Skip to main content

Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill (First sitting)

Debated on Tuesday 16 January 2024

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: Dame Caroline Dinenage, Clive Efford, Sir Mark Hendrick, † Sir Edward Leigh

† Amesbury, Mike (Weaver Vale) (Lab)

† Carter, Andy (Warrington South) (Con)

† Davison, Dehenna (Bishop Auckland) (Con)

Edwards, Sarah (Tamworth) (Lab)

† Everitt, Ben (Milton Keynes North) (Con)

† Fuller, Richard (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)

† Gardiner, Barry (Brent North) (Lab)

† Glindon, Mary (North Tyneside) (Lab)

† Hughes, Eddie (Walsall North) (Con)

† Levy, Ian (Blyth Valley) (Con)

† Maclean, Rachel (Redditch) (Con)

† Mohindra, Mr Gagan (South West Hertfordshire) (Con)

† Pennycook, Matthew (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)

† Rimmer, Ms Marie (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab)

† Rowley, Lee (Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety)

Smith, Chloe (Norwich North) (Con)

† Strathern, Alistair (Mid Bedfordshire) (Lab)

Huw Yardley, Katya Cassidy, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Witnesses

Mr Martin Boyd, Chair, Leasehold Advisory Service

Sebastian O’Kelly, CEO, Leasehold Knowledge Partnership

Liam Spender, Senior Associate, Velitor Law

Katie Kendrick, Co-founder, National Leasehold Campaign

Jo Derbyshire, Co-founder, National Leasehold Campaign

Cath Williams, Co-founder, National Leasehold Campaign

Amanda Gourlay, Barrister, Lazarev Cleaver LLP and Associate, Tanfield Chambers

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 16 January 2024

(Morning)

[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill

Before I begin, I have a couple of announcements. Hansard colleagues would be grateful if Members emailed their speaking notes to hansardnotes@parliament.uk. Obviously, electronic devices should be switched off.

Ordered,

That—

(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 9.25 am on Tuesday 16 January) meet—

(a) at 2.00 pm on Tuesday 16 January;

(b) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 18 January;

(c) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 23 January;

(d) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 25 January;

(e) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 30 January;

(f) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 1 February;

(2) the Committee shall hear oral evidence in accordance with the following Table:

Date

Time

Witness

Tuesday 16 January

Until no later than 9.50 am

The Leasehold Advisory Service (LEASE)

Tuesday 16 January

Until no later than 10.25 am

Leasehold Knowledge Partnership; Velitor Law

Tuesday 16 January

Until no later than 11.00 am

The National Leasehold Campaign

Tuesday 16 January

Until no later than 11.25 am

Law & Lease

Tuesday 16 January

Until no later than 2.30 pm

The Law Commission

Tuesday 16 January

Until no later than 3.00 pm

The Financial Conduct Authority

Tuesday 16 January

Until no later than 3.40 pm

Free Leaseholders; Commonhold Now; HoRnet (the Home Owners Rights Network)

Tuesday 16 January

Until no later than 4.15 pm

The Property Institute; Fanshawe White

Tuesday 16 January

Until no later than 4.50 pm

The Home Buying and Selling Group; The Conveyancing Association

Tuesday 16 January

Until no later than 5.15 pm

Public First

Tuesday 16 January

Until no later than 5.40 pm

Dr Douglas Maxwell

Thursday 18 January

Until no later than 12.10 pm

HomeOwners Alliance; The Federation of Private Residents’ Associations; Shared Ownership Resources

Thursday 18 January

Until no later than 12.40 pm

Professor Andrew J. M. Steven (Professor of Property Law, University of Edinburgh); Professor Christopher Hodges OBE (Emeritus Professor of Justice Systems, University of Oxford)

Thursday 18 January

Until no later than 1.00 pm

The Building Societies Association

Thursday 18 January

Until no later than 2.20 pm

Competition and Markets Authority

Thursday 18 January

Until no later than 2.40 pm

Policy Exchange

Thursday 18 January

Until no later than 3.10 pm

The Law Society; Philip Rainey KC

Thursday 18 January

Until no later than 3.30 pm

The Residential Freehold Association

Thursday 18 January

Until no later than 3.50 pm

End Our Cladding Scandal

(3) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 4; Schedule 1; Clauses 5 to 11; Schedules 2 to 5; Clauses 12 to 19; Schedule 6; Clauses 20 and 21; Schedule 7; Clauses 22 to 37; Schedule 8; Clauses 38 to 65; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill. (4) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Thursday 1 February.—(Lee Rowley.)

Resolved,

That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Lee Rowley.)

I take it that we do not need to move the motion about deliberating in private; just intimate to the Clerk or me that you want to speak, and we will proceed informally. We are sitting in public, and the proceedings are being broadcast. Do any Members want to make a declaration of interest?

My wife is the joint chief executive of the Law Commission, and we are hearing evidence from it.

Examination of Witness

Mr Martin Boyd gave evidence.

We will now hear oral evidence from Martin Boyd, chair of the Leasehold Advisory Service. Before I call the first Member to ask a question, I remind all Members that questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill. We must stick to the timings in the programme order that the Committee has agreed. For this panel, we have until 9.50 am. Perhaps the witness could introduce himself briefly.

Mr Martin Boyd: Good morning, everyone. My name is Martin Boyd. I am the newly appointed chair of the Government’s Leasehold Advisory Service. I am also chair of the charity the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, and I am chair of the resident management company in the place where I have a flat.

I think perhaps the Opposition spokesperson wants to start off with the questions.

