[Sir Gary Streeter in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered private rented sector housing.
It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Sir Gary. I thank Members for attending this debate today and for what I know will be powerful contributions. I start by paying tribute to my constituents in Liverpool, West Derby, who are the innocent victims of this country’s current housing system. I also want to thank ACORN, the Vauxhall law centre, Generation Rent, Shelter, the Daily Mirror and the many other organisations for their campaigns to get the changes we need.
For millions, the current system in the private rented sector is failing to provide homes that are safe, secure and affordable for everyone. Mindful of this House’s sub judice rules, I am unable to go into the details of some of the appalling cases that my constituents have written to me about. However, issues raised with me by private renters include: constituents with health conditions such as asthma whose landlords have left them in damp properties with no gas supply in the middle of winter; constituents, including children, who have been hospitalised and suffered serious health impacts as the result of disrepair in their homes; and families living in fear of bailiffs, who were served a section 21 eviction notice by the landlord after complaining about terrible disrepair and conditions. My constituent told me:
“Section 21 takes the humanity out of the situation and that’s precisely the problem. We are human and lives are being carelessly destroyed!”
Other constituents who have contacted me wanted the Government to take urgent action so that nobody in future has to go through the same horrific experiences. Nationally, the private rented sector includes some of the oldest stock in England; it remains the tenure with the lowest standards, based on the Government’s decent homes standard. The latest English housing survey found that one in five homes in the private rented sector is classed as non-decent, and 12% have a category 1 hazard for which the most serious harm outcome is identified, for example, as death, permanent paralysis, permanent loss of consciousness, loss of a limb or serious fractures.
Does the Minister know how many serious injuries and deaths have resulted from making people live in such appalling accommodation? Shamefully, we have a system that means a private renter has more than a one in 10 chance of living in a home that could kill or seriously harm them or their children. Let that fact sink in—how can this be allowed to continue?
Private rented sector homes also have the worst energy standards on average. That means private renters will have to pay significantly more in heating bills because of poor insulation, inefficient heating systems or lack of double glazing. With the cost of living crisis starting to bite and energy prices set to soar, private renters really are in a precarious situation. Added to that, it seems that complaining puts them on a fast track to eviction. Research from Citizens Advice shows that those complaining to their local authority about disrepair were 46% more likely to get a section 21 from the landlord. Section 21—the fast track to eviction—must be scrapped.
I recently spoke to Professor Ian Sinha, a consultant respiratory paediatrician at the fantastic Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in my constituency, about the health impacts of poor housing conditions. Ian told me:
“The consequences of poor quality housing can be fatal for children: the National Child Mortality Database identified poor housing as one of the top risk factors associated with the inequalities that result in children's deaths....If babies and children breathe air rife with fungus, toxins, and dust, in overcrowded and cold homes, their lungs develop abnormally. Even though we focus on the shortterm effects, the problems they face in adulthood are even more stark—the poorest children are 5 times more likely to develop adult diseases like COPD, and chronic illnesses such as this lead to the poorest adults dying two decades earlier than the richest ones in Liverpool and many other cities...Poor housing can result in 20 years being taken away from your life...There is a window of opportunity for children to develop and grow—and the state of housing in which millions of children are forced to live is holding them back...That’s why good housing for all should be the very essence of any levelling up agenda otherwise it’s a vacuous nonsense.”
Professor Sinha continued:
“Parents are gaslighted at every opportunity—landlords deny pest problems—but mothers of premature babies tell us they know there are rats in the house because they see bite marks in their baby’s oxygen tubing; mothers tell us that when they reach for the cereal there are rodent faeces in them; mothers tell us that their toddlers are afraid to go in rooms because they see mice looking at them through the gaps in the floorboards that still haven’t been fixed. While parents are told that damp isn’t an issue, they tell us their children are waking up coughing thick mucus every night in rooms riddled with mould, and they are bullied because their clothes smell of damp”.
After listening to that, we must remind ourselves that it is 2022, not 1822.
It is clear that the current legislation is failing, which is compounded by a decade of Government cuts to local authority budget cuts and the cutting of access to free legal support. Between 2009 and 2019, local authority budgets to ensure that private rental standards were kept up were slashed by 44%. Local authorities have lost almost half their capacity to enforce standards.
Selective licensing is a tool that local authorities can use to tackle poor property conditions and poor practice in the private rented sector. The landlord licensing scheme in Liverpool, which ran from 2015 to 2020, found that 65% of properties were not fully compliant on the first visit. Some 37,000 compliance actions were taken to improve conditions and 250 rogue landlords were prosecuted. I saw this first hand when I worked with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden), as his office manager, when we utilised the scheme to tackle rogue landlords. I hope the Minister can enlighten us further as to why landlord licensing is not operational across the whole country.
The regulatory framework for the private rented sector is fragmented, underfunded and, quite frankly, broken, and the White Paper and renters reform Bill must address these systemic issues. A renters reform Bill was promised by the Government in 2019. Where is it? Every single day that the Bill is delayed is a day millions spend in cold, insecure, unsafe and unaffordable homes.
During the height of the pandemic, renters were trapped in unsafe housing while the Prime Minister was apparently picking out new wallpaper. Now, many renters are fearful of section 21 evictions if they raise complaints, because they cannot afford to move house in the middle of this appalling cost of living crisis. The power imbalance means that the mental pressures facing renters are built into this broken system.
I wholeheartedly agree with the points my hon. Friend is raising and I thank him for leading this debate. I am regularly contacted by constituents whose private landlords are refusing to fix issues. Like the examples raised by my hon. Friend, they are not small problems; ranging from black mould to rat infestations, these failings have a disastrous impact on my constituents’ health and wellbeing.
As it stands, tenants who decide to withhold rent from landlords who fail to maintain their properties to standard will be in breach of contract and have next to no protections. Does my hon. Friend agree that increasing protections for tenants should form a fundamental part of our strategy to make the PRS safer and improve conditions overall?
My hon. Friend makes some fantastic points, and I fully agree. I thank her for all the work she does on this issue in her constituency.
The Government must present the White Paper as a matter of urgency, and new legislation must have real teeth and be enforceable. A renters reform Bill must abolish section 21 and end no-fault evictions, drive up standards through an updated and improved decent homes standard and create a national landlord register and licensing scheme to improve accountability and ensure that legal standards are met. It works—Liverpool has shown that. This is not more red tape, but an investment in the health and wellbeing of present and future generations. To reinforce this, have the Government undertaken a cost-benefit analysis of what it means for a child to grow up in a home that is a threat to their health and safety?
