Private Rented Sector — [Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:16 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 2:16 pm, 29th November 2018

It is a pleasure to join my former colleagues on the Communities and Local Government Committee to debate their excellent report. I can genuinely say that I miss the Committee; if the Committee members know that I have been moved on to the Procedure Committee instead, they will understand quite how much I miss them. The reports we did together on the Committee were very useful and thought-provoking, and the contributions by hon. Members today are indicative of the attitude they take to their work on the Committee.

The report is an excellent piece of work that highlights many issues within the private rented sector in England. I suppose I must be missed from the Committee too: when I was on it, I would try to make comparisons with Scotland, where we have done a huge amount of work in the private rented sector in recent years. I notice that there are some good points of comparison that, if I were still on the Committee, I might have added to the report. I hope to highlight some of those issues here; I know the Minister has come to visit Glasgow before and spoken to some of the professionals in Scotland, so she will understand that there are things we have done in Scotland that may be of use in England also.

I start by mentioning the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016, which came into force on 1 December 2017 and is coming up to its first birthday. The Act made a number of changes within Scotland: it moved tenancies to being open-ended, so that rents were more predictable and there was protection against excessive rent rises, and it included an ability for local government to introduce local rent caps for rent pressure areas, which is important when we see rents spiralling out of control in some places.

The 2016 Act also introduced comprehensive and robust grounds for repossession for landlords, which could only happen in 18 specified circumstances rather than because the landlord felt they wanted to take the property back; they had to meet those tests as well, so that gave protection to both tenants and the landlord. Disputes between tenants and landlords can now be heard in a new specialist tribunal that we brought in to handle them, which is a useful thing for everybody all round.

We also ensured that letting agents have to register and adhere to a code of practice, which goes some way towards what Mr Prisk said about professional qualifications and skills; if there is a code of practice in place at least, then that gives some professionalism to those companies.

I very much agree with what the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford said about qualifications. An awful lot of people who end up being landlords in the private rented sector did not start out that way. They may have bought a flat as a younger adult and then moved on but kept it and tried to use it to earn rental income, and they may not quite understand their obligations and responsibilities. For a while, buying flats and renting them out became a quick way of making money. A bit more needs to be done to make sure that landlords understand all their obligations.