Q Martin, thank you for coming to give evidence to the Committee. I have two questions to start off with.

Excuse me, Chair. Is the loop system on? No? Can we arrange to have it on, please? [Interruption.] Oh, we cannot; I understand.

One of the aims of the Bill—certainly in the terms of reference handed to the Law Commission, whose recommendations frame a lot of parts 1 and 2—was to provide a better deal for leaseholders as consumers and increase transparency and fairness. In your view, to what extent does the Bill as a whole do that? Are there any specific clauses or elements of the Bill that we might seek to tighten up to further improve the experience for leaseholders as consumers? I am thinking of the fact that leaseholders are still liable to pay certain non-litigation costs and that right-to-manage companies are still liable when claims cease.

Mr Martin Boyd: As you may recall, when the Law Commission originally looked at this area of the law, it suggested to the Government that a consolidation Bill was warranted. However, there was not the budget at the time, so it was then given the three projects on right to manage, enfranchisement and commonhold to look at. The enfranchisement proposals and some of the right-to-manage proposals, but none of the commonhold proposals, have been brought forward in the Bill. The difficulty with the Bill is that there is an almost endless list of things that could be added. In removing the one-sided costs regime, the Bill does quite a lot to balance the system during the enfranchisement process. It also attempts to address the problem of the costs regime at the property tribunal. In the current system, the landlord is in a win-win position. Even if they lose the case, they are able to pass on some of their legal costs under most leases. The Bill tries to address some of those issues.

We still have a whole set of problems in the way that resident management companies and RTMs operate. They do not have a legitimate means of passing on their company costs within the service charge. There are still sites where they effectively have to cook the books to pass on the legitimate costs to the service charge payers. There are still many more things to add to the Bill. Clearly, we will continue to have problems with multi-block right-to-manage sites as well. They do not operate effectively anymore, and unfortunately the Bill does not address that element of the problem.

Q Just so I am clear, you think there is scope to tighten the clauses in the Bill when it comes to non-litigation costs at tribunal and RTMs incurring costs?

Mr Martin Boyd: Yes. There are several things that could be added.

Q My second question relates to managing agents. Lots of the freeholders that leaseholders have to deal with are offshore and hard to reach. Managing agents are the first point of contact, and in many cases are the only point of contact. To what extent do you think that the Bill will function effectively without some kind of regulation of managing agents? Should we be looking to introduce that into the Bill?

Mr Martin Boyd: The RoPA—regulation of property agents—report, which the Government undertook some years ago under Lord Best and which proposed statutory regulation of managing agents in this sector and within the estate agency world, has unfortunately not moved forward. There are proposals in the Bill to bring estate agents within codes of practice, but nothing in particular changes on property management. We have a slightly strange position at the moment. In the social sector, there is now an obligation for a property manager to have a proper level of competencies to look after high-rise buildings, or high-risk buildings, as they are still called. In the private sector, though, we have nothing. There are no requirements to have any qualifications to look after and manage the highest of our high-rise buildings in this country. That is simply wrong, so I would support fully a move to the statutory regulation of agents.

Q Hello Martin, good to see you. Are there any risks in banning new leasehold houses but not flats?

Mr Martin Boyd: Yes, there are risks. Currently, we do not have a viable commonhold system. Even if the Government were to come forward with the full Law Commission proposals, those had not reached the point where they created all the systems necessary to allow the conversion of leasehold flats to commonhold flats. I see no technical reason at the moment why we should not move quite quickly to commonhold on new build for extant stock. I think it will take longer—and, at the end of the day, conversion will be a consequence of consumer demand. People would want to do it. On my side, I would not want us to convert to commonhold, because I could not yet be sure that it would help to add to the value of the properties. It would make our management of the site a lot easier, but I could not guarantee to anyone living there that it would add to the value of their property—and that is what people want to know, before they convert.

Q Mr Boyd, I want to pick up something you said in answer to the shadow Minster, when you were talking about the treatment of property managers or managing agents in the private sector. You enumerated a list of three options: a code of conduct, which you said existed in the social sector; legislation or regulation; and also qualification, which I took to be professional qualification. Which of those three is the preferred path, in your view?

Mr Martin Boyd: I do not think the Leasehold Advisory Service would have a specific preferred path. At least two of those are important. I will add a fourth, actually. It is illogical that we do not have a requirement for professional qualifications for those managing particularly complex buildings.

Q Why is it illogical? I have no qualifications to be an MP; I am supposed to look after lots of things.

Mr Martin Boyd: I will be cautious, so that I am not rude in answering that. There are a set of skills that you would expect to acquire as an MP, and a certain set of skills that you need to acquire as a property manager. Buildings are complex entities, particularly large buildings. They have a lot of plant and a lot of complex systems. There is quite a complex interaction with the people who live in those buildings. There are voluntary qualifications that we have in the sector. The Secretary of State decided recently that there should be a mandatory level of qualification in the social sector. I do not see there being a logic in saying that we need one or the other.

In terms of regulation of managing agents, there is a problem. The ex-chair of the managing agents’ trade body said that it is perfectly legal to set up a property management company in your back bedroom in the morning and be collecting a large amount of money in the afternoon, without any regulation. I think that is a problem. One of the issues not considered in the Bill—perhaps it would not be relevant, although the Government need to consider it at some point soon—is that there is still no proper control of leaseholders’ funds. It is very likely that the two largest managing agents in this country hold between them somewhere between £1 billion and £2 billion. There is no Financial Conduct Authority regulation of how that money is held.