Let us put ourselves in the shoes of the people whose cases I have outlined. If an MP or a Minister were asked to live in a flat riddled with mould, in such a state of disrepair that it endangered the life of their family members and might lead to reduced life expectancies, we would rightly hear howls of rage reverberating from both sides of the Chamber. Let us take that fury and that righteous anger and, as legislators, represent with the same force the millions who are suffering that fate daily, forced into silence because of our unjust system. That would really be levelling up, and the Minister knows it—taking on the vested interests and doing something transformational, changing the life chances of millions for the better. Surely that is why we are all in this game.
This Bill must not tinker around the edges of a broken system, and it should not just move the goalposts. It must empower tenants and hardwire social justice into the system. From working with the Minister on numerous Bill Committees and Select Committees, I know he understands the need for change; but deeds will be the measure, not words.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) on securing this debate and on a very powerful speech, setting out the conditions as he sees them in his own constituency.
I have the largest private rented sector in Britain in my borough, including some of the most high-end private accommodation it is possible to find—the luxury penthouses, the oligarch properties—but also some of the worst conditions. I am going to make three points of slightly different lengths, but my first is to beware the tyranny of the average. I urge the Minister to reflect on that point, because we know that over the decades there has been a steady overall improvement in the condition of property, including in the private rented sector. However, beneath that, we have a huge and arguably growing problem that is concentrated in particular sectors.
That problem was very well set out in Julie Rugg’s report three years or so ago, in which she looked at the sub-markets in the private rented sector. She rightly reflected on the fact that there are particular groups of people without power, including purchasing power—those who are dependent on housing benefit to rent their property—but also other kinds of power: those who do not have settled immigration status; those who have been homeless; the very young; the students; the old; and, in particular, those with disabilities. When the Minister responds and whenever we talk about this issue, it needs to be properly reflected that there is not a single sector, even allowing for geographical variations.
Secondly, I will touch briefly on the issue of enforcement. Although we will rightly hear from a number of colleagues, including the Front Benchers, about the need to move ahead with the overdue legislation to strengthen renters’ rights, those rights will mean very little unless we are sure that we have enforcement capacity—two kinds of enforcement capacity, in particular.
The first is the enforcement carried out by local authorities, particularly through their environmental health departments. Although I do not have time to reflect on this at length, we know from the work of the National Residential Landlords Association, and my own series of freedom of information inquiries to local authorities over the course of the past 10 years, that most local authorities do not enforce, or do so informally. Some of that informal enforcement will be fine, but it is untrackable—it is not monitored.
Does my hon. Friend agree that what is needed is a centralised national landlord register that ensures accountability, so that tenants know before moving in whether their landlords have been compliant, especially in relation to health and safety?
I am grateful for that, Sir Gary; I am always anxious not to take too much time.
I certainly agree that one of the issues in the private rented sector is that we do not actually know where it is, other than when it comes to those claiming housing allowance in the private rented sector. There are landlords who are renting and we do not know who they are, so it is quite hard to enforce against them.
We have a patchwork of enforcement services. That requires resources from local authorities, which have been hammered over the past 10 years of funding cuts, and also political will. The situation needs a clear steer from the centre, together with good local knowledge—local authorities are in the best position to understand something about their own local markets. It also needs individual capacity for enforcement. We have just come from a statement on legal aid; one of the issues we should be very concerned about is the significant shrinking of the housing legal section’s capacity in recent years, with fewer providers and less capacity for access to services that put individual tenants in a position to enforce their own rights.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about people in the private rental sector not being able to enforce their rights, because of lack of legal aid. Does she agree with restoring legal advice in this area? That would help prevent problems from escalating in the first place.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the earlier one intervenes, the better, in all respects.
My third substantive point is the issue of temporary accommodation. This is property rented almost invariably from the private sector, often—although not always—managed by intermediary organisations such as housing associations and procured on behalf of local authorities. I raised a debate about this issue a little over a year ago, particularly looking at my own local circumstance, but the issue is wider than that. Human Rights Watch published a report a few weeks ago on the issue of temporary accommodation: a major human rights organisation felt it necessary to carry out an inquiry and report into the scandal of families and households in temporary accommodation and the conditions in which they are living. That report is utterly devastating. In the London Borough of Westminster, we have people living like this—I will quote from a couple of recent case studies:
“I’ve lived in this temporary accommodation Since June 2020 and have been under a lot of stress and strain due to my situation…I am infested with cockroaches and mice. As my son is a toddler, I always find him with the traps for…pests and putting them in his mouth. I fear for both his and my health. I have contacted my landlord, who are A2 Dominion”—
it should ashamed of itself—and
“Westminster Housing, and they keep sending pest control…They have sprayed the house but it only made matters worse. Cockroaches are everywhere! They’re in my fridge, my bed, my sons cot, within the sofas, just EVERYWHERE! I also have damp in my kitchen wall where there is water between the walls where I have an electrical socket.”
Another constituent wrote:
“I am currently in temporary accommodation and the council and housing providers which are A2 dominion”—
a bit of a theme will emerge with A2Dominion—
“are not listening to my concerns…The flat is infested with pharoah ants. They are all over the place. These ants carry bacteria which could harm my baby if they got to her. The ants have crawled on me. Today is the last straw when I saw them on my babies bottles. Pest control came out but never returned and there’s more than before… the bedroom is…freezing.... I have to put the heating on all night and that still doesn’t help so I’ve bought an electric heater that I have to put on through the whole night because of how cold the room is, and the electric heater takes so much electric that I can’t be affording.”
“This house is riddled with black mould because of the continuous flooding. This has been going on since 2017. Each and every time I have made Westminster aware of the issues, I have been told that it is my fault because I don’t keep the property ventilated…It’s because I’ve been continuously flooded. I am forever cleaning black mould off the walls. My health has got worse. So much so, my current midwife is concerned for…my unborn child…I am continuously wheezing and have a dry cough…My eldest son has asthma and always complaining that his chest is hurting him.”
“I actually haven’t had any hot water for at least 18 months and have to boil the kettle to have a bath. Why am I living like this in 2022???? Myself and my 18 month old sleep in the front room as the bedroom is too mouldy to sleep in. We have a hole in the ceiling and every time it rains, the water comes through.”
The last one wrote:
“I live in a temporary accommodation provided by Westminster council. I reported a leakage and mould problem in February 2021 to the council. The timing…was…terrible because I was undergoing breast cancer treatment so it was necessary for me to be at peace in my home free from…dampness…The reply letter acknowledges that the TA suffers from…damage, mould and disrepairs and even apologises to me yet says I will only be updated once they have more information? I think this matter is…a severe health risk yet the council believes it is…fine to continue sleeping in a mould infested home and have water dripping from the ceiling while you sleep.”
