Enforcement by district councils

Tenant Fees Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 12 June 2018.

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

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The clause places a duty on local trading standards authorities to enforce the ban on letting fees and the requirements relating to holding deposits. It gives district councils the power to enforce the provisions if they choose to do so.

Local housing authorities enforce other measures in private rented sector legislation, such as the provisions related to banning orders for rogue landlords and agents. We very much encourage close working between district and county councils in non-unitary authorities to ensure effective enforcement. That is why we are giving district councils that are not trading standards authorities the power to enforce this legislation. That will ensure that local housing authorities are able to take enforcement action should they become aware, while undertaking their other duties, of a landlord or agent breaching the provisions of the Bill.

District councils must have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State or the lead enforcement authority. The investigatory powers available to a district council for the purposes of enforcing the Tenant Fees Bill are set out in schedule 5 to the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which the clause amends.

Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing)

The Government included the clause following the Bill’s pre-legislative scrutiny. We understand that the devolution of powers between different tiers of local government is in the interest of promoting collaborative relationships with a range of stakeholders, but will the Minister explain how a district council will enable or access these powers?

The Bill provides district councils with the same powers as a weights and measures authority. The Government’s response to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s report on the Bill says that a district council may choose to be an enforcement authority, but the Committee’s recommendation refers to a weights and measures authority being able to delegate its powers to other tiers of local government where appropriate. Will the Minister explain what process he envisions district authorities having to go through order to be able to undertake enforcement roles in this context?

If weights and measures responsibilities are held at a county council level, and if additional funding for staffing or training has been directed there, but a district council wishes to undertake its own enforcement measures, will there be a requirement for that funding to be cascaded down? Or do the Government expect that funding bids will be made at the outset by those authorities that wish to be enforcers, and that there may then be overlap in the bidding and awarding of such funds?

The Committee’s report contained evidence that any system based purely on hypothecated funds would provide a challenging environment for councils, as it would not provide for up-front or proactive work. It is in the interests of local authorities, tenants, landlords and letting agents that fines are a last resort; it is the early work that will prove the most important.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

With regard to district councils enforcing the Bill, there is no special process that they need to go through; they have the same rights and powers as trading standards authorities, so they do not need any special permissions. They can get on and do that should they see fit.

With regard to the hon. Lady’s last point, just like trading standards authorities, an authority that enforces against the contravention of the Bill will of course keep any fines that are levied, which will help to fund that enforcement.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8