Clause 34 - Meaning of “residential property developer”

Part of Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 5 January 2022.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 4:00, 5 January 2022

A happy new year to you, Dame Angela, and to all colleagues.

I have just a few queries about these clauses. First, I want to touch on the issues relating to exempting registered social landlords. During the consultation, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations asked the Government to exempt all non-profit housing providers and wholly owned subsidiary companies. It highlighted the social housing sector’s concerns that developers would look to pass on costs where properties are purchased off the shelf, as it were, rather than housing associations doing it themselves, and it was very pleased that it had that exemption as part of the rules that the Government are introducing. That is very welcome, and I am glad that has been the case.

A “registered social landlord” is defined in clause 34(4)(b), and paragraph (c) refers to the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010. Does the Minister intend to keep in touch with the Scottish Government should there be any further changes to Scottish legislation that might be impacted by the Bill? The definition of a registered social landlord in Scotland is slightly different from that in England. An RSL is not allowed to be for-profit in Scotland, and that is very clear in the legislation. I understand that on the English register there are 1,625 providers of registered social housing, 60 of which are classed as for-profit.

Out of curiosity, has the Minister or her colleagues had any discussions with the for-profit organisations? Looking at some of the names, I think that some of the people they seek to provide housing for appear to be reasonably laudable causes—people we would wish to support—even though it is through for-profit social housing. I am curious about what the impact might be on the sector as a result.

On clause 34(5) and the point made by the hon. Member for Ealing North, it is important that a lot of the measures are going to secondary legislation and we will lose sight of any future changes that the Government make to the definitions of non-profit and any other definitions that they seek to make. How does the Minister intend to report that back to the House in a way that allows Members to ensure that there will be no unintended consequences from things that happen once the Bill leaves Committee?

On the definitions of residential property in clause 37 and the exemptions in subsection (2), I was interested to see that student accommodation is a part of this. In many respects I agree with student accommodation being exempted, particularly accommodation run by universities themselves for no profit. Universities looking not to make a profit but simply to make the accommodation pay for itself are very different from the rapacious student accommodation providers that seek deliberately to make profits from students. Some of the fees that they can charge and the developments that they create are sizeable.

There are huge accommodation providers in Glasgow Central. They have a worthy goal in providing accommodation for students, but students have to pay through the nose for it and they are not quite in the same classes of accommodation. What conversations has the Minister had with student accommodation providers, both those working on a non-profit basis and those working on a commercial basis? It is clear that there are implications from cladding on student accommodation. Unite was mentioned in the press as having in its portfolio 22 high-rise buildings that are affected by cladding. I understand that it is meeting the cost of removing the cladding but, as I say, it is a profitable business in many respects. What more can the Government tell me about their conversations on that?

My other points were covered by the hon. Member for Ealing North, but I have one final point about the preparedness of HMRC to implement the significant and complex new tax. My hon. Friend the Member for Gordon mentioned the complexity. When legislation starts to get into equations, we are talking about something that is quite complicated, especially when we look at the detail in the clauses and the schedules that follow them. What preparations is HMRC meant to be making for this? HMRC has had a busy couple of years, given all the things it has had to do as a result of coronavirus. A lot of that was done at pace, with other stuff put to the side, and I wonder whether this might be one thing that was put to the side while HMRC dealt with coronavirus.

It is clear from some of the press coverage of the coronavirus schemes that HMRC did not have the staff to check up on where the money was going, and that it has been trying to claw back some of that money without the staff complement to do that properly and fully. I would like to know from the Minister the size of the team that has been working on this and what more needs to be done to ensure that this goes smoothly in April 2022.