rely on the provisions in that new section.
Amendment 16 changes the definition of “occupier” of a rented property in respect of action taken to evict. New section 33D(7) provides that occupiers shall be taken to be tenants, named occupants on the tenancy agreement and others who the landlord, through reasonable inquiries, comes to know as living at the property. Illegal immigrant tenants may, however, choose not to co-operate with the landlord’s inquiries about other occupants and, indeed, bring in another occupant who is lawfully in the UK to frustrate eviction. Such occupants may then accuse the landlord of unlawful eviction. The amendment provides that a landlord may pursue eviction on the basis of who they know to be occupying the property, including where that knowledge has been established through inquiries with the tenant or tenants.
The condition in section 33D(2) is met once the landlord has received one or more notices covering all tenants, anyone else named in the agreement and anyone else occupying the premises. The definition of “occupier” is amended to ensure all these persons are adequately described.
Amendment 16, in clause 13, page 11, leave out lines 39 to 41 and insert—
“() any other person who the landlord knows is occupying the premises.”
See the explanatory statement for amendment 15.
Amendment 17, in clause 13, page 12, line 29, at end insert—
“(3A) In section 37(4)(a) (provisions in which references to the landlord are to any of them) after sub-paragraph (iv) (inserted by section 12(5)(b)) insert—
(v) section 33D, and
(ii) section 33E,”.”
See the explanatory statement for amendment 13.
Amendment 18, in clause 13, page 13, line 3, at end insert—
“( ) The amendments made by subsections (4) and (5) apply in relation to a tenancy or (in the case of subsection (4)) a licence entered into before or after the coming into force of this section.” —(James Brokenshire.)
On a point of order, Mr Owen. This may just be a point of clarification. We have had a debate on the amendments to clause 13, but we have not had the debate on clause 13 itself as far as I recall. I do not want to miss that opportunity, and if I am about to I would like to know.
Further to that point of order, Mr Owen. It seems that the hon. and learned Gentleman had his opportunity. We moved to a vote, and you already asked for a cry of voices. It is incumbent on every member of this Committee to ensure they are aware of its procedure.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I am as even-handed with the Minister as I am with Opposition Members when we go through these amendments. I tried to catch the Minister’s eye, but I did not do the same with Mr Starmer, so I am going to give him the opportunity to debate this clause before we move on. It is at my discretion.
I want to raise some issues about clause 13, because it contains some innovative measures that need to be considered. I want to address clause 13(2), on eviction. I understand that under clause 13 a landlord has the power to terminate an agreement under proposed new subsection (1) of new section 33D if the condition in proposed new subsection (2) is met, which is that the Secretary of State has given notice,
“which, taken together…identify the occupier…and…state that the occupier or occupiers are disqualified”.
So it is the Secretary of State’s notice that triggers the landlord’s ability to terminate the agreement under clause 13.
Proposed new subsection (3) states:
“The landlord may terminate…by giving notice in writing to the tenant”.
So far so good. The date for the termination
“must not be earlier than…28 days”.
Proposed new subsections (5) and (6) are much more controversial. Proposed new subsection (5) states:
“The notice is to be treated as a notice to quit”.
As I understand the amendment that we debated moments ago, in future, that may be a notice by email if prescribed in regulations.
Proposed new subsection (6) states:
“The notice is enforceable as if it were an order of the High Court.”
That is an innovation. It is a first in landlord and tenant legislation. In fact, it may be a first outside the area of civil penalties. It appears to be borrowed from a regime in which some orders can be treated under civil penalty schemes as an order of the court.
If applied to fines, the provision may not be problematic. In other words, it may not be necessary for the individual to go to court to have the level of the fine determined, but this is an order for eviction. The position in housing law is that in the 1970s a decision was taken to end for ever the prospect of people being forced on to the streets by landlords. Once upon a time, a landlord could change the locks, put the furniture on the street and throw the family out there and then. It was so repugnant to all parties that it was thought that we should set our face against that ever happening again. From then on, as far as I am able to research and as I know from my own practice, there has always been a requirement to go to a court to have an eviction order put through proper due process to avoid the prospect of a family literally being put on to the streets.
If the provision means what it says on the page—there may be an explanation for it that the Minister can help me with—it appears to reintroduce something that has been outlawed for the best part of 50 years. The provision means that, once the notice is served, if it is enforceable as if it were an order of the High Court, the landlord can resort to self-help and can change the locks, put the furniture on the street and put the family on the street as well, without any more ado.
I understand what the hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to put across. However, currently the eviction order is looked at by one person in a court. Surely he must agree that if the order comes from the Secretary of State, a much higher due diligence is gone through in following the eviction process first.
