Clause 14 - Recovery of prohibited rent by tenant

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 7th December 2021.

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

Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Labour, Sunderland Central

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 15 stand part.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Clause 14 provides leaseholders with an alternative route for redress should they wish to take action directly, instead of by approaching an enforcement authority. It enables the leaseholder to apply directly to the appropriate tribunal for a recovery order that requires the landlord to repay the prohibited rent.

The clause mirrors the provisions in clause 11 in relation to enforcement authorities, enabling a leaseholder—or someone acting on their behalf—to apply to the tribunal for a recovery order if they have paid a prohibited rent and it has not been refunded. As in clause 11, the recovery order may apply to the landlord at the time the prohibited rent was paid, or to the current landlord. It may also apply to a person acting on the landlord’s behalf, where that person received the money. As I said, the provisions are fair, and are included in the Bill to ensure that the prohibited rent can be recovered effectively and repaid to the leaseholder. The person ordered to repay the rent has up to 28 days following the date of the recovery order to make the repayment. That ensures that the repayment is made promptly. Later in our discussion we will come to provisions in the Bill for the landlord to appeal if they consider it appropriate.

The clause also includes, as clause 11 did, provision that a single order may be made in respect of multiple wrongful payments. It prevents duplication by clarifying that the tribunal may not make an order if one has already been made successfully by an enforcement authority in respect of the same payment. The clause gives choice to leaseholders, which I am sure we are all in favour of, to seek their own resolution to any prohibited rents that have been paid. They can choose to apply to the appropriate tribunal without involving their local enforcement authority. I hope that we can all agree that that is a helpful provision to ensure that leaseholders can take their own action if desired.

Clause 15 makes equivalent provision to that in clause 12 in relation to interest that may be ordered on top of an order to repay prohibited rent. Clause 15 applies where the recovery order is made by the appropriate tribunal rather than an enforcement authority. As in clause 12, the clause provides that interest is payable from the date of a payment until the date it is repaid. The interest rate is the normal rate that applies to court judgments: a simple interest rate of 8% per annum. To ensure that the amount of interest to be paid is not disproportionate, there is a cap on the amount of interest that a person may be required to pay. It must not exceed the amount of the wrongly paid rent that the tribunal orders to be repaid. As I said in relation to clause 11, which clause 15 mirrors, it is only fair that a leaseholder should not only be recompensed for the amount that they are out of pocket but recover interest on it.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

With regard to the tribunal, I referenced the evidence from the National Leasehold Campaign and the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, and that David versus Goliath arena. I do not think it is a matter of choice; I wonder why anyone would opt for this route versus the other provisions in the Bill. Clause 15 is very straightforward, applying the same principle.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. Just because we cannot imagine the circumstances in which it would be necessary does not mean that they do not exist. Whether a person should choose to pursue it themselves depends on how well informed and able they are. Perhaps they might find it easier or quicker. I am not sure, but the option should at least be available to them.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

That demonstrates why clause 8 and the duty to inform were so important. That would, again, help with this potential.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I can say only what I said earlier: I do not think that clause 8 and the duty to inform are required. I am not sure that it would necessarily make it easier. The hon. Gentleman questioned why somebody would want to pursue it themselves. As I said, they would no doubt be a well informed and able person. I am not sure that the duty to inform would have applied.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

Will the Minister expand on clause 15(5), on the amount of interest payable not exceeding

“the amount ordered to be paid under section 14”,

and the equity of that? It strikes me that if someone is required to make a payment and a long period has expired, which is why interest is being added to the amount, for what reason would that be deemed not payable? How would that be fair on someone who has been disadvantaged in that way?

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I think it simply represents the fact that, in reality, we will ensure that we pursue these things more quickly. We should not be in a position where the two are of equal level. I understand the hon. Lady’s point and will consider this further as the Bill progresses.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

The difference between these clauses and the previous clauses we discussed is that the organisation that will in the first instance decide the size of the fine is the tribunal, rather than the enforcement authority—I think I am right about that—because the tenant will make an application to the tribunal for a fine to be levied and to get back the money they have wrongly paid. Do the Government intend to give some guidance to the tribunal as to how to set that fine? There is quite a wide range; it is between £500 and £30,000. Does the Minister expect that the tribunal, in making such a determination, will follow the same kind of guidance as the enforcement authority would follow were it initially setting the level of fine? Has he given any thought to consistency between the two ways of getting to a fine in this instance—whether through the tribunal or the enforcement authority?

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

It would absolutely be our intention, through guidance or otherwise, to ensure consistency across both approaches.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 15 and 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.