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Private Rented Sector

Volume 605: debated on Monday 8 February 2016

I believe that all tenants should have a safe place in which to live. In the Housing and Planning Bill, the Government have introduced the strongest ever set of measures to protect tenants and ensure that landlords provide good-quality, safe accommodation.

According to a freedom of information inquiry that I carried out last year, only 14,000 of a total of 51,316 complaints made to councils about poor housing were subjected to a local authority environmental health assessment, and, on average, councils prosecuted only one rogue landlord every year. Is it not irrefutable that local authorities lack the resources, certainly, and the will, in some cases, to take action against rogue landlords? What possible grounds can the Minister have for resisting a modest change that would allow tenants to take legal action against landlords who let homes that are not fit for human habitation?

The hon. Lady is right, in that local authorities should be using the powers that they have. As I have said, there is already a requirement for properties to be fit and proper, and she may wish to welcome the extra £5 million that we have added to the £6.7 million that we have already invested to support it. However, if she looks at the changes in the operation of fines in the Housing and Planning Bill, she will see that the amount of resources for local government will be beyond anything that we have ever seen before, and certainly beyond anything that the Labour Government ever did.

Much of what the Minister said is not what I am hearing from constituents. Many of those who come to see me speak of substandard homes which are damp and cold and have not been subjected to gas and electricity safety checks, and many are afraid of dealing with their landlords because they fear being evicted. What will the Minister do about that? Does he now regret not supporting Labour’s amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill, which would have ensured that landlords only let properties that were fit for human habitation?

I hope that the hon. Lady will join me in insisting that her local council takes its duty seriously and deals with the situation. The Bill will enable councils to issue civil penalties amounting to up to £30,000 and remedy payment orders for up to 12 months. That will give them a resource that they have never had before, and one that I hope they will endorse and use. [Interruption.]

While the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) is right to draw attention to the difference in the enforcement of existing regulations, neighbouring councils with the same resources often enforce the regulations in radically different ways. May I encourage the Minister not only to promote the best practice in enforcement, but, most important, to challenge councils that are failing to use the powers that they have?

My hon. Friend has a wealth of experience in this field, and, as always, he speaks with great common sense and logic. Local authorities should be using the powers that they have. By far the majority of landlords provide a good service, but authorities should be using those powers to crack down on the rogue landlords whom all of us, including good landlords, want to see driven out of the system.

May I commend the Government for taking the toughest action on rogue landlords in a generation in the Housing and Planning Bill? On the provision of private sector rented housing, will the Minister give me an undertaking that he will continue to work, on a cross-party basis if necessary, to develop residential estate investment trusts, on which there has been a commitment from both parties over the years, and work with the Treasury to bring forward proposals for private sector housing, particularly in areas with affordability issues?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and we are working right across government on the institutional investments. I can tell the House that the estates regeneration panel that the Prime Minister has set up will be meeting for the first time tomorrow and will be looking at all these issues in that context as well.

Many of the 33% of my constituents who rent privately have been the victim of revenge evictions. Shelter has estimated that in a calendar year 4,000 people in my constituency were victims of revenge evictions and 200,000 people across the country suffered from rogue landlords. The Minister has been speaking about how much work the Government have been doing, but will he clarify what impact the law that was brought in last year has had on the number of revenge evictions across the country?

It is clearly a matter for local authorities to use those powers to crack down on rogue landlords and to ensure that they are providing the right services. It is just a shame that the Opposition did not support those measures in the Housing and Planning Bill.

In my constituency, some of the worst landlords have been prosecuted by Boston Borough Council, and the Department for Communities and Local Government has recently awarded it a £74,000 grant to keep up that good work. Does the Minister agree that when councils are proactive, there are resources available for them to enable them to be more proactive?

My hon. Friend is right. He has given us an example of a good council looking to do the right thing by its local residents by ensuring that they are well protected and well served, using the extra funding that we have put in. In addition, local authorities will be able to impose the new £30,000 civil fines when the Housing and Planning Bill gets Royal Assent, and it is a shame that the Opposition did not support that measure. It will mean that councils will be able to do more in this regard than ever before.