Q I notice in Mr Boyd’s resume that LEASE is

“to champion the rights of leaseholders and park homeowners.”

I have a number of park home owners in my constituency, as I am sure many colleagues do. Are there any provisions in the Bill, or is there anything that could be added to it, that would improve the lot of park home owners?

Mr Martin Boyd: Yes, there is, but again that goes on to the long list of things that could be added to the Bill. Park homes have been a difficult area for many years. It is a relatively small part of LEASE’s work, but it is work that will be expanding as we move forward. I am more than happy to talk to you about some of the provisions on park homes that could be added.

Q Mr Boyd, you just spoke about the accounting of funds. At the moment, there is no requirement to show any separation between sinking or reserve funds and the normal service charges for managing the property. Many leaseholders have suggested that that is a problem, and that they are not clear what is happening with their sinking fund. Sometimes they believe that the moneys that were there for future capital works on the property are being raided. Would it be a good idea for the Bill to contain something that enabled leaseholders to see precisely what was happening to those reserve or sinking funds?

Mr Martin Boyd: There were proposals in sections 152 to 156 of the 2002 Act to help to improve protection for leaseholders’ funds. Currently, we are left with a set of voluntary codes. One is applied by the Association of Residential Managing Agents—the Property Institute, as it is now called—and sets out that managing agents should hold separate bank accounts for each of the sites that they manage. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ code does not require that. I am aware from experience of my and other sites that, in the recent period of higher inflation, some managing agents used consolidation accounts, accrued the interest in the service charge funds to themselves and passed very little on to the leaseholders. So yes, I think it would be very helpful if we had greater transparency and protection.

Q Indeed. You nicely lead me to my other question, which concerns something else that was in the 2002 Act but was never brought into effect: the provision that, if the landlord had not complied with the rules around service charges and the charges were unfair, leaseholders should be able to withhold their service charge. I have no idea why that was never brought into effect, but would it be a good idea? The Bill sets out extensive obligations that have to be followed in relation to service charges. If those are not followed, should leaseholders have the right to withhold the service charge?

Mr Martin Boyd: I can tell you why it did not move forward. One of the reasons it did not move forward is that, when there was a consultation, the organisation that I now chair argued very strongly against the implementation of that section. That was one of the things that annoyed me when I found out about it over a decade ago. It is not something that we would argue for now.

Q So you would agree that it would be a good provision to insert into the Bill.

Mr Martin Boyd: It was a very good provision, yes.

Q Mr Boyd, it is good to see you. You have talked about commonhold. Would you mind just being quite succinct and clear on your view about commonhold? There are proposals from various groups who are active in the sector to make it mandatory to sell all new leasehold flats as commonhold. Would that be a good idea, and if not, why not?

Mr Martin Boyd: I am proud to say that it was LKP that restarted the whole commonhold project in 2014. At the time, we were told, “The market doesn’t want commonhold.” The market very clearly told us that it did want commonhold; it was just that the legislation had problems in 2002. One of our trustees, who is now unfortunately no longer with us, was part of a very big commonhold project in Milton Keynes that had to be converted back to leasehold when they found problems with the law.

I think the Government have been making it very clear for several years that they accept that leasehold’s time is really over. I do not see any reason why we cannot move to a mandatory commonhold system quite quickly. What the developers had always said to us—I think they are possibly right—is that they worry that the Government might get the legislation wrong again, and they would therefore want a bedding-in period where they could test the market to ensure that commonhold was working, and they would agree to a sunset clause. They had fundamentally opposed that in 2002, and we managed to get them in 2014 to agree that, if commonhold could be shown to work, they would agree to a sunset clause that would say, “You cannot build leasehold properties after x date in the future.” I think that that is a viable system.

Q Good morning, Mr Boyd. How will the Bill impact on your work as an advisory service and the advice that you give to leaseholders?

Mr Martin Boyd: As some of you may know, I have been very critical in the past of the organisation that I now chair, because I thought that it was doing the wrong thing. The Government took what some might see as a brave decision in asking me to take on the role as chair. LEASE is going to become a much more proactive part of the system, and, as far as I see it, we now have several roles rather than one. While we are predominantly there to help advise consumers about the legislation and how to use it—and hopefully when not to use it—we will also have a role in helping to press Governments to make sure that they improve the legislation. That was not a remit that we had, but it will be very much part of our remit going forward.

Q Thank you. Will the provisions of the Bill lead to many more leaseholders seeking advice, and, if so, do you feel adequately resourced to provide that service?

Mr Martin Boyd: As I said to the all-party parliamentary group yesterday, the organisation does not currently have the budget. The Government have said that they will give us the relevant budget. If they do not give us the budget, I will not be staying, so I am very hopeful that we do get the budget.

Some aspects of the Bill do quite a lot to reduce the amount of time that leaseholders would need to spend asking for help. If the enfranchisement process goes through and we get to an online calculator system, where you simply feed in your data and it produces the answer, that will make that whole system much easier. That will reduce not only the amount of work that comes to us, but the amount of work that goes to various solicitors and surveyors in that field.

That is the end of our allotted time for this session; I think we got everybody in who wanted to ask questions. Thank you for coming to talk to us today.

Examination of Witnesses

Sebastian O’Kelly and Liam Spender gave evidence.

9.50 am

Q Good morning and welcome to our Committee. Could you briefly introduce yourselves, and then my colleagues will have some questions? You have been listening so you know the form.

Sebastian OKelly: I am Sebastian O’Kelly, director of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership. I am not a leaseholder; I am a commonhold owner in another jurisdiction, not in the UK.

