Examination of Witness

Part of Renters (Reform) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 16 November 2023.

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Jacky Peacock:

Yes. I did listen to some of the sessions that you had on Tuesday and I was quite frustrated because, with all the problems that people were grappling with, they were not being seen in the context of the portal and its potential to avoid or minimise—certainly lessen—the problems that have been cited. So yes, it absolutely has a huge potential, and I think that it would be crazy to try to implement this legislation without having the portal in place. Although the intention is that it will be introduced through regulations, I do think that as the Bill progresses through the legislative process, the more flesh that can be put on the bones of it, the better.

I am trying to be as brief as I can. One reason why we think this is so important, although much in the Bill is welcome, particularly the measures to improve tenants’ rights—so that they can exercise their rights and will have security, can challenge poor conditions, and so on—is that we do have to be realistic. At the end of the day, the majority, if not the vast majority, of tenants will have no more idea what is in this Bill or what their rights are when it is enacted than they do now. If there is anything more important than giving the tenants the right to challenge poor conditions, it is ensuring that they do not have poor conditions to start with.

The portal has the potential to regulate the sector so that landlords cannot let properties unless they are safe, fit for human habitation and competently managed. We have worked with the Lettings Industry Council, which represents all stakeholders across the board, to develop a model. We have called it the MOT, and we have used the car analogy. If you want to drive a car or any vehicle, it is a pretty simple process: you register once a year through the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, you provide evidence that the car is roadworthy—of course, the MOT is separately uploaded to the site—and you have a driving licence. All we are asking for is a similar system to operate for the private rented sector.

The other important thing is that the portal is an opportunity to put all the legal requirements in one place. We are not asking for any duties on landlords that do not exist already. But they are in a whole range of different pieces of legislation, and the landlord, with the best will in the world, finds it difficult to know exactly what they are and are not supposed to do. It is all in one place. Whether it is called the decent homes standard and incorporated in that does not matter: it is there on the portal. All the landlords who want to know how to do things properly can find it.

In order to let, landlords have to register and provide objective, independent evidence. All that exists already: the building insurance, the energy performance certificate, gas safety, electricity and so on. There is no reason why that cannot be either scraped from other sites or uploaded directly. The only thing that is missing is that you could have all those and still have a property, for example, with damp and mould that is not fit and that has category 1 hazards. The simple answer to that is for landlords to employ a surveyor to produce a surveyor’s report, which also gets uploaded by that person. Provided that everything is there, the legislation goes through.

I go back to the car analogy. If you want to register, you pay your annual fee; if you have forgotten to get your car insured or something, that will be flagged up—“Gosh, I have to sort that out”—and then you go back and do it. It is all very simple, and nobody complains about it.