Clause 17 - Assistance

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

Clause 17 enables enforcement authorities to assist leaseholders, where they request it, with various applications to the appropriate tribunal for redress. We have discussed that a leaseholder may apply to the tribunal for a recovery order to recover any permitted rent, along with any interest that would have been payable. We have also discussed the provision to apply to the tribunal for a declaration that will establish for the record whether a term in a lease is a prohibited rent, and if so, what the permitted rent is.

We want to ensure that the system of redress for leaseholders is easy to navigate. That is why we have taken a belt-and-braces approach whereby enforcement may take place via the enforcement authorities or a leaseholder may seek redress directly by application to the appropriate tribunal. Should a leaseholder wish to do this, the clause makes it clear that an enforcement authority may offer assistance to the leaseholder with that process. I hope hon. Members agree that it is important to give enforcement authorities the power to offer appropriate assistance to leaseholders who wish to seek redress directly from the tribunal. The clause achieves that.

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

The clause seems fairly proactive, essentially hand-holding through the process, which in one dimension is most welcome. However, I still question the incentives for people to go down the enforcement authority route—trading standards—rather than the tribunal route for cost recovery. I am curious.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

I have a similar concern to my hon. Friend’s. The clause states that, “An enforcement authority may,” not “must”, which means that it may not. It may decide that it does not wish to. If it were to take enforcement action itself, it can retain the proceeds of any enforcement that occurs, but there is no indication that the costs of assisting a tenant, which may be just as an extensive as if it were to carry out the enforcement action itself, are recoverable in any way. Does that not suggest that the relevant enforcement authority may choose not to?

The provision in the Bill is permissive, so it is not a requirement that the enforcement authority helps the tenant if the tenant approaches it. It may choose to enforce under previous provisions, but under this provision, it seems that it will not have any chance of recovering the costs of assisting the tenant, so is it not likely or possible that it will decide not to help the tenant? If it had decided to enforce itself, it would recover the costs in the same circumstances—the same dwelling, the same lease, the same wrongful acquiring of ground rent that the landlord had indulged in to ensure that the enforcement authority had a role at all.

I wonder why clause 17 is in the Bill. The Minister has referred to it as belt and braces, so why does it not say, “An enforcement authority must” help a tenant? Surely, if it is not going to recover its costs, but could if it did it itself, it will decline to help them.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 2:45 pm, 7th December 2021

I feel as though the hon. Lady has almost answered her own question. If somebody comes to the authority seeking advice, and it decides that, given its expertise in the field, it would be better if it pursued the claim itself, perhaps it might be minded to do that. In that case, it would be “may” rather than “must”. That leaves the leaseholder with a choice as to the route that they take. It is appropriate that both options are available to them.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 17 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.