I could read 50 cases like that. The chief executive of A2Dominion earned a salary package of £276,000 in 2020, despite being in charge of a stream of those cases. But A2Dominion is not the only one.
It is my strong belief that, in addition to tackling the issues of enforcement and renters’ rights, the Government need to take action on the issue of temporary accommodation. The people accommodated there are in accommodation procured by the state. The state should set a higher bar for services than for the remainder of the private rented sector; in fact, it sets a lower bar. I would very much like the Minister, a year since I last raised this, to tell me what the Government are going to do about it.
It is a pleasure to see you in the chair, Sir Gary. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) on securing the debate and on his excellent introduction.
As I have said before, if the issues that we debate in this place were guided by the issues that constituents come to see us about, housing would be very near the top of the list and debated far more often than it is. Whether it is tenants facing eviction, or tenants coming back to see me in my constituency surgery for a fourth or fifth time because the damp still has not been fixed, it is clear that we do not have enough housing in the right place, of the right quality or of the right tenure. That is in part because the private rented sector has changed beyond all recognition in recent years and legislation has not kept pace with those changes. The last piece of comprehensive legislation to affect the private rented sector was over 30 years ago, with the Housing Act 1988. Since then the sector has doubled in size, and that exceptional market growth, made possible by financial incentives for landlords, together with the lack of regulation, has been characterised by insecurity, poor conditions and sky-high prices.
The biggest irony, certainly in my constituency, is that many of these private sector properties were once in public ownership, before they were sold off at a discount rate, allowing many people to own their home for the first time, which is a good thing; but that generation has moved on. Those council houses were not replaced and the first proud home owners have often been usurped by private sector landlords. So we now have the ludicrous situation where in two properties, standing side by side, one tenant will have a much lower rent, much greater security and can usually be confident that any issues they have with the property will be dealt with by the regulated, accountable social landlord, but the other has none of those things. If anything demonstrates the short-term thinking that has guided housing policy for decades, that is it.
In a debate only last week, I described how reliance on the private sector had increased in my constituency due to the chronic lack of affordable and council housing, and how it was now rare to see properties offered at a rental value equivalent to the local housing allowance. A recent search of locally available properties revealed only two within the rental liability that would be covered by the LHA, with others ranging from £30 to over £200 above the required rate.
That is not a sustainable situation. People simply cannot afford to put a roof over their head in that situation, let alone pay for the increasing bills, energy, food and council tax that we hear so much about. But today’s debate, as we know, focuses specifically on poor conditions in the private rented sector and rightly so, because private renters live in the poorest-quality homes in this country, with more than one in five properties in the private sector classed as non-decent. That may well be because, in part at least, it accounts for some of the oldest housing stock, with a third of all private rented sector properties built before 1919, so it is not a surprise, perhaps, that on average private rented sector properties have worse energy standards, meaning that the tenants have to pay significantly higher heating bills due to poor insulation, inefficient heating systems or a lack of double glazing. This is important because, as the cost of living crisis starts to bite and energy prices continue to go up, it is private renters, who are already paying higher housing costs, who will be worst affected. Of course, many private rents are higher than mortgage payments and certainly higher than social housing costs. How can we justify that situation?
As we have heard, many constituents have come to their Members of Parliament with issues with their properties. I will give one example: a property that was not watertight, so that the back door leaked every time it rained; pest control issues; electrical issues, with some of the plug sockets not fitted to the wall correctly; and issues with windows sealed shut and others that could not be closed or locked. I am sure we can all agree that that is just a snapshot of the conditions that people have to live with.
Too often, people are scared of raising concerns because of the risk of retaliation by the landlord. As we have heard, tenants who received a section 21 eviction notice were twice as likely to have complained directly to their landlord, five times more likely to have gone to their local authority and eight times more likely to have complained to a redress scheme, prior to receiving their eviction notice, resulting in a staggering 46% chance of their being served with a section 21 notice within six months of the complaint.
I met a couple this weekend who were in that position. They told me that they had been raising disrepair issues with their landlord for five years. When he finally acted, what did he do? He began work on repairs but decided to evict them at the same time. They are now living in temporary accommodation. No wonder people are reluctant to challenge landlords.
For too long, private rental properties have not had the priority they deserve from Government. A need for improvement of renters’ position was acknowledged in 2019, and again in the Queen’s Speech of 2021. Both committed to bringing forward reforms to drive improvements and standards in the private rented sector but, as we have heard, we are still waiting for those improvements. We were expecting a White Paper last autumn. In reply to my written question on the matter last month, the Minister said that would now be spring. We are now in spring, and I am hoping to hear from the Minister when we might see that White Paper and the Government finally taking the action that many Members want to see.
Housing is a basic human right. Decent and affordable housing has the power to improve people’s lives fundamentally and the life chances of children in my constituency and throughout the country. Every day that the Government delay reform is another day that people are living in cold, unsafe, insecure and unaffordable homes. For millions of people, that is an unacceptable situation that has to change, because they deserve better.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) for calling this important debate. The Minister may be aware that yesterday, at the Select Committee on Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, we heard powerful testimonies from two social housing tenants about similar issues in the private rented sector.
My constituency of Vauxhall, like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), has one of the highest levels of private renters in the country. The average house price in Vauxhall is around £600,000, as of June 2021. Private renters also pay more than their fair share, often spending more than a quarter—in some cases, a third—of their income on rent.
For that cost, the very least my constituents deserve is to live in housing in good condition. That means that the properties they are renting should meet modern standards of insulation and energy efficiency. It means that structural defects should be fixed and not left to cause serious problems. It means that urgent repairs should be carried out rapidly, to a high standard. It means expecting the same standards and efficiency from a landlord that homeowners deserve and have in their own properties.
Too often we see private rented properties not living up to those standards. Instead, we see tenants living with health-damaging features, such as mould, for months if not years. We see requests to fix faults met with sticking-plaster solutions. Although many of us may associate disrepair and poor energy efficiency with our elderly housing stock, those renting new homes and flats are not immune to finding some of the issues that I have talked about. That was the case for my constituent, Louise. She moved into new student accommodation in Vauxhall, as her family home was overcrowded and she wanted space during her time at university. The student accommodation was in a new tower block and Louise moved in soon after it opened in September last year.
Unfortunately, where Louise should have expected a new quality build, she instead found something only half done, according to her description. She says her experience has included being stuck in lifts that did not work, with firefighters coming out to help her; hot water issues; dirty water coming from taps; and tailgaters coming into the building. She said that amenities such as the laundry room were not opened until October, despite her moving in in early September. In addition, the kitchen doors and curtains were all missing.