Liam Spender: I am Liam Spender, senior associate at Velitor Law. I am a leaseholder in London. I am also a trustee of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership.

Q Gentlemen, thank you for coming to give evidence to the Committee. I could ask about a huge range of issues, but I will start with ground rents.

Various provisions in the Bill touch on ground rents. You will know, for example, that schedule 2 imposes a 0.1% cap on their treatment in valuation. Clause 21 and schedule 7 deal with existing ground rents and how we will treat those. What are your views on the fact that those provisions provide leaseholders with the enfranchisement right to buy out their ground rent under a very long residential lease, but we also have the consultation ongoing with five options? How do those provisions interact? Why have the Government specified an option in clause 21 for a particular type of very long residential lease, while we also have this consultation ongoing and, in theory, a commitment to bring forward further measures that apply to all existing ground rents? Does clause 21 in the Bill as drafted make sense to you?

Sebastian OKelly: Not especially. We are eager to hear the result of the consultation on ground rents. We very much support the peppercorn ground rent option and are delighted that the chairs of the all-party parliamentary group also support that. It would be a game-changing measure if that did come about—frankly, stripping out the one legitimate income stream in this ghastly system—but I can see that, as a precautionary measure, you might have that 0.1% provision in the Bill for dealing with enfranchisement. It will assist with some of the enfranchisements where you have very onerous ground rents.

Liam Spender: I agree; it is not clear why the 150-year threshold has been chosen. As far as I understand it, the Law Commission did not consider that in its work. That might be something that could be fruitfully explored in this Committee’s more detailed work.

Q I have two other brief questions. The Bill does not include provision to ban new leasehold houses. If the Government’s intention, as I think has been made clear, is to bring those provisions forward through Government amendments in Committee or on Report—at a later stage—what should they look like? In your view, should we look for those Government amendments to do or not to do particular things?

On the right to manage, only eight of the 101 Law Commission recommendations on right to manage have found their way into the Bill. We face the issue that Mr Boyd referred to—we could add in many more provisions to the Bill. Are there any specific RTM recommendations from the Law Commission that it would be really worthwhile to try to incorporate into the Bill?

Sebastian OKelly: In relation to leasehold houses, it is a bit of an embarrassing omission that the proposal is not there. The spreading of leasehold houses around the country simply to extract more cash from the unwitting consumers who had purchased houses from our plc house builders was a national scandal, actually, and it was frankly a try-on too far and caused a huge amount of kerfuffle. There will be times when you would have to build a leasehold house—when the builder does not actually own the land—but they are very isolated cases, and largely this scam has self-corrected through the adverse publicity.

On the right to manage, one of the most egregious issues is where groups of leaseholders have attempted to get a right to manage and have been hit for extortionate legal costs, where their petition for right to manage has been resisted by the landlord. There are certain landlords out there who always, always, unfailingly take this through the legal steps. They rack up legal costs, but of course they can get that back through the service charge. That is an issue that I urge is the worst deterrent to right to manage.

Liam Spender: The lack of right to manage for fleecehold estates—for estates subject to management schemes—is one of the most obvious omissions in the Bill. The Law Commission did an awful lot of work on how to improve the process for multi-block sites, particularly following the Supreme Court decision two years ago on Settlers Court. I think that is another missed opportunity.

Q Mr O’Kelly, you are one of a large number of leaseholders who has been adversely impacted by your personal situation. If I am correct, what has happened in your case is that your freeholder has used the service charges from you and others in the block to take you to court—it is an appalling situation. You have updated the APPG and others. For the Committee’s benefit, will you say how much you are out of pocket and whether the provisions in the Bill will address the issues that you have faced and will face in the future?

Sebastian OKelly: This is for Liam really, because I am not a leaseholder at all; it is Liam’s court case.

Sorry, I was looking at Mr Spender and I misspoke.

Liam Spender: I quite understand anyone being distracted by Mr O’Kelly. Thank you for the question. In our case to date, the freeholder has put £54,000 of its legal costs through the service charge. It did so in breach of a section 20C order, which is the current restriction that is supposed to prevent landlords from doing so. We complained and got most of that money back, but they have served something called a section 20B notice: they intend to recover the costs in the future if they prevail on appeal, by which point we could be looking at a substantial six-figure sum. This is all to do with us fighting to get back unreasonable service charges.

We are currently owed about £450,000—to give a round number—pending appeal. There is an appeal in April and I am carrying the burden of doing all that work myself. I quite understand why leaseholders without legal training give up and things will fall by the wayside. The system is very much stacked in landlords’ favour.

The cost provisions in the Bill are welcome. As you probably know, they changed the default so that the landlord has to ask for their costs. The issue is what has been created as a just and equitable jurisdiction; the tribunal can do what it thinks is fair in the circumstances. I believe—I think many people who have much more knowledge of this than I do would agree—that what that will mean in practice is probably that the tribunal will be inclined to give landlords their costs if they have won the case, so it will not change anything.

The other problem is that the first-tier tribunal considers itself a no-cost jurisdiction, and that is a generational way of thinking, so that has to be overcome and it has to get into the mindset of awarding costs to leaseholders and against landlords. Provisions could be included in the Bill that would make that that process easier—for example, prescribing a regime of fixed costs as applied to other low-value civil litigation. It is not a magic bullet, but I think that would be better than the current provisions in the Bill.

Q Is there anything else you would like in the Bill that is missing at the moment?