I accept that the notice will have come from the Secretary of State, but it will have gone to the landlord unbeknownst to the tenant. The first thing the tenant will know is when the notice is served on him or her. At that stage, there is nothing in the clause, as far as I can see, that allows the tenant to appeal or to challenge the order. I can see that some might argue that the Secretary of State could be challenged by judicial review for issuing the order in the first place, but that is a long and very complicated High Court route to deal with eviction, which would normally be dealt with in the county court.
Although I accept the point the hon. and learned Gentleman was trying to make, to say that the tenant is not aware that they are illegal immigrants is, even he may agree, a little far-fetched.
That is why I did not say it. I said that the tenant would not know that the notice had been served. Just to stand back a moment, this issue was taken so seriously by the House because it happens in real life: landlords change locks, they put furniture on the streets and families are in the gutter. That is what happened and everybody thought it was something we could not tolerate in a modern democracy, whatever the rights and wrongs, whether the eviction was justified or not justified. Many evictions, for many other reasons in land law, are justified, but everybody considered that process was important, particularly where families would be put on the street. This is a step back to the dark ages of landlord and tenant law.
Again, I see the exaggerated point that the hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to make, but can he explain what currently happens once someone has been to court as a landlord and got an eviction order from the court?
I will happily do that. Sensibly, the law has been set up in such a way that the landlord gets a High Court enforcement officer with powers of a constable to carry out the eviction if necessary. That is to prevent landlords from resorting to violence in the premises—that is why that change was made. The presupposition is that the eviction is lawful, but in order to regularise the process, the landlord gets a court order and then a High Court enforcement officer exercises the powers of a constable to enforce it. The whole point was to stop families being put on the street without due process and to avoid the violence that was happening when a landlord resorts to self-help and changes the locks and boots someone on to the street. That is why “with the power of a constable” is included. That is what happens now, but what is proposed here is radically different and I have seen nothing to justify it.
I guess that, like me, my hon. and learned Friend was pleased to hear the Minister a moment ago cite the expert evidence of Crisis in support of Government amendment 69. Crisis is a highly respected organisation doing extraordinary work to help sections of homeless young people. Does he therefore hope, like me, that the Minister will take note of Crisis’s view on the eviction routes that are being created by this Bill, which is that they should be completely opposed because they will make tenants much more vulnerable to rogue landlords?
I am grateful for that intervention, and I ask Government Members to take notice of that evidence. I also ask them not to just nod this change through. This is not just a provision in an immigration Bill in 2015; this will turn the clock back 40 years in landlord and tenant law against a practice that everybody recognized served great injustice. That law does not mean that there cannot be an eviction; it means that there must be due process and it avoids self-help, and self-help by landlords is a very bad idea.
There is no appeal, and I would again like to hear from the Minister, on the record, whether his answer to that point is that there should be a judicial review of the issue of the notice by the Secretary of State in order to challenge the eviction. I want that to be clear, because it would introduce a costly—much more costly—prolonged process than going to the county court in the ordinary eviction process under landlord and tenant law. If not, and there is either no remedy or appeal, what if the notice by the Secretary of State is wrong? Is that to be appealed by way of judicial review? Is that the only prospect? If that is the prospect, why is it better than going to the county court in the usual way, where it could be challenged in the eviction process?
Another consideration that I have not heard the Minister speak of is that if families are effectively made street homeless, it then falls on the local authority and will put additional pressures on existing housing stock. Going through this route, the local authority may have absolutely no awareness of it until the family literally rocks up on their doorstep.
That is the situation. The Government may say that I am just exaggerating, but I am not. I had a number of housing cases in my practice and some Government Members probably have as well. Having self-help evictions is a real problem for everybody, because of the injustice and the violence. Under self-help, there is nothing wrong with waiting until the family go out and changing the locks so that they cannot get back in when they come home. That means that families are out and, if there are children involved, it probably leads back to the same route, with the local authority having to carry out an assessment under the Children Act 1989.
This is a thoroughly bad provision. It is innovative—it has never been used, as far as I know, in landlord or tenant law or outside the realm of enforcement of regularised fines. There is no appeal and no regular forms of enforcement. To again clarify, under the existing regime, High Court enforcement officers have special powers of eviction and there are processes of eviction to ensure that there is no violence, that there is due process and that everybody is treated fairly.
There is absolutely no reason to change that scheme for this group of individuals. I hope that Members will not simply nod this change through as another bad provision not worth raising any concerns about. This goes way beyond immigration and into the housing field, where there has been unanimity about this process for a very long time. I ask the Minister to clarify, if necessary in writing, how he sees this provision working and what the routes of appeal are for an individual who says either that the notice from the landlord or the notice from the Secretary of State is wrong. This an area, as heard in evidence, where there are high levels of error.
My hon. and learned friend is making the point extremely powerfully and, like him, I hope that Government Members will give consideration to it. Is he also concerned about proposed new section 33E of the 2014 Act, which allows the landlord to terminate the tenancy if one of the tenants no longer has the right to rent but others do? It provides a summary eviction route of the sort that he describes for people who actually do have the right to rent.
