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

Yes, and I am interested to see how that proposal develops. I certainly think it would be useful: it would reassure tenants to know that their landlord had some kind of qualification to put a roof over their head. It might get rid of some of the more criminal elements in the sector as well.

All landlords have to be registered in Scotland—there is not the hotch-potch of local registration mentioned in the report—which means that, if they step out of line, they can be banned. We have had problems in my constituency, slightly like those mentioned by Bob Blackman, of tenants being exploited and lots of people being crammed into one flat. Govanhill in my constituency has a very large private rental sector and lots of rogue criminals. Mr Betts suggested that “rogue” sounds a bit more casual; I certainly feel that “criminal” is the better word.

In May 2018, five landlords were struck off the landlord register for renting substandard properties, and a further nine were struck off and banned in September 2017. That is all publicised and goes in the press, so there is no doubt about who those landlords are, what they have been up to and the conditions that their tenants have been living in. The Govanhill enhanced enforcement area gives council officials the right of entry into properties if there is any suspicion that they are not up to standard. On their first inspection, only 21 properties met the Scottish repairing standard. When they came back for a subsequent inspection, 175 properties met the standard, so there had been a clear improvement through that process.

Giving local authorities the power to enter flats and do those assessments is quite important in making sure that standards are met. It also gets around the issue of some local authorities not having the political will to do things. If everybody has to be registered across the board, that is at least a first step from which prosecutions can follow, if required. However, I do not think it has been in force for long enough in Scotland for us to be able to tell whether there are postcode lotteries, because housing varies quite substantially in my constituency and in other parts of Scotland as well.

I draw the House’s attention to the Nationwide Foundation’s report on vulnerability among low-income households in the private rented sector in England, because it makes for very interesting reading. It mentions that the proportion of privately rented properties failing to meet the decent homes standard has been falling, but that the number of such properties has actually increased. Numbers and proportion are quite different here. It also highlights, as other hon. Members have mentioned, that most properties that failed had a category 1 hazard—a severe or immediate risk. It should frighten us all if people are in such terrible conditions that their lives could be at risk. I urge the Government to do a bit more to make sure that properties meet those standards.

I also urge the Government to do more on revenge evictions, which our legislation in Scotland has militated against. It is something that we have managed to act on. Generation Rent also produced a very interesting briefing on this. It mentioned that, in 2017, 12,711 evictions by bailiffs happened under the accelerated process under section 21 of the Housing Act 1998, but that that is likely to be the tip of the iceberg. An awful lot of those people will not go through the court process, so we do not necessarily know how many people have actually been evicted. It also points out that two thirds of private renters have no savings. If someone with no savings has just been evicted, the last thing they will want is to go through a court process. They will just not have the means to do so, so they will try to find somewhere else as quickly as they can and move on. We need a better understanding of how many people face evictions through this process.

Moving towards a national database with better data gathering on this issue would be useful in informing what happens next, and the Government ought to think again about that. I am interested in hearing what the Minister says about the things that the Government did not accept from the review. The Committee will continue to push those suggestions, because they are good and solid. We particularly need to protect people from revenge evictions.

Private renting is a growing sector, with more and more people who are more and more vulnerable, including families. It is not only young people renting a flat for a while. There are people who live their whole lives in the private rented sector now because there is a severe shortage of housing in some parts of England. We need to look at how we can better protect those people. The hon. Member for Sheffield South East and others made clear that the cumulative effect of introducing legislation on legislation is that the protections are not where they should be. People need those protections so that they can have some certainty in their lives. Not having that certainty has a huge impact on people’s health, wellbeing and prospects, and particularly on children if they have to move quite a lot. We need to make sure as best we can that people are protected.

Lastly, I very much agree with the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford about lettings from companies such as Airbnb. The Minister would do well to consider that further, because there could be an emerging gap in the market and we need to somehow make sure that there is protection within regulations.