“(1) The Housing Act 1988 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 7 (Orders for possession)—
(a) omit subsection 7(3);
(b) in subsection 7(4), leave out “Part II” and insert “Part I”.
(3) In Schedule 2—
(c) in the title of Part I, leave out ‘must’ and insert ‘may’;
(d) leave out the title of Part II.”—
This new clause extends court discretion to all grounds for possession listed in Schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1988.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I am speaking to the new clause to push back a bit on the idea that the courts should not have discretion about some of the grounds. The harm caused to an individual by their being moved out of a property could be far greater than any advantage for someone moving into it. A relative of someone who is ill might have another house for a period of time, for example. Rather than there being two months’ notice, the courts should be given the discretion to decide, “You’re undergoing cancer treatment. Your relative has somewhere to live for six months, and that should be grounds for a delay of six months.” Such discretion should be permitted to the courts. Discretion is permitted in some cases: courts can rule in favour of deferred possession in other areas, but not when it comes to issues involving the non-discretionary grounds.
We have had this debate before. The Minister will respond, but I hope he is open to thinking about how the courts can be involved in areas where there can clearly sometimes be exceptional circumstances. At the moment, it is just a case of the courts asking whether the form has been filled in correctly. That does not do justice to our judges and lawyers, who usually get these things right.
New clause 67 would make all grounds discretionary. That would remove any certainty for landlords that they could regain possession if they were seeking to sell or move in. Even more seriously, landlords would not even be guaranteed possession if their tenant was in a large amount of arrears, or had committed serious crimes. That could fatally undermine landlords’ confidence in the process for recovering possession.
In last week’s debate, we talked about getting the balance right between tenant security and a landlord’s ability to manage their properties. Where grounds are unambiguous and have a clear threshold, they are mandatory. That includes where a landlord has demonstrated their intention to sell, or a tenant has reached a certain threshold for rent arrears.
However, we completely agree that in more complex situations it is important that judges should have the discretion to decide whether possession is reasonable. Hon. Members talked last week about ground 14—the discretionary antisocial behaviour ground, which is one of those where judicial discretion is required and will remain so. The Government think the new clause strikes an unfair balance that will ultimately hurt tenants, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.
There remain many grounds that should involve more discretion. For example, rather than compliance with enforcement action being non-discretionary, there should be a discussion. If a landlord has been found guilty of not meeting the standards required, why should that automatically—just ticking the box—mean that the tenant is punished? Surely judges should be able to have some discretion on that ground.
Equally, there are many reasons why a wider discretion will be important when it comes to grounds for redevelopment; otherwise, there is a danger of abuse. I would like the Government to go away and think about how those thresholds are at least being met in respect of some of the grounds—not all of them, necessarily. How do we ensure that courts do not end up just going through a tick-box exercise? I totally understand the Government’s concerns about security in the sector, so I will not press the new clause to a vote. However, I do expect the Government to come back with some greater clarity on the guidelines that they will be giving to courts to ensure that the provisions are not just tick-box exercises and therefore abused by landlords. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.