Sebastian OKelly: We would like to see a commitment to mandatory commonhold for new builds, frankly. How many more times are we going to try to reform the leasehold system? How many goes have we had at this since the 1960s? If you keep having to reform leasehold, is the answer not that it does not work? Why do you want this third-party investor—now, invariably, somebody offshore—hitching a ride on the value of somebody else’s home? It is a nonsense. One Duke of Westminster we can accept—the political continuity of our country maybe allows a freehold such as that—but we will create 1,000 of them with this. It is a nonsense. Bring it to an end and bring us in touch with the rest of the world—that is my statement.

Q Can I just pick up your comment to Rachel Maclean a moment ago on the legal aspect that you are fighting? Can you outline to the Committee what unreasonable service costs you are fighting to recover in court?

Liam Spender: Yes, happily. The main items in dispute are our intercom, car park gates and barriers. Our satellite TV dishes are rented in perpetuity; they were costing £240,000 a year, which is somewhere between 10 and 20 times what they should cost. The reason for that is that the developer chose to enter into a long-term rental and maintenance contract. That contract has never actually been—the technical term is “novated”—transferred to the current landlord, so there is no legal obligation on the current landlord to pay those costs at all. However, the landlord has dug in, so we are more than two and a half years into a service charge dispute. We prevailed in the first instance—that was the largest single item we won—and we must fight an appeal in April, and potentially another one after that, depending on what the landlord chooses to do.

Q Just so I am clear, at the point that you purchased the flat, did you know that those sorts of service charges would recur on an annual basis?

Liam Spender: I knew the general amount of service charges. I was not aware that there was a perpetual maintenance contract, because it was not disclosed in the searches.

Q Mr Spender, I want to ask you about what I find to be one of the more complicated aspects of the Bill: the leaseback arrangements. Nominee purchasers can require a landlord to take a leaseback on certain units. Those are the units that, in an enfranchisement process, are not participating in the enfranchisement. You might have a block of 100 units, and 30 of them do not go in with the leaseholders who want to enfranchise. At the moment, they are then, in perpetuity, leaseholders, are they not? They cannot ever enfranchise because the others have already enfranchised. Should there not be a provision in the Bill to enable those locked-in leaseholders—if they have the money in future, because many times it will be because they did not have the money available at the time to participate—to buy their share of the enfranchisement?

Liam Spender: I agree; you have summarised it very well. To borrow a loose analogy from company law, there is something called a tag-along right. If someone comes along and buys a certain proportion of shares in a company, the other shareholders can exercise the right to tag along to join the purchase. That could be adapted to those who do not participate in an initial enfranchisement to address exactly the issue that you raise.

Q Grand. If I can pursue that area, at the moment, the lease is granted to the demoted freeholder—so they become the head leaseholder, perhaps, and the other leaseholders are now subject to the head leaseholder. Their contract was always with the previous freeholder, who is now the head leaseholder. Should there not be some provision in the Bill that requires those minority leaseholders, who are still in a relationship with the former freeholder, to actually pay their service charge to the new freeholder? But there is not, is there?

Liam Spender: I think the provisions introduce a degree of complexity into buildings because, exactly as you say, you are creating a new class of landlord. That could be solved by—

Q But the specific question I want to probe with you is whether there is any provision in the Bill to require the minority leaseholders who did not enfranchise to pay their service charge to the new freeholder, namely the majority who enfranchised. I cannot see where that contractual obligation lies in the Bill. All I can see is that they will continue to have a relationship with the previous freeholder.

Liam Spender: That is right: there is no statutory mechanism to transfer to the newly enfranchised freeholders.

Q So you think the Committee should look at that very carefully.

Liam Spender: The Bill creates a lot of new areas of complexity, and that is certainly one that would merit detailed attention.

Well, gentlemen, I think that is it. Thank you very much.

Examination of Witnesses

Katie Kendrick, Jo Derbyshire and Cath Williams gave evidence.

Q Welcome to our Committee this morning. Perhaps you would like to introduce yourselves.

Katie Kendrick: I am Katie Kendrick. I am the founder of the National Leasehold Campaign, which has been running for seven years. I am also a trustee of LKP.

Jo Derbyshire: I am Jo Derbyshire. I am one of the co-founders of the National Leasehold Campaign and a trustee of LKP. I am not a leaseholder; I enfranchised and bought the freehold on my home. I had one of the now-infamous 10-year doubling ground rents on my house.

Cath Williams: I am Cath Williams. I am one of the co-founders of the National Leasehold Campaign. I am no longer a leaseholder, but I did buy a leasehold house.

Q Thank you for coming to give evidence to us. I have a general question to start. Large parts of the Bill are broadly uncontroversial and uncontentious, not least because they implement Law Commission recommendations. There is lots we could add in, but let us try to keep a focus on what is in the Bill. In your view, to what extent does the Bill deliver for leaseholders in terms of transparency, fairness, enhanced consumer rights and empowerment? What areas could we look to strengthen or tighten up?

Katie Kendrick: The Bill is very much welcomed and long overdue. As we all know, the Law Commission reports were fantastic and very detailed. The Bill is lacking significantly on the detail of the Law Commission recommendations. The headline was that the Bill would ban leasehold houses, and obviously the Bill as it stands does not do that. I am confident that it will, in the end, ban leasehold houses, but currently that has not been achieved.

The Bill improves the transparency of service charges, but just being able to see the fact that leaseholders are being ripped off more does not actually fix the root cause of the problem. As we all know, the root cause of the problem is the leasehold system per se. I am concerned that the Bill sticks more plasters on a system that we all agree is immensely outdated and needs to go. There is no mention anywhere in the Bill of our long-term vision of achieving commonhold. That is our vision, and it is the elephant in the room. The Bill does not even mention commonhold and how we can move towards it.