I am concerned about that provision but, in fairness to the Minister, I think there is a relationship between that and the amendment that he moved earlier this morning. I think that was the effect of the amendment he moved, so would he please clarify that—in other words, that the notice applies to all the occupants? If I am right about that, I hope it does not detract from the other points I am making. I am trying to make them powerfully because this is an important point of principle. The Committee needs to know what it is doing if it votes for such a provision, which is an historic first.
I note the hon. and learned Gentleman’s contribution. I will come later to the detailed points he has highlighted about rights of appeal and so on.
It might be helpful to set out the basis and background to the provisions. We recognise that the vast majority of landlords are diligent in their responsibilities regarding housing and immigration legislation. With the planned roll-out of the right to rent scheme, we wanted to help them more easily to evict illegal migrants through the mechanism outlined, the Home Office notice.
The hon. Member for Sheffield Central highlighted the technical point about the notice having to specify all occupiers of the premises, and that has been dealt with, as the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras, in fairness to him, indicated in his contribution. I hope that is helpful on that narrow point.
Proposed new section 33D of the Immigration Act 2014 would provide a new power for landlords to terminate a residential tenancy agreement if the Secretary of State has issued one or more notices to the landlord naming all occupiers of the property and identifying all occupiers disqualified from renting as a result of their immigration status. To do that, the landlord must give written notice to all the tenants, specifying the date at which the agreement will end, at least 28 days after the written notice has been given. The notice is to be treated as a notice to quit, where such notice would otherwise be required to end a tenancy and is enforceable as if it were an order of the High Court, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said. That allows a landlord to engage High Court enforcement officers to evict occupiers in the event that they do not leave peacefully of their own accord. The minimum 28-day notice period gives an opportunity for illegal migrants to make arrangements to leave the UK. A landlord does not need to obtain a possession order from the county court in order to seek enforcement of the notice.
New section 33E provides for and signposts court eviction routes, which should be used in the case of a mixed household, where some occupiers are disqualified from renting as a result of their immigration status and others are not. That is the distinction that is drawn between the two new sections. To be fair to the hon. Member for Sheffield Central, if there were no mechanism to provide that, there would be further understandable concerns about people who have the right to rent in those circumstances. That is the intent of new section 33E.
The hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras highlighted what he considers an inappropriate reversal of the law. I would say to him that this is about people who do not have the right to be in the country. I will come on to what happens next and the manner in which the Home Office would exercise its duties. Ultimately, it is a parallel provision to other measures in the Bill to ensure that residential properties that are let are provided to people who have the lawful right to be in the country, rather than those who do not. The mechanism proposed by clause 13 applies where someone has been identified by the Home Office as not having that right. In other words, the mechanism does not allow someone wantonly to assert that; it has to be grounded by the notice from the Home Office.
I was going to come on to the hon. and learned Gentleman’s points about legal challenges, which may be helpful. There are two elements to that. If the Home Office notice is incorrect, it can be challenged by judicial review, but if the conditions for eviction are not satisfied, my clear understanding is that injunctive relief may be available in the county court. I refer to the distinction between whether the notice was lawfully issued and whether a landlord simply made that assertion, not on the basis of the notice, to try to rely on the provisions.
I can see two potential lines of challenge, which I think is what the hon. and learned Gentleman was seeking for me to elucidate. There is a right of challenge and the individuals concerned can also contact the Home Office to challenge the notice directly. There are routes available when an incorrect notice has been served, although I am very happy to give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman on whether I have clarified the questions he posed.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. On the first point, although I accept that the process is similar to the right to rent, in that it is the Secretary of State who makes the decision and serves a notice, the Minister must recognise that there is a fundamental difference between not letting premises to someone in the first place and turning them out on to the street. There is a fundamental difference between those two actions. Turning people out on to the streets who may have been living in the premises for years with their families is fundamentally different from saying that they cannot rent premises from tomorrow or next week or whenever.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is right to make the distinction, which is why the decision on whether a notice should be served has to be triggered by the Secretary of State, with all the duties and responsibilities that the Secretary of State holds. It is important to underline that because the Home Office will not invoke the eviction process or serve notices until a full consideration of family circumstances has been undertaken. Families who have initial application claims for international protection or human rights contentions will not fall subject to these proposals until their cases have been finally determined. That includes the conclusion of any appeal and, in most circumstances, any other outstanding legal challenges. Although the families will be given warnings throughout the eviction process that it may be invoked, they will be encouraged to make a case on why these measures are not appropriate to them.