Louise is far from alone in that experience. It is worth remembering that this is student accommodation, where many are accessing the private rented sector for the first time, and so many are scared to speak up, but continue to live in those substandard conditions. We need to understand that lack of agency when we talk about standards enforcement and ensure that conditions across the board meet the standards that we all expect. First, where standards are in place, as hon. Members have said, local councils’ ability to regulate them is drastically undermined by the cuts imposed by central Government. That makes proactive action hard and it means that tenants with so little experience of the private rental sector are unfortunately exploited by unscrupulous landlords. Providing fair funding to local authorities would allow the enforcement bodies to clean up the sector and ensure that those without a voice were not left at the mercy of disrepair.
Secondly, the insecurity at the heart of current private tenancy law goes hand-in-hand with the fears of raising issues with properties and demanding rights as a tenant. Next month, as the Minister knows, will be three years since the Government promised to end section 21 evictions, yet we are still to see that in the renters reform Bill. I hope the Minister will listen to our contributions this afternoon. I know he cares passionately about this area. I hope he will commit to bringing that vital piece of legislation forward as soon as possible to provide that reassurance and, most importantly, the protection that my constituents in Vauxhall deserve and renters up and down the country need.
I thank the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) for setting the scene so very well. He does so with a knowledge and a determination for the change that each and every one of us wishes to see. I will give a Northern Ireland perspective, which the Minister is not responsible for, but will do so in order to back up the hon. Gentleman and the other speakers. It is always a pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi). She and I usually spar in this Chamber. Either she is first and I am second, or vice versa. Today the hon. Lady takes prominence, as she always does.
These are incredibly poignant issues. There are just not enough houses to meet the need in Northern Ireland, and that has meant that people pay high rents for properties that are not fit for purpose, let alone worth the money. In my office there are three massive and critical issues—benefits, housing and planning matters. Every day in my office features housing issues.
Two years ago, the rent for a standard three-bed house in Newtownards, the major town in my constituency, would cost approximately £450—for a nice house in a nice area. Two years on, that same house will now cost at least £750. I was in shock just the other week when a lady came into the office. She is divorced from her husband—separation happens—has three children and was paying £850 for a house. The gas boiler was broken and she could not set the timer. She is in private accommodation because that is all that was available. She had to press the boost button each hour to make it work, in a house in wintertime with three children. The difficulty for her was that she could never get a house with the Housing Executive, which is the equivalent to council housing over here on the mainland, because she and her partner work and they have an income and good health, so there is no way in the world that they will ever qualify for the points to get them a Housing Executive house. It would be the same here.
That is a real problem. They are stuck in a rental house, they cannot get out of that rental house and there is no other accommodation, rental or private rental where they can go, so they find themselves in a very difficult position. My constituent had divorced her husband. Separation happens; not every marriage succeeds and hers unfortunately did not. They did not have enough credit to buy a house, for which a mortgage would have cost her less. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) mentioned mortgages and if someone were able to get a mortgage for a house, they might be able to pay less and have something to look towards. Unlike in the constituency of the hon. Member for Vauxhall, the average price of a house in my constituency is £250,000.
My constituent asked if we would contact her landlord to get the heating on in the morning so that her children were not shivering while getting dressed. That is the reality of housing in this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland today; every Member has said it, and every other Member who will speak will confirm it. The simple solution on paper for her was to move, and yet she could not find anything large enough or in her price range. She therefore had no option other than to pay the top price for that low-quality housing—I know that this is replicated in too many other constituencies.
The Northern Ireland Assembly report for the Private Tenancies Bill states that
“the private rented sector continues to play a critical role in meeting housing need in NI”.
The latest available data, which is from 2016—hardly up to date—indicates that the private rental sector has taken over from the social housing sector as the second-largest housing tenure. Approximately 17.4% of occupied dwellings are in the private rental sector, in comparison to the Executive—known as council housing here—which makes up 15.6% of occupied dwellings.
According to the Department for Communities, nearly half of those in the private rental sector are in receipt of some element of housing support. We say this every day in debates, but it does not lessen the issue: the price of energy is going through the roof. Renting is one cost, but then there is gas, electric or oil—whatever it may be. Housing benefit becomes a critical factor for many tenants in my constituency who are in the low-wage bracket and find those costs difficult to deal with. It is either through universal credit or housing benefit that they get help. In 2019-20, some £270 million was paid into the private rental sector, either in housing benefit or through the housing-costs element of universal credit. That tells us a wee bit about the magnitude of the issue we have before us.
The current fitness standard for all housing tenures in Northern Ireland, including private rental sector properties, has been in place since 1992. It is not the Minister’s fault, but it is totally unsatisfactory to have a standard set some 30 years ago. The housing fitness standard has been described as a physical standard, but it is arguably very outdated and does not sufficiently address issues such as thermal comfort, energy efficiency or home safety—three critical factors. As people have referred to, there are houses overrun with ants, spiders and insects, so we do need to raise the bar, and raise it soon.
Too many families are living in substandard housing. There is too little legislative weight on landlords to do what they should morally be doing. As we have families faced with high fuel prices, they can little afford to carry out the work that landlords should be carrying out for them. It has occurred to me that we must make it a priority in this House to work on this issue, which is tantamount to the abuse of the vulnerable—those who feel trapped by poverty and circumstance, and by a lack of legal support and redress. I hope that the legal statement that was made today can help; I think the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) referred to that. We hope that the legal changes that have been talked about today may help get legal redress.
I know that the Northern Ireland Assembly are seeking to address this issue back home; we in this House must also ensure that obligations on landlords are a UK-wide standard. The Minister works hard at his job and I respect him, but I will ask him to take the UK-wide approach on board when considering the matter further. People in every corner of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland deserve that protection, regardless of their postcode. The hon. Member for Vauxhall said it was about helping people; I totally agree with that. Our job is to make sure that people’s lives can get better. We need to do that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) for securing this incredibly important debate. Decent housing should be a basic right for all. The private rental sector has grown significantly over the last decade, but the Government have been incredibly slow in protecting the rights of renters.
The English Housing Survey estimated that 21% of private rental sector homes did not meet the decent homes standard, and 13% of privately rented homes have a serious health hazard. The impact of that on my constituents is huge. Last year I was contacted by a constituent who raised concerns about her privately rented property. Cigarette smoke from other tenants in the block would fill her entire flat, and her five-month-old baby developed a cough that doctors said was directly due to the smoke. Despite raising that with her landlords, and giving them the opportunity to fix the situation, it was not resolved and she was instead asked to tell her neighbours to stop smoking. Eventually she was placed on the housing register, but her private landlord wanted to charge her huge fees just to move out. Minimum standards were clearly not kept up, but with no clear regulation of the private rented sector, the landlords have the power to dictate these fees to the tenant, even when the property is unsuitable for habitation. My constituent also tells me that she was left without hot water for her and her baby for 11 days, without getting any response from her landlords. She has decided to move out of London, her home city, in the hope of finding better, more affordable accommodation.