A peppercorn ground rent would massively change the playing field and help us to move towards our vision of commonhold, so we need to get a peppercorn ground rent for existing leaseholders in there. With the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022, which means new builds do not have a ground rent, we have created a two-tier system. The Bill really does need to look at existing leaseholders and what can be done to help to put them in a similar position to new leaseholders. If ground rents are wrong for the future, they were wrong in the past and we therefore need to be bold enough to go back and fix that. Peppercorn ground rent has to be the solution. This is an amazing opportunity and I hope that will be the outcome of the consultation.

Cath Williams: On peppercorn ground rent, we have noted a new definition of a long-term lease being 150 years, which we have never come across before. Many members in our group—there are over 27,000 members in the National Leasehold Campaign—have modern leases with ground rents at significantly less than 150 years, at around 99 or 125 years. That means that the provisions in the Bill do not give them the opportunity to revert to a peppercorn ground rent. If we have read it correctly—we are not legally trained—they would be excluded as having a non-qualifying lease. That is our understanding: that they would be excluded. That could be a significant number of leaseholders who will not benefit from the peppercorn ground rent opportunity in the Bill.

Q You mentioned that you welcome the peppercorn ground rent. It has often been put to me by campaigners on the other side of this argument that leaseholders do not mind paying ground rents. What is your view on that proposition?

Jo Derbyshire: I had a ground rent that doubled every 10 years. It meant that my ground rent would be £9,440 after 50 years. It certainly is not a trivial issue in my experience. A ground rent is a charge for no service. That is the big thing for me. Some warped genius at some point in the mid-2000s decided to create an asset class on our homes. It is just wrong.

Q Do you agree with some of the arguments that are put forward by the freeholders lobby and organisations that abolishing ground rent will destabilise the pensions industry and mean that nurses and care workers and the good people who are toiling very hard in our public services will have their pensions destroyed? What do you say to that?

Jo Derbyshire: I think that is project fear. I work in pensions. I work in administration, not investments, but I sit on a lot of pension committees where we talk about the assets that pension schemes hold. They have investment strategies and they protect themselves from over-investing in one asset class. The amount of ground rents held by pension funds in this country would pale into insignificance compared with, for example, the impact of the mini-Budget and what happened with equities shortly after that. This is deliberate scaremongering.

Q I have two brief questions. Are there any risks in terms of banning new leasehold houses but not flats? Why do you think this country is an outlier in the world and is so wedded still to this day to the feudal system of leasehold?

Katie Kendrick: You cannot just ban leasehold houses and not flats—70% of leaseholders live in flats, so you are not tackling the problem. You are cherry-picking the easy things, and banning leasehold houses is easy. It is more tricky with flats, but that does not mean it is not achievable. As you have said, it has been achieved everywhere else in the world. We do not need to continue to mask that leasehold system. It is deeply flawed and it ultimately needs to be abolished.

We do understand that there is no magic wand and this is not going to happen tomorrow, but there have been a lot of campaigners, well before us, who have highlighted the issues of leasehold, and yet here we are, still, again, trying to make it a little bit fairer. It does not need to be a little bit fairer—it needs to go. That needs to be the ultimate aim. Everybody needs to work on this. There is something better out there, despite what the other lobbying groups will tell you.

Q This is a question I will ask a number of witnesses. We do an impact assessment for legislative change to all Bills, sometimes done well and sometimes less so. This has an assessment of the total cost of the Bill, with the best estimate being £2.9 billion. That is quite large for a Bill. A large part of that—about two thirds—is a transfer of the value from freeholders to leaseholders. That is at £1.8 billion, or £1.9 billion. What are your thoughts about that transfer of wealth?

Jo Derbyshire: It is long overdue; bring it on.

Q From that, are you implying that your view is that it has been a rip-off to date, and therefore there are monies that you should have been having for all the years you have been paying and there was no value to it?

Jo Derbyshire: If I think of my estate, there was no reason whatsoever to create leasehold houses other than to make money from the people who had bought them. That is partly why, going back to an earlier question, it is taking so long to dismantle the system in this country: it is because there is so much money for nothing in it. That is why it is so hard to dismantle it.

Q I cannot remember whether it was you, Jo, or Kate—if I may call you by your first names—who works in a pension fund.

Jo Derbyshire: I work in a pension fund.

Q On the change in pension funds and investments, you may have different views about how important that is and my colleague asked you that question. However, putting yourself in the place of the people who own the freehold—some may be large overseas entities, some may be members of the peerage of the realm and there may be others—what is your view and what assessment have you made of the impact on them?

Jo Derbyshire: From my perspective, it is just about how all investment carries risk. This is no different. This is about rebalancing the scales in terms of leaseholders and freeholders. For me, it is about fairness for leaseholders. That is what the Law Commission was tasked with a few years ago, it is what we have been fighting for over the last however many years and that is what this does.

Q I apologise because I came in slightly late today, Chair, so I do not know if people have declared their interest. I should say that I am a freeholder; I am not a leaseholder. I have been a leaseholder in the past, but always with a share of the freehold.

Ms Kendrick, you said that there were things that the Law Commission report had talked about that have not been included in the Bill. One of those is in relation to shared services. Often, in a mixed development, if there is a commercial element to the block of flats, with flats above, you will find that there is a common plant room or a common car park. I welcome the provisions in the Bill that say that you can go from 25% commercial to 50%; that is a good move. However, the Law Commission actually said something specific about whether you should be allowed, if there are shared services such as the car park or the plant room, to be able to take over control, because the flats—the leaseholders—would only have control over the plant room as it related to their block. Is that a provision that you think should be introduced? Otherwise, it makes a mockery, to a certain extent, of increasing from 25% to 50% if you are still going to be precluded from gaining control of your block because of the plant room or shared services.

