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Private Rented Sector

Volume 505: debated on Wednesday 3 February 2010

I am today publishing a policy statement, “The Private Rented Sector: Professionalism and Quality: consultation responses and next steps”. This sets out a summary of responses to our consultation document, “The Private Rented Sector: Professionalism and Quality—the Government response to the Rugg Review”, published on 13 May 2009, Official Report, column 50WS and reported to the House by the then Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett). The document that I am publishing today sets out Government’s plans following the responses to that consultation. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.

The Government want to see a private rented sector which offers high-quality accommodation, and in which tenants can make choices based on clear information about their options, their rights, and their responsibilities. We also want to ensure tenants know where to turn if things go wrong. At the same time, Government want to increase professionalism in the private rented sector—supporting good landlords and agents, while driving out the worst practices of the sector that fail tenants and damage its reputation.

Alongside our longer-term plans for legislation to improve standards, today’s document sets out our proposals to provide better help and support to tenants now. This includes a commitment to set up, by the summer of this year, a dedicated helpline for private sector tenants working with voluntary sector agencies, and an online consumer feedback website working with consumer focus.

Our consultation document, published in May 2008, set out a range of proposals to support a higher-quality, more professional sector, while minimising the regulatory burden on good landlords and agents. The proposals included a national register of landlords for England; full regulation for private sector letting and managing agents; and encouragement to local authorities to create “local lettings agencies”.

Consultation responses were strongly supportive of the proposals, although there were some concerns about specific details, and about implementation. Alongside the formal consultation, Government worked with a wide range of organisations on the development of detailed policy to underpin the proposals.

Our statement today reflects those consultation responses and the contribution of these work groups. It confirms the issues on which our intentions are now firm, as well as the detailed issues on which there is further work to do with interested stakeholders. In particular the statement includes commitments to:

Establish a national register of landlords, to protect tenants and support local authority enforcement activity. We will carry out further detailed work with stakeholders to assess whether the register could also be used (either from the outset, or in the future) to apply registration conditions on persistently poor landlords.

Introduce full regulation of letting and managing agents. We will carry out further detailed work with stakeholders on the exact form of regulation, and whether it is led by an independent regulator, or by industry bodies.

Require all tenancies to take the form of a written agreement.

Increase the limit for assured shorthold tenancies from £25,000 a year to £100,000. This will reduce the number of tenants (up to 150,000 at present) who do not currently have the protection of an assured shorthold tenancy, and associated protections—such as the requirement to protect a tenant’s deposit.

We remain committed to legislating at the earliest opportunity on these commitments to increase the protection and practical help available to tenants in the private rented sector.

These measures are complemented by the Government consultation, published by the Treasury—“Investing in the UK Private Rented Sector”—also published today, which considers whether there are any substantive barriers to investment in the sector by individuals and institutions. Taken together, steps to raise quality and identify any barriers to investment should reinforce each other and create a better private rented sector that can become the tenure of choice for a wider range of people.