The Government’s inaction on section 21 no-fault evictions is also having a profound effect on my constituents. Despite the Government announcing in 2019 that they would abolish the measure, they are yet to do so. One of my constituents, who is unable to work due to a number of complex health issues, was served with a section 21 notice completely out of the blue, giving her one month to find a property for her and her children. She was told that she would struggle to get social housing and would have to move far away from her local support structures. She wrote to me stating that the whole experience had pushed her to the verge of suicide. I know it is difficult to hear, but policy decisions have a very real effect on the hardest hit. The Government should immediately abolish section 21 and give people security of tenure.
Another constituent who escaped domestic abuse was also served a section 21 notice from her private rented accommodation. She then found herself in appalling conditions. The temporary housing was covered in mould and damp, and there was an infestation of slugs. Instead of having this addressed, she was advised just to find another property. She and her children are now trapped in squalor, and have few or no options. This is a vulnerable family who, if not supported into decent housing, could find themselves back in the path of their abuser. Sadly, her case is not unique.
While the private rented sector is an important part of the housing mix, there has been a lack of urgency from the Government to take action on keeping the sector up to standard, and on giving renters rights. In the absence of such action, I want to mention some of the work that has been done in my constituency. While almost every council has a landlord forum, very few have formalised ways of communicating with private renters. Lewisham Council and others are trying to change this at local level. Lewisham is working with Generation Rent to research how private renters want to be engaged with, and as part of that, Generation Rent has launched a survey and planned focus groups with private renters in the borough. The aim is to provide a link between renters and councils; help the local authority become better informed about the issues that private renters face and what it can do to support them; and help renters to become more knowledgeable about the council services available to them.
Local authorities cannot fix the system alone. We need a commitment and the energy to drive this forward at national level, yet to date the Government have failed to give councils the powers to deliver landlord licensing, to deliver their planned White Paper on rental reform, and to update the decent homes standard. Sadly, this just reflects the Government’s record of kicking renters’ rights into the long grass. Every day that the Government delay reform is a day many people spend in cold, dilapidated, hazardous and unaffordable homes. My constituents and many others across the country cannot wait any longer. Rental reform has to be done now, and done right.
I hope that today the Government are listening to all these stories from up and down the country of what people are facing in the private rented sector, and that they will outline when the millions of renters living in terrible conditions will finally be treated fairly.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my good and hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) on securing this important debate. It speaks volumes that, apart from the Minister—to whom I mean no disrespect—and his Parliamentary Private Secretary, no Government Members are present for this debate. They really should be. I do not know if it is an indication that there are no problems in the private rented sector in the constituencies of Government MPs, but this is a really important issue for me and for many Opposition Members.
I know from personal experience that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby, is a long-term advocate of improving housing quality and conditions. Even before he was elected to this House, he very kindly hosted members of my team from Easington, who visited Liverpool in 2018 to discuss and see for themselves how that city’s very successful selective private sector rented scheme was improving the community’s quality of life. I am grateful for that, because we learned from that scheme.
I will use the little time I have to highlight the issues that affect my constituency in east Durham. I am pleased to note that after many delays and much procrastination by the Government, permission was finally given to Durham County Council to implement a scheme based on the very successful Liverpool model. That scheme will come into effect on 1 April this year. That selective licensing scheme is not a solution, but it is an important tool in the toolbox. I thank Councillor Kevin Shaw, who my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby met during that visit. He is the erstwhile holder of the housing portfolio at Durham County Council, and has always been a champion of driving up standards, tackling homelessness, and the effective regulation of absentee landlords.
This is not an abstract argument. I hope the Minister will take up some of the invitations that have been extended to him, in order to see the impact that absentee landlords have on former mining communities such as Easington Colliery, Horden and Blackhall. That impact is really quite sinful, and clearly exposes the Government’s myth of levelling up. People living in those private rented properties, which in many cases are former colliery houses, think that term is some kind of joke. Far from levelling up, many people are struggling just to keep up.
When preparing for this debate, I was reflecting on the fact that I served for a number of years on Easington District Council, a local authority that had housing responsibilities. The vision of my predecessors was “farewell to squalor”—an end to squalid housing conditions—and that gave birth to the new town of Peterlee. The idea was that we would never again suffer the appalling conditions that so many families in my constituency were subjected to before the development of that new town.
From the Government’s statements and Ministers’ responses to debates, it seems as though they measure success on housing policy by new building starts. However, there are multiple facets to, and crises in, the UK housing sector, from a lack of affordable housing stock in overheated economies, such as in parts of London and the south-east, to problems associated with derelict and void properties in the northern regions, in areas such as mine, which are falling into decline and damaging local communities. A number of Members have made positive suggestions; I do not want to elaborate on those, but I hope the Minister will respond to the suggestion about section 21 no-fault evictions, the suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) about addressing the issue of poor energy efficiency, and all the other suggestions made. When he responds to my remarks, I would like him to concentrate on the availability of a selective licensing scheme for the private sector.
When these problems were arising, I pointed them out to the Housing Minister. I was just checking how many Housing Ministers there have been since I was first elected in 2010; I think the current Secretary of State for Transport was the Housing Minister then, and there have been 11 or 12 since. Perhaps part of the problem is getting a grip on the portfolio and understanding the depth of the problem. As soon as we feel that we are making some progress with a Minister, they are shuffled, and we have to start all over again. I am not making excuses for the Minister, and I am sure he will respond in his own way.
Seven years ago, I warned the then Housing Minister, the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), that the bedroom tax was undermining the viability of social housing in many of my communities, and I pointed out the problems arising in the former mining community of Horden, where Accent Housing, a housing association, withdrew an investment plan after local housing market failure and a collapse in demand, partially because of the bedroom tax undermined demand for certain types of properties in the area. I said that I understood that Accent Housing
“is currently seeking permission from the Homes and Communities Agency to dispose of its properties on the private market, which means that it will put…up…for auction”—[Official Report, 11 February 2015; Vol. 592, c. 266WH.]
the whole of its housing stock, amounting to several hundred houses. That meant ownership was fragmented among many private landlords, who bought small parcels of stock. Instead of dealing with a stock of 500, 600 or 700 houses, we had dozens and dozens of private owners buying three or four properties. I warned then that the consequence would be an influx of absentee private landlords. They are not bad people; I am not suggesting that they are evil. Some have good intentions. They buy these properties, often at auction without even seeing them, to put that investment in their pension portfolio, but the effect has been bad for residents, tenants and the wider community.
