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Change of tenancy fee ok, says Minister for Housing and Homelessness

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Heather Wheeler MP, Minister for Housing and Homelessness at MHCLG was the latest witness to give oral evidence in the CLG Select Committee's sessions on the Private Rented Sector and Draft Tenant Fees Bill, along with Becky Perks and Anne Frost, also from MHCLG.

The committee has been taking evidence from local authorities, academics, and landlord and tenant groups on the role of councils in the private rented sector, licensing schemes and whether there are sufficient powers to deal with bad practices. MPs are likely to want to put some of the points raised to the Minister.

Tenant Fees
When asked about tenant fees in the latest session on Monday 26 February, Wheeler confirmed: "It would be appropriate to charge a fee for a change of tenancy for a sharer when the tenant is asking for that", with Becky Perks, Private Rented Sector Policy Lead, MHCLG adding that this would be included as a revision of the Draft Tenant Fees Bill.

The minister also noted however that the Government did not feel that it was practical to define all the fees included.

Wheeler confirmed that the government felt that under the Bill, trading standards are given appropriate powers to tackle non-compliance and that the non-statutory guidance was clear and reasonable enough. She said that the changes that the Government were making would ensure that trading standards were on the tenants' side, and that the "how to" guides would prove crucial.

The scale of problems in the Private Rented Sector
Anne Frost Deputy Director, Private Rented Sector Division, MHCLG pointed to the banning orders and the rogue landlords' database which would give government and local authorities a better grip on the scale of the problems.

Wheeler stated that the Draft Tenant Fees Bill would allow HMRC to crack down on landlords sub-dividing properties. This was very much a London issue, she noted.

Imbalance of power
Committee member Helen Hayes MP, questioned whether the imbalance of power between landlords and tenants meant that it was difficult for tenants to pursue complaints. Wheeler noted that a Housing Ombudsman could help with redressing this imbalance and they were considering which ombudsman scheme to go with. The rent repayment orders also helped to assist tenants where they had overpaid under bad circumstances, she added. The Government were consulting with the judiciary on a potential Housing Court, she reiterated to the committee.

Committee member Mike Amesbury MP asked what more the Government could do to help local authorities to avoid landlords getting around HMO licensing regulations.

In response Wheeler explained that all local authorities were expected to use powers available to them to enforce property standards and that the enforcement tool of the 2016 Planning Act should cover this and should be used.

Mark Prisk MP commented on the incoherent nature of the regulatory framework for the private rented sector and asked whether the Government would be looking to streamline this.

The minister stated that the Government were aiming to explain the existing legislation rather than introduce new primary legislation.

Enabling tenants – Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill
The minister stated that she doubted in most cases that tenants would bring their cases to court but the powers would incentivise the housing authority to step up.

Guidance on the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) would be updated following the Judith Hackitt review, but Wheeler disputed claims that the HHSRS was out of date.

Committee member Matt Western MP went on to question why enforcement by local authorities was so low and suggested local authorities were often put off from pursuing landlords due to the costs incurred. The minister asserted that any council applying cost benefit analysis to this would be outrageous.

Impact assessment
On the lack of an impact assessment for the Bill and the failure to follow Cabinet Office guidelines (something ARLA Chief Executive David Cox mentioned in his evidence), the minister reminded the committee that there was no duty to follow those guidelines with a draft Bill.

Watch the recorded session on Parliament TV 

Previous to the above session, and since our last news update on this story, there has also been a further two sessions on 21 February. The first session saw witnesses from various borough councils provide their evidence and views, whilst the second session saw representatives from the Chartered Institute of Housing, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and Chartered Trading Standards Institute questioned by the committee.