Clause 26 - Commencement

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 9th December 2021.

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Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 11:30 am, 9th December 2021

I beg to move amendment 10, in clause 26, page 15, leave out subsection (4).

This amendment aims to ensure that the provisions apply to retirement properties from the time at which they come into force for other types of property, whereas at present the Bill will prevent those provisions coming into force for retirement properties before April 2023.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Ms Elliott. With my final amendment—not including new clauses—I want to raise something that was raised repeatedly in the other place: the question of retirement properties. I understand that, after a review, the Government have dropped their plans to exclude retirement homes and they will be included after a period of transition. I am glad to see that the Government and Ministers have moved forward on this. However, like Members of the Lords, I see no reason why those living in retirement properties should not be given the same rights as those in other types of leasehold property, at the same time. In the spirit in which we have tabled other amendments, this amendment’s aim is to ensure that all leaseholders are treated equally and that the 50,000 or so leasehold owners of retirement properties are not subject to unjust costs while other leaseholders are free from them. That is something that Members from across the Committee have raised.

Should the Minister not want to accept the amendment, I would be grateful if he outlined why exactly retirement property has been given this longer transition period. Given that this is a growing market and we should certainly be encouraging our senior citizens who want to rightsize—freeing up family homes for those who need the space, while living somewhere that suits their needs—what assessment has the Minister made of the number of leaseholders who will fail to benefit from the new system should they purchase somewhere before 1 April 2023? What will he say to them? The stories about retirement housing and fees are some of the worst in the housing market. They have been very well documented, and I know that the Minister is familiar with them. Can the Minister outline what he intends to do about that in the transition period right up until April 2023?

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

It is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair, Ms Elliott.

As hon. Members will know, it is our intention to protect leaseholders from unfair practices through the Bill by ensuring that future regulated leases are restricted to a peppercorn rent, unless excepted. The Government believe that those who purchase retirement homes should benefit from the same reform as other future leaseholders. Although we would like the provisions of the Bill to come into effect as soon as possible, we have decided to give the retirement sector additional time to prepare for these changes. The hon. Member for Weaver Vale has tabled amendment 10 to remove this provision and do away with the transition period entirely. I am grateful for his consideration of this point and would like to explain the reasoning for including a transition period for retirement properties, and why I believe that that is the right thing to do.

The plan for peppercorn ground rent was announced in 2019, following the Government consultation entitled “Implementing reforms to the leasehold system”. At the time, we also announced that we would proceed with the proposal to exempt retirement properties from the peppercorn ground rents policy. That decision was made on the basis that developers of retirement properties incur additional costs as a result of the communal spaces that are characteristic of these kinds of development. However, having reviewed this in further detail, we concluded that the argument in favour of an exemption did not outweigh the benefits of ensuring that those purchasing retirement homes can take advantage of reform in the same way as any other leaseholder could.

The Government believe that it is a matter of fairness that those buying retirement properties should be able to realise the benefits of this legislation. It was therefore announced in January 2021 that the exemption for retirement property would no longer apply, and we have offered the transition in recognition of that change of policy. As such, the Bill will come into force no earlier than 1 April 2023 for retirement homes. This transition period will allow developers of retirement properties time to adapt to the forthcoming changes. We believe the transition period in the Bill has been fairly granted in balancing the needs of developers and fairness to leaseholders.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I have some sympathy with the amendment, but I absolutely hear what the Minister says about what he is trying to achieve. Many house builders we have heard from over the last few weeks have decided not to continue charging ground rent, because it is not a good idea. If I may be so bold, perhaps the retirement development industry might like to stop charging such exorbitant fees for ground rent, without the need for legislation.

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

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. I will no doubt refer later to meetings I have had, including as recently as yesterday, with representatives from the sector. It is not necessarily for us to prescribe how they might change their business models, but different developers in the sector certainly take different approaches. Given that we signalled one intention and subsequently changed to another, I think we are striking the right balance in allowing a transition period.

In the other place, arguments were raised on both sides; there were those who wished to extend the transition period and those who wished to remove it. As I said, conversations are ongoing, including as recently as yesterday, and hon. Members including my right hon. Friends the Members for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) have been in favour of amending the transition period for the sector.

We acknowledge that the retirement sector has had less time to prepare than the rest of the development industry. However, we have given the matter careful consideration, and we believe the transition period in the Bill strikes the right balance between protecting retirement property consumers and providing a fair period of adjustment for developers. In my conversation with representatives yesterday, it was clear that prospective purchasers are already aware of the planned legislation—they seem to be a well-informed group—and I guess they will be mindful of that when deciding when to complete their purchase.

With regard to hon. Members’ concerns about the impact, I think it will be minimal for two reasons. First, the people who buy this type of property seem to take longer to make the purchase than would perhaps otherwise be the case; in fact, the sell-out rate for such properties is considerably slower than for normal residential properties. Buyers have a greater period over which to consider the purchase, and they frequently visit several times—first by themselves, and subsequently with members of their family—so this is a very considered purchase. Secondly, they seem to be well-informed about the changes to legislation. For those reasons, I feel they will be protected.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

Subsection (4) states:

“The day appointed for the coming into force of this Act in relation to leases of retirement homes must be no earlier than 1 April 2023.”

However, it does not say when the Act will come into force. Could the Minister clarify that point?

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

It is based on when we expect the Bill to come into force in its standard form, and then allowing a subsequent transition period. Assuming that the Bill comes into force quickly after Royal Assent—we have committed to that happening within six months—with the transition period following on from that, we anticipate the provisions coming into force in April 2023. On that point, I ask the hon. Member for Weaver Vale to withdraw the amendment.

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

I thank the Minister for his response, and I thank other Members for their contributions. This measure would be a step forward. Martin Boyd of Leasehold Knowledge Partnership has consistently expressed concerns about the matter in the past. I know that Members and stakeholders have lobbied for these properties to be exempted completely, which would have been the wrong course of action. I concur with the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster in hoping that the market responds positively to the changes. In the interests of minimalist legislation and in the spirit of co-operation as we march towards Christmas, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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)

The clause makes provision for the commencement of the Bill. The substantive provisions of the Bill will come into force on a day appointed by the Secretary of State in regulations, but Members can rest assured that we intend there to be no unnecessary delay in implementation. I thank the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood, who is not in her place, for her question on Tuesday regarding the commencement of the Bill following Royal Assent. We understand her concerns about the commencement date, but setting a hard date right now would mean no flexibility should other issues arise making it difficult to achieve.

I assure the Committee that we will press ahead at full steam to bring the legislation into force, but we must also be practical and allow for contingencies, should they arise. That is why we think it is right to have a contingency period for us to implement the provisions within six months of Royal Assent. For completeness, I reiterate what I said in relation to amendment 10: the clause also provides that the Bill cannot be brought into force any earlier than 1 April 2023 with regard to retirement property. We are keen that leaseholders of retirement properties get the same benefits from the legislation as other leaseholders, but we also want to ensure that the sector has time to prepare for the change.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 26 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.