I want action from the Government. I fear that their policies have laid the foundations for many of the problems with poor condition of housing stock. There has been decline of local housing demand, increases in the number of derelict and void properties, and a decline in the local quality of life. I have no doubt that the rise in crime and antisocial behaviour has been exacerbated by Government policies, and by the reduction we had in the number of police. I know we are all desperately trying to reverse that, but much of the damage has been done, and it will take a huge commitment and a great deal of time and effort to recover from this position.
Horden is not alone. Many areas, particularly former industrial areas—perhaps including the Minister’s constituency—have been blighted by problems and the short-sighted nature of managed decline. My constituency needs significant funding for housing redevelopment and regeneration, so will the Minister stop holding competitions to identify the areas of greatest need? He should take responsibility for the devastation that has been inflicted on communities such as mine, where people have served the nation, including by mining the coal that powered the engines of industry that made Britain great, and they deserve recognition.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister not to join his long list of predecessors in batting aside the criticism. I want him to work with the Labour party Front Benchers, and to visit my community. I want us to work together to create a funding and investment package that will improve my area and others. I want an investment package that will really deliver on the levelling-up promise. We want an end to meaningless rhetoric.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne), who campaigns tirelessly to try to find ways in which we can lift people out of poverty. They suffer, through no fault of their own, because the system is rigged against them. I especially pay tribute to his work fighting for a legal right to food, so that no families or children go hungry in the fifth richest economy on the planet.
We had a fantastic debate on supported housing recently in the Chamber. A number of my colleagues spoke and exposed the racket in the housing sector. I hope in my brief comments to suggest a few ways in which the Government could begin to put things into reverse.
The private rented sector is booming in this country—and in Liverpool; it accounts for 32% of all housing stock across the city, and in at least one third of council wards, the proportion is approaching 50%. Liverpool, Walton, which I represent, is ranked as the most deprived constituency in the whole of England. My office is overwhelmed by constituents coming to me and my staff for help because the places where they live are blighted by damp, mould, cold, or vermin.
I apologise for not being here at the start of the debate due to other commitments. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just those in private rented accommodation who find themselves trapped in totally unacceptable conditions—many of which we have heard about today? People such as Janice Dawson and her husband, in my constituency, can be forced to live in damp and unhealthy leasehold properties because management companies fail for years to carry out essential repairs, despite repeated promises to do so.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She is absolutely right, and that problem is found not just in leaseholds, but in supported housing and housing association homes. In every sector that we look at, there is too little regulation and funding to put those issues right.
When my constituents come to me with those issues of damp, mould, cold and vermin, they are ignored by their unscrupulous landlords. The overstretched local authority, which is supposed to attempt to enforce the few housing standards that we have, is doing so with ever-dwindling resources because of more than a decade of austerity cuts. We should not underestimate the constant, crushing, dehumanising misery that squalid housing conditions cause people and families. The local authority has made tackling those problems a priority in recent years, especially in the private rented sector, but needs urgent support, which the Government have failed to deliver.
In 2015, Liverpool City Council introduced the UK’s first city-wide landlord licensing scheme, which my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) saw in operation. Since its introduction, 70% of inspected properties have been found to be in breach of their licence conditions. Some 37,000 compliance actions were carried out, 2,500 legal and fixed penalty notices were issued, and almost 250 landlords were prosecuted. In practical terms, that meant improving the lives of tenants, making electrics safe, installing fire doors, eradicating damp and preventing illegal evictions. In other words, the scheme worked.
What did the Government do when Liverpool City Council applied for a new licensing scheme in 2019? It rejected the application—a huge blow for residents. Only after numerous resubmissions have we found out that the scheme can be reintroduced in April. However, this time, it will apply to only 80% of the city’s wards, because of a diktat from Whitehall. That will undermine the city council’s ability to enforce standards across the region, and tenants will suffer as a result.
In the light of a near 65% cut in Government funding to Liverpool’s core budget since 2010, Ministers must look at how they can do more to support local authorities that want to ensure that residents have security, dignity and comfort in their home. The Government must rescind the damaging relaxation of permitted development rights and return those powers to local government, too. Ministers should turn their attention to what could be done to support the creation of flourishing communities that support the health and wellbeing of their residents, not least by implementing comprehensive national housing standards.
In recent months and years, I have been working with the Town and Country Planning Association to seek to introduce a healthy homes Act, which would effectively outlaw the slums of the future. We need robust new measures to hold landlords and developers to account. A significant barrier to effective action is the radical imbalance in access to Government among interest groups. We cannot tackle the housing crisis without tackling the undue influence that property developers have over Government policy. A recent report by Transparency International UK found that although property tycoons have an open door into Whitehall, tenants are shut out. Given that private renters make up one in five of all households across Britain, their absence from policy making is conspicuous. It warps the process in favour of vested interests.
At a recent Public Accounts Committee hearing on the regulation of private renting, I made sure that ACORN, the community and tenants’ union, was invited to give evidence. I wonder if the Minister has ever met with that union. The testimony provided to the Committee by ACORN’S representative was powerful and is too rarely heard. I urge the Minister to tell us what he plans to do to address that imbalance and ensure that tenants are given a seat at the table.
As always, it is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Sir Gary. This has been, I think, an incredibly important debate about an issue that really does not get enough attention in this place but which is of huge and growing importance to many of our constituents, not least given the size of the private rented sector and its ongoing—and, indeed, accelerating—expansion.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) on securing the debate and on the way he opened it. As always, he spoke with great force and sincerity on behalf of his constituents, and brought alive the reality of the appalling conditions faced by far too many of those renting privately.
Following his impassioned remarks, we heard a series of incredibly powerful contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Westminster North (Ms Buck), for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves), for Easington (Grahame Morris) and for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden), as well as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Their contributions were all directly informed by their respective constituency experiences and the obviously huge housing caseloads each of them deals with on a weekly basis.
It is not in dispute that some of the worst standards in housing are in the private rented sector. It goes without saying that that statement should not be taken to imply that every privately rented property is in bad condition, or that all private landlords fail their tenants. I also fully accept—no doubt it will be referenced in the remarks the Minister’s officials have prepared for him—that, measured by either the decent homes standard or the housing health and safety rating system category 1 hazards, the absolute number and proportion of poor quality private rented homes continues to fall, albeit steadily rather than drastically, as part of a half century if not longer of improvement in housing standards.