Katie Kendrick: Yes, there are clever ways in which they exclude people from being able to do that. We welcome the increase to 50%, but they are very creative when they design these buildings, with the underground car parks and stuff, as to what they can do to exclude the leaseholders from taking back control of their blocks. It is all about trying to have control over people’s homes. We should be able to control our homes—what is spent. No one is saying that you should not have to pay service charges, but it is about being in control of who provides those services. At the moment, leaseholders have no control. They just pay the bills.

Q If commonhold will not be in the Bill, would you support a principle that all future leasehold flats should have to be sold with a share of the freehold?

Katie Kendrick: Absolutely.

Q And that any residents’ association should be able to have the management of the block?

Katie Kendrick: Absolutely. If they are saying that commonhold is not ready to rock and roll, to have a share of freehold to mandate, a share of freehold for new flats moving forward would be a good step closer.

Q I hope you do not mind if I start by congratulating you on the work you have done with the National Leasehold Campaign. I know that my constituents in Warrington South have greatly valued the assistance and knowledge you have managed to secure through bringing people together. Thank you for the work you have done there. May we just go back a little bit? Can you tell the Committee what sort of problems leaseholders have when they go to buy their freehold?

Katie Kendrick: All three of us have now successfully bought our freehold. Yes, we are still here.

Jo Derbyshire: There are a number of things. The first is that most leaseholders do not understand the difference between the informal way and the statutory way to do that. The more unscrupulous freeholders will write to leaseholders with a “Get it while it’s hot” type of offer, which can be quite poor value for money. So, there is understanding the process in the first place. Then, regardless of which way you go—if you go the statutory way, currently you pay your own fees and the freeholder’s fees. There is an element of gamesmanship that goes on at the moment, which is why the online calculator is so important. Your valuer and the freeholder’s valuer will argue about the rate used to calculate the amount and then you will try and have some kind of an agreement. It is not a straightforward process at all. Cath will tell you what happened with her transfer, because they leave things in the transfer documents.

Cath Williams: Yes, they did. In my case, it took 15 months and £15,000 to get my freehold.

Q It cost £15,000?

Cath Williams: Yes, £15,000 on a house. It took that long because I found—this is one of the problems that leaseholders have—that I knew more than the alleged leasehold-specialist solicitor who was dealing with my case at the time. That was very early in the campaign, so a lot of education needs to go on for everybody: leaseholders, conveyancers and solicitors. Because I had done some research and tried to get my head round leasehold clauses and what were fee-paying clauses, shall we say, in the TP1, which is a transfer document, they tried to carry across all the fee-paying clauses. Essentially, it would be freehold but fleecehold, because I would still have to pay to the freehold investors.

It took that long because I kept redacting my own TP1, putting a red line through it and sending it back, saying, “I am not doing that, that or that.” Eventually, we got rid of them. The problem now is that we still have a lot of conveyancers who do not do that for the leaseholders. If the leaseholder does not understand the system or the lease terminology, that is always a big barrier. The way that leases are written—all their legalese—means the general public generally cannot understand; so, it is difficult.

Q Sorry to interrupt. When you were buying your house initially, did you know it was leasehold?

Cath Williams: No, there was nothing on the site or in the paperwork to say that it was leasehold.

Q So when did you find out?

Cath Williams: I found out on the day that I paid my deposit and went in to look at the extras list, which you tick to say, “I’m going to have carpets, curtains” and so on. The sales person said, “There’s something I need to add”, took a pencil and wrote “leasehold” along the bottom. [Interruption.] It is a true story. I said, “What’s this?”, because I had bought so many houses that were newbuild. I said, “I don’t understand why you are writing ‘leasehold’.” They said, “Did we not tell you?” I got a story about how it was local council land and had to be leasehold, which turned out to be completely untrue.

Q So you paid your deposit.

Cath Williams: Yes, I paid the deposit, and I had sold my other property. We were very late on in the process, so I believe that I was mis-sold and misled, as were many members of the National Leasehold Campaign. We hear very similar stories.

Q I have residents in 40 or 50 homes on an estate in Chapelford in Warrington where not one of them was told about them being leasehold until they paid the money.

Cath Williams: That is right. You are committed, and you are at a point where if you do not continue, you will lose even more money. You have an emotional connection to the property that you want to buy and lots of other pressures as well—people might be moving jobs or trying to increase the size of their home.

Jo Derbyshire: I knew, but the salesperson told me that we could buy the freehold at any point for about £5,000. What they did not tell me was that the business model was to sell it on and what the implications of that would be. They sold it on less than two years after I bought the house, and the price went from the £5,000 they asked for to £50,000.

Q Did you know that they were selling it on? Did they tell you that they were selling it on? Did they give you any notice of it?

Jo Derbyshire: No.

Katie Kendrick: No, because legally it is unlike in flats, where when they sell the freehold on they should offer the people in the flat the right of first refusal. That does not apply to houses, so the land was literally sold from beneath us and they told us afterwards. Because we were not entitled to buy the freehold for two years—you must live there to qualify to enfranchise—they sold the freeholds on before the two-year point, so the freeholder was no longer the developer that we originally bought from; it was an offshore investment company that then increased the price significantly. We were never told that that would happen.