The Home Office will consider the circumstances of each member of the family. Eviction will generally be inappropriate where there are existing medical conditions or specific care needs evident, and eviction may mean that a local authority is placed under a duty to remedy the loss of accommodation. There will also be cases where invoking eviction is considered inappropriate. These will be cases where the family involved is considered to have recognised barriers to returning home. These instances can include no viable route of return to their home country, difficulties in securing travel documents or in ensuring that their home country will accept the family’s return, and medical or health conditions that make it difficult for a family to return home.
The intent of the issuance of the notice is that the Home Office will have gone through that process. It is only at the end of the process of examination that the Home Office would seek to issue a notice to allow the process contemplated in clause 13 to operate. That is the approach the Government will take in the operation of this provision before getting to the point that the hon. and learned Gentleman elucidated.
I understand and recognise the considerations that the Home Office will have to give to any particular case, but it will make mistakes. There will be errors. There will be information that was perhaps not before the decision maker that should have been. Everybody understands that position. In an ordinary, sensible system, there would be a simple right of appeal to correct those errors, which in these sorts of cases can range up to about 30%.
What is the justification and the thinking behind going the long route of judicial review at the High Court rather than a much simpler appeal route? I accept the Minister’s point about injunctive relief, but that is neither here nor there. That is where a landlord does not have a proper notice and is not doing what he or she is entitled to do. That was not the position I was aiming at. Why is it necessary, given that there is an automatic right of possession, to remove the court from the process and to go back to self-help in this small group of cases? What is the necessity for that? The landlord goes through the process and gets possession from the court almost automatically, unless it is challenged. What is the justification for the long route—which will be costly—and for removing the court?
I go back to the principle of ensuring that when properties are occupied by tenants who have no lawful right to be in this country, there is a speedy process, as part of the removals process, to ensure that those individuals can be evicted. That mechanism is therefore in place as part of the removal process, in order to assist with that removal. That is the important point to understand: that is the group of people that we are talking about. There is also a process in cases where, for example, someone has left a property and the landlord wishes to bring matters to a formal conclusion as well, and notification has been given from the Home Office. The Bill provides a speedy mechanism to allow that.
In respect of the hon. and learned Gentleman’s key point about how this provision will lead to violence, violent eviction will remain an offence under the Criminal Law Act 1977. It is important to recognise that that would remain in place in this context.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has already highlighted the avenue that is available to the landlord in terms of relief that is provided by virtue of the order being from the High Court. That mechanism is therefore available to landlords seeking removal if that cannot be achieved by peaceable means. That is why I made the point that the Criminal Law Act 1977 remains in place.
In that respect there is also the issue of children, and I am aware that what the Secretary of State will do when these duties are undertaken has been of concern. We would not give an undertaking that a family with children will never be evicted under any circumstances. As I have already indicated, a family will not be subject to eviction if there are insuperable barriers to their returning to their home country. Families in private rented accommodation are unlikely to be destitute if they are renting in the first place, but at every stage in the discharge of functions relating to the family returns process and when issuing a notice in respect of a child who would be disqualified from renting, regard will be had to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in accordance with the duty in section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.
Again, I underline some of the safeguards which we already have within the family returns process. We have a family returns panel that examines the mechanisms and routes that are used to seek a removal of a family with children from the UK. The panel looks at the removal strategy; in essence, as moves are made towards deportation, the panel can and does comment on the removal approach. Equally, there are mechanisms in the context of section 55 that provide safeguards, as well as the practical operational steps that are embodied in the way in which immigration enforcement conducts its duties when removing family groups which, obviously, involve children.
Again, this is not about rogue landlords and bond arrangements. This is about those who have no lawful right to be in this country and it provides a mechanism to create the eviction process. Obviously, contractual provisions in respect of bond arrangements and returns of deposits would remain in place. We are talking about the eviction process itself. I think the hon. Lady is flagging a more general issue of bad practice by rogue landlords, who do not necessarily return bonds. That is a slightly tangential point, but that is not in any way to undermine its significance or importance. There is a need to ensure that landlords fulfil their contractual duties to repay deposits and other moneys due to the tenant at the end of their tenancy.
The Home Office will work closely with individuals who are subject to the notification to facilitate removal prior to the service of the notice, so this measure should not be seen in isolation. The Home Office will not simply issue a notice; it will be part of an overall removals approach. Tenants will have access to Home Office support should they consider a notice has been served in error; it is not simply a judicial review route. We anticipate the individuals would have a route of direct challenge to the Home Office, although judicial review provides a further mechanism through the courts. As I have already indicated, the landlord would be able to evict only by using peaceful means. Force or violence could not be used. Where a landlord is not able to evict peacefully, they will need to seek the help of High Court enforcement officers to carry out the eviction.
We have considered the clause carefully because of all the issues. I hope that having clarified the process that is intended, the remedies that are available, the nature of the provision and the safeguards that are provided, the Committee will be minded to include the clause in the Bill.