There is still clearly an acute problem for those private sector tenants who are the most vulnerable, have little or no purchasing power, are increasingly concentrated at the lower end of the private rental market and—as anecdotal evidence would suggest—are also increasingly concentrated geographically. However, we still need the Department to provide accurate data on precisely how private rented homes are distributed across the country.
As we have heard from all speakers today, for tenants forced to live in homes that do not meet the decent homes standard and that often have a category 1 hazard what should be a place of refuge and comfort is instead a source of daily anxiety and, in many cases, torment and misery. Whether they wake up every day to mould, vermin or dangerous hazards, today’s debate has provided yet more evidence that substandard private rented housing takes a huge toll on the physical and mental health of those in it and prevents families and children—it is this I find the most saddening—from flourishing as they should be able to.
I know the Under-Secretary cares deeply about improving housing standards and life chances, but it should be a real source of shame to him and his colleagues that after 12 years of Conservative-led Government, one in five homes in the private rented sector still does not meet the decent homes standard and one in 10 has a category 1 hazard posing a risk of serious harm. The Minister and his colleagues should be agitating week in, week out for the changes necessary to bear down decisively on this problem, and for those changes to be enacted as a matter of urgency. What makes the situation all the more frustrating is that it is patently obvious what the required changes are and, indeed, there is broad consensus across the House on most of them.
I leave aside the more fundamental issue of a striking lack of decent, secure and genuinely affordable social homes to rent, which is in many ways at the heart of the problem, and will instead use the time left to explore in a little more detail the three most important areas where change in the private rented sector is required: standards, enforcement and rights. Each has already featured in the debate.
First, on standards, a technical but crucial issue is that the Government need to review and strengthen national standards for rented homes, and to do so at pace. The decent homes standard, which provides for general benchmarking, has not been updated since 2006. It is welcome that it is being reviewed, but the process needs to be expedited. Will the Minister tell us when the Government expect the decent homes standard review to complete? The HHSRS is also under review and we need the conclusions of that exercise to be published as soon as possible. Will the Minister give us an update on when he expects that review to complete?
My final point on standards is that, in the levelling-up White Paper, the Government committed to exploring
“proposals for new minimum standards for rented homes”.
Obviously, we have no issue with that in principle, but will the Minister give us some sense of how such minimum standards would interact with the updated decent homes standard and the HHSRS? The last thing we need is to make the current regime even more complex and challenging to administer.
Secondly, the Government must start taking enforcement more seriously. A number of contributors have talked about the importance of enforcement. The Minister could emerge from Marsham Street in a month’s time with proposals for the most robust set of national standards possible, but it would count for little if those standards could not then be enforced in practice. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North mentioned, two changes need to be made if the Government are to facilitate the proper enforcement of standards across the country.
The first is to give local authorities the means to enforce standards properly themselves. At present, enforcement of standards across the country is incredibly patchy and tenants face a postcode lottery as a result. Those councils that could do more with the resources they have but are not need to be encouraged to do so, but the problem in large part is the product of central Government funding cuts over many years. Does the Minister accept as much? If so, what plans do the Government have to provide local authorities with the funding and support they need to enforce regulations, as well as enabling, rather than frustrating, those authorities that wish to adopt landlord licensing schemes?
The second change is to enable tenants themselves to enforce standards. I appreciate that the issue lies outside of the Minister’s departmental responsibilities, but does he accept that unless legal aid is reintroduced for disrepair claims so that lower income tenants can seek to enforce existing standards—let alone future standards—progress on his objectives is likely to be held back?
Thirdly, the Government must act now to give renters more rights and better protection, so that they can seek redress for poor quality conditions and disrepair without fear of retribution. There is clear consensus across the House that we need to overhaul the outdated legislation that applies to the private rented sector. However, it is now three years since the Conservative Administration of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) promised to abolish section 21 no-fault evictions. There has been a lot of talk about the White Paper today but, perhaps most disappointingly, we were promised a renter’s reform Bill in the Queen’s Speech last year yet as we approach the end of the Session, not only is there no sign of that Bill but we are now told to expect a White Paper in its place in the spring.
Of course, we need to ensure that any proposals for reform are considered and properly scrutinised, but tenants need protection now. They cannot afford to wait 12, 16, 18, 24 months or longer for the White Paper to be published and consulted on and for legislation to be brought forward. Given the implications for tenants suffering now, I would like to hear from the Minister why, having committed to a Bill in this Session, the Government have now determined that a White Paper will do instead.
To conclude, the House must act to improve conditions for the millions of private renters trapped in substandard housing, and must act quickly. Tenants living in squalid conditions cannot wait years while the Government slowly analyse yet more reviews and engage in more consultations and delay. We know what needs to happen; it is now a question of delivering it. I look forward to hearing from the Minister that the Government are not only seized by the urgency of the problem but, as a result, will look again at how the changes that need to be made can be enacted quickly.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. Given that I have a bit of a cold, it might be easier for me to conclude two or three minutes early, to give my voice a rest. I thank the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) for securing this debate on the quality of housing, which is an issue that affects us all. Although I appreciate that there has been no representation from the Government side, I like to reflect that that might be because my colleagues have faith in the Minister responsible and the forthcoming promise of legislation, but that will be for others to judge.
We have discussed standards in the private rented sector. I am delighted that the opportunity has arisen, because we have ambitious plans to create a vibrant private rented sector that is safe, healthy and fit for purpose. During the debate, we have heard a wealth of expertise and experience from across the House. Although I appreciate that we are on different sides of the House, I like to think we are on the same side of the argument. I share others’ determination to address these problems.
I start by reiterating our commitment to drive up standards in the private rented sector. Good quality housing can help to improve a wide range of outcomes, including health, quality of life and educational attainment. Since 2004, landlords have had to ensure that their properties are free from the most serious category 1 hazards, those that that pose an imminent risk to tenants’ health. In 2016, we strengthened local authorities’ enforcement powers to deal with hazardous properties by introducing financial penalties of up to £30,000, extending rent payment orders and introducing banning orders for the most serious and prolific offenders. Councils have been using those powers.
I fully appreciate that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), says that the Government are not spending enough, but I think the examples I give show that some councils are doing that. He described the provision as patchy, which is unfortunate and certainly something the Government would like to address, but there are definitely examples of good practice.
