Private Rented Sector — [Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:49 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Conservative, Hertford and Stortford 1:49 pm, 29th November 2018

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I think it is complex, which is why benchmarking solely on prosecutions is too narrow. She is right to say that it is a constant challenge for councils to judge the resources available, but the different levels of enforcement—even between neighbouring councils in similar areas—suggests to me that the system is not working.

My last point is about whether the report and the Government’s response are in danger of being overtaken by technology—something that both the Committee and the Government will want to come back to, I think. For example, online services such as Airbnb are creating completely new ways for people to find somewhere to stay, ostensibly and originally when travelling on holiday. Equally, the web is now enabling the emergence of a grey market in informal serviced lettings.

I have seen examples of both in my constituency. No one is quite clear about how to define such activity, let alone whether it can be regulated. At what point does an Airbnb letting, which was initially for one week but then becomes two weeks or four weeks, become something more formal? Should those platforms, which enable the transaction, be defined as letting agencies in law?

Some would reasonably say, “Do not interfere, do not meddle”—it would be my natural instinct to say that—but as we tighten up the regulation of the private rented sector, the danger is that the crooks will shift into these emerging markets, creating the potential for the next property scandal. All of us in this place, but the Minister in particular, will need to decide how to ensure that any changes we make are future-proofed.

Does the technological nature of the transaction matter or do we just focus on making sure that we have modern, up-to-date consumer rights? How do we shape the regulations so we do not stifle genuine enterprise? Can the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to think about that? She is always looking at the picture in the round, as any good Minister does, but can she tell us whether the Government would be prepared to look at the issue and whether we as a Committee should consider it in the future?

There are a number of crucial areas where the reform of the sector could make a positive difference not only for tenants, but for landlords. The report sets out a clear way forward, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.