Clause 58 - Enforcement by local housing authorities: general duty

Part of Renters (Reform) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 28 November 2023.

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Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 11:00, 28 November 2023

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich for speaking to his amendments, and to the hon. Member for Westminster North for her comments. We expect the vast majority of landlords to do the right thing and meet their new legal responsibilities but, as ever, a minority will fail to do so. The Government are committed to supporting local authorities and taking proactive enforcement against this minority of landlords.

Clause 58 will place a new duty on every local housing authority in England to enforce the new measures in their area. When considering enforcement, local authorities will be able to use a civil penalty as an alternative to a criminal prosecution for an offence, allowing them to decide the most effective method of enforcement in each case.

Government amendments 78, 81 and 82 will extend the power in clause 58, though not the duty, to enforce the landlord legislation to county councils in two-tier areas in England. While local housing authorities have a duty to enforce the landlord legislation in their areas under clause 58, there may be some instances where breaches and offences are better pursued by the authority responsible for trading standards. For example, in relation to advertising a property to rent, county councils also have this responsibility. In this Bill, we make a distinction between less serious breaches of the legislation and more serious offences. Government amendments 76, 83, 84 and 85 strengthen clause 58 to ensure that the ability of a local housing authority to take enforcement action outside its local area extends to offences as well as breaches.

Clause 59 will further support effective enforcement by ensuring that the local authorities are fully aware of the enforcement action in their areas that is going to be taken by a different authority, and of the final results of such action. This will facilitate local authorities to take cross-border enforcement action, and deliver greater efficiency and enable local authorities to provide the most complete case to the courts.

Clause 60 will allow the Secretary of State to appoint a lead enforcement authority for the purpose of provisions in the landlord legislation, which includes many of the provisions in this Bill. We plan to carefully consider whether having a lead enforcement authority for any of the provisions in the landlord legislation will be beneficial. We plan to engage with local authorities and other stakeholders to establish this.

Clause 61 sets out the various duties and powers of a lead enforcement authority. The principal duty is to oversee the operation and effective enforcement. This includes the duty to provide advice to local authorities about the operation of the legislation and may include information relevant to the enforcement of specific cases.

Government amendments 86 to 91 will ensure that a lead enforcement authority’s duties and powers provided in the Bill to help local housing authorities are extended to county councils in England that are not local housing authorities. Government amendments 92, 93 and 95 ensure that county councils in England that are not local housing authorities are required, when requested, to report to a lead enforcement authority, in the same way that a local housing authority is on the exercise of its functions. New clause 22 will ensure that enforcement action is not duplicated when those county councils that are not also local housing authorities take enforcement action in relation to landlord legislation. Government amendment 77 ensures that new provisions of the new clause 22 are referenced in clause 58, which is the clause that encloses the duty to enforce on local housing authorities.

Finally, new clause 23 will place a duty on local authorities to supply data to the Secretary of State in relation to the exercise of their functions—I believe that point was mentioned by the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich—under part 2 of this Bill, and other relevant legislation as and when it is requested. In order to evaluate the impact of our reforms and understand the action that local authorities are taking against the minority of landlords who flout the rules, it is vital that the Secretary of State is able to seek regular and robust data from local authorities. My officials will work with local authorities to agree a data reporting framework that is rational, proportionate and helpful to both local and central Government, and in line with other similar data collections. With their input, we will undertake a new burdens assessment and fully fund any additional costs generated to fulfil this duty. I hope that addresses the points raised in Committee.