Enforcement action by Burnley Borough Council over the past two years, for example, has netted fines and costs of more than £85,000. This year, Bristol City Council banned a landlord for letting or managing properties for five years after it found he was running a seriously unsafe house, with 18 tenants, including six children. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, when people were spending so much more time in their homes, we increased safety further by requiring landlords to ensure that electrics in properties were safe. Local councils have also been using powers we gave them to do that. Fenland District Council has fined four landlords £25,000 for dangerous electrics. We are amending regulations to make it mandatory for both social and private landlords to instal a carbon monoxide alarm in any room used as living accommodation where a fixed combustion appliance of any fuel type is used.
There has been a marked improvement in standards in the private rented sector. The proportion of homes in the sector with category 1 hazards has halved since 2010. However, as the shadow Minister pointed out, 12% of homes in the sector still contain serious hazards. It is not good enough, so I need to talk about what we will do.
The levelling-up White Paper outlined a set of ambitious missions to level up the country and support our communities. On housing quality, the Government set our ambition to half the number of non-decent rented homes by 2030, with the biggest improvements in the lowest-performing areas. We have committed to consult on introducing a legally binding decent home standards in the private rented sector. We are working with a range of experts to review the housing, health and safety rating system risk assessment tool, which forms part of the decent home standards. That will make it more efficient and effective for local authorities to use and more accessible for tenants and landlords.
We are exploring a register of private rented properties so that local councils can identify where to target their enforcement and leave the good landlords alone. We are also committed to requiring all private landlords to belong to a redress scheme to drive up standards further and ensure all tenants have a right to redress. As have been said, we will abolish no-fault evictions, which will mean tenants who complain about poor standards are protected from revenge evictions. We will publish our landmark White Paper later this spring, which I understand technically starts on 20 March, so I hope very soon.
Let me turn to the issues that Members have raised. I appreciate it is slightly outside the course of the debate, but the social rented sector was mentioned by a few Members. We had the social housing White Paper, the charter for social housing residents. The regulator for social housing and the housing ombudsman have not needed to wait for us to introduce legislation to become more muscular in their interactions with the problems they face. The housing ombudsman has seriously increased its number of staff, as has the housing regulator. As we prepare for legislation, I am in constant contact with them both to ensure that they will have the powers that they need, but they already have the staff they need to carry out that level of enforcement.
A number of people mentioned the problems with mould in the socially rented sector, which was deplorable. Following the report published by the housing ombudsman, we do not have the presumption that it is the tenant’s fault—a lifestyle choice on their part—that causes damp, so we are already seeing steps in the right direction in advance of any legislation.
On the items listed by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, I share the frustration with section 21. Clearly, that will be fundamental in the White Paper. It seems deplorable that people could be concerned about reporting dangerous items in their property to their landlord with that fear hanging over them. We have consulted widely. I share the concerns of others and that will be fundamental to our reforms.
The shadow Minister clearly said that there are landlords who are doing the job right, but there are those who do not. Is it the Minister’s intention to bring those people up to the standard of those who do it right? Owning rented accommodation is not a cash cow; it is more than that. There is an obligation to look after their tenant. Will the standard be those good owners of rental accommodation?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It was raised by another Member with regard to the balance of power between tenants and landlords. For too long, the power has rested more fundamentally with landlords and we need to redress that balance to bring the standards of the worst up to the standards of the good, and we need to accept that that might mean that some landlords will exit the sector. If they have been providing a particularly poor service and poor quality accommodation, the sector will be better for their absence from it. That is why we are consulting on a decent homes standard for the PRS. Unfortunately, I am not able to say when that work will be concluded, other than in due course, but we are working closely with stakeholders to make sure that the review gives us an appropriate basis for legislation in the future.
I completely accept that there have been problems previously with the selective licensing across Liverpool. My understanding of the situation is that there were some statutory problems with the application. I appreciate that it might have been an administrative-type problem, but at least we are there now. I am an enthusiastic consultee with regard to the idea of a landlords’ register, because it would be incredibly helpful for all councils to know where their private rented landlords are, and it would help them focus whatever resources they have more specifically.
This is not a one-way Streeter—sorry, street even for the tenants. There are certain advantages for landlords of such a scheme being adopted, which I understand will happen in County Durham in two weeks’ time, based on the excellent scheme that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) was promoting.
It is great to hear about good work that is going on across the country, and I fully accept that we can learn from the work that other areas are doing.
I quickly want to cover a few more points. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) mentioned Louise’s case. I would be grateful if she would write to me, so I can pick up that case, because we need to be concerned about standards in all forms of accommodation, and student accommodation is one of them. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) raised working with devolved assemblies. One of the things I have been working on is the new homes ombudsman, who will ensure the new properties we build are of an appropriate quality. We have been working very closely with the devolved Assemblies on that issue, and we will continue to do so in other areas.
I am grateful for the invitation from the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) to visit. I hope there is no reshuffle before I get the opportunity to get out and about more, to say the least. With regard to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), when we are talking about insecurity and poor quality housing, I hope that work to abolish section 21 will address both those points because tenants will have more security and more leverage to complain about the standards of accommodation they are being provided with.
The one question I would like the Minister to answer before he wraps up is why the Government have decided to replace a commitment to a renters reform Bill in this Session with a White Paper. Can he guarantee that we will get that comprehensive renters reform Bill in this Parliament?
It would be fair to say that I will do everything I can. I feel personally invested in ensuring that happens. On the delay, I am not sure this is the legitimate answer the Government expect me to give, but we have been through two years of covid, and I have seen—we are seeing it now with the situation in Ukraine—that a number of staff have to pivot to the most pressing item that the Government are dealing with. We have a finite number of staff, and clearly covid has caused incredible challenges for the Government. I personally feel that they have responded well, but I understand the frustration. I conclude by saying that the debate has been incredibly useful for me—
It is clear from the contributions to the debate that the message is loud and clear: for so many, the system is unfair and unjust, and it leaves so many tenants living in fear, squalor and genuine worry about what the future holds for them and their families. We should think of this statistic when we leave this place today and we should think of it every day: poor housing can knock 20 years off somebody’s life. That is something that we should never forget. It is what should drive all of us in this Parliament.
I welcome the passionate contributions today from my fellow Members—the debate has been excellent—and from the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook). I also welcome the Minister’s commitment. I know that he genuinely wants to drive social justice through the Bill that we are talking about. I welcome his commitment on abolishing section 21 and his acknowledgement that current landlord licensing is patchy. We will see what is in the White Paper when it eventually comes. I look forward to working with the Minister in driving that. I hope that he redresses the situation and that we get a landlord licence scheme rolled out nationally, because licensing works and would make such a difference.
I thank everybody very much for taking the time to participate today. I really hope that the Minister does remember the 20-year fact, because deeds are far more important than words.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered poor quality conditions and disrepair in private rented sector housing.