Q Can I just go back to your point, Jo? You said that it went from £5,000 to £50,000. Have they given you any rationale for the £50,000? Where did that number come from?

Jo Derbyshire: That was the market value for a 10-year doubling lease.

Q A huge amount of the Bill is left to future regulations and statutory instruments. That is understandable in many cases—I am thinking of the service charge provisions and others. Are you concerned that it will take a long time to bring some of the measures into force? Is there a specific concern about the incentives that that creates in the time between them coming into force and the Bill receiving Royal Assent? As the Bill is drafted, there are some hard cliff edges, for example, on the new 999-year leases, where you have people who must extend before they come in. However, there are some potential cliff edges if the commencement dates on lots of these things are 12, 18 or 24 months away. Is that a concern?

Katie Kendrick: It is a big concern, because leaseholders are trapped. They are in limbo, so they do not know whether to enfranchise now or to wait for the Bill to go through. The Bill says that it will make it easier, cheaper and quicker, but the devil is in the detail, and we do not know what the prescribed rates will be. We are being promised that it will be cheaper, but will it? It all depends on who programmes the calculator. Ultimately, will it actually be cheaper? The Bill says that it will abolish marriage value, which is hugely welcomed by leaseholders, so those people with a short lease approaching the golden 80-year mark are waiting. Do they go now?

Q Some of them will not have a choice, will they?

Katie Kendrick: No, some people do not have a choice. People’s lives are literally on hold, and have been for many years, waiting for the outcome of the legislation. If we need further legislation to enact the Bill, people cannot sell. Housing and flat sales are falling through every single day because of the lease terms and service charges. It is horrendous. It will grind the buying and selling process to a halt.

Q I want to ask you about this whole business of people being unable to sell, and, in effect, the interaction between what the Government have tried to tackle in the Building Safety Act 2022 and what we have in this Bill.

Under the Building Safety Act, the provision is to appoint a designated person—an agent—to deal with the safety of the building. Often it will be the developer who is responsible for the remediation of a building that has fire safety defects and so on, which the Government are quite rightly trying to address, but they will argue that it is not possible to do that unless they have control over the management of the block as a whole. Therefore, there is a conflict between the Building Safety Act and the provisions in this Bill to help leaseholders gain the right to manage.

You might have just enfranchised and got the right to manage your own block, yet there is now an appointed person who will be told by the court that they have the right to manage the block. Very often, it will be the person you have just liberated yourself from. You will have just enfranchised yourself from that freeholder, only to find that they are now back in control. Do you feel there is a way in which the Committee should try to remediate and address that problem when it is looking at the Bill, and do you have any ideas as to how we should go about it?

Cath Williams: First of all, the situation that flat leaseholders are in at the moment, where they have building safety issues and leasehold issues, is so complex. It is horrendous. We hear daily in the National Leasehold Campaign about these poor leaseholders. It is really heartbreaking.

People have committed suicide, have they not?

Cath Williams: People have committed suicide, yes. That is worth noting.

They ask for advice. We have never been flat leaseholders; that is the first thing, but there is a lot of support in the group to try to help people navigate their way through the Building Safety Act first of all, and now we have this Bill as well. In principle, I think they would really welcome some sort of cohesion between the two. I don’t know what that would be; it is really hard.

Katie Kendrick: It is really difficult because we are encouraging people to take control, but by doing that they are liable for more of the building’s safety. The two Bills have to work together.

Q You have talked extensively about ground rent and, Ms Derbyshire, your situation with it doubling. We all know the story about the inventor of chess, who asked for a grain of rice on the first square as his reward as long as it doubled until the last square, and then there was not enough rice in the world to provide it. This is clearly inequitable. You said that you welcome the provision in the Bill to be able to get rid of ground rent—to take it down to a peppercorn. Given that we have the consultation at the moment, would it not better if the Government just did that rather than you having to pay for it, which is what is recommended in the Bill? You should not have to pay to get out of a situation that is unjust. It was unjust in the first place, and it would be much better if the Government simply moved the consultation onwards and got rid of it.

Cath Williams: Yes.

Jo Derbyshire: The Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 has essentially created a two-tier system where you have new builds without ground rent. As Cath mentioned, we are concerned that clause 21 and schedule 7 of the Bill seem to say a qualifying lease for buying out to a peppercorn rent must have a term of 150 years. We have seen lots of examples in the National Leasehold Campaign of new build properties—flats in particular—where the lease is 99, 125 or 150 years from the start, so a whole swathe of properties would be automatically excluded.

However, for us, because ground rent is a charge for no service, peppercorn is the answer. We also fear that, in terms of the timetable for legislation and getting this through, the sector will fight intensively and try to tie this up in the courts for years. It has nothing to lose; why wouldn’t it?

Q Katie, can I just go back to your earlier point about how lots of sales are falling through? Can you just explain why that is? What is causing sales to fall through on leasehold properties?

Katie Kendrick: Because an escalating ground rent worries mortgage lenders and buyers are unable to get mortgages because of an escalating ground rent. Where that is because of the £250 assured shorthold tenancy issue, my understanding is that that will be sorted through the Renters (Reform) Bill, so that will close that loophole, but lenders do not like—for most leases now, the doubling has half-heartedly been addressed and a lot of leases are now on RPI—the retail price index.

However, with RPI being the way that it is—it has been really high in the last couple of years—some of those ground rents are coming up to their review periods and are actually doubling. Therefore, RPI, as Jo said many years ago, is not the answer. Converting to RPI is not the answer because an escalating ground rent is still unmortgageable, and it takes it over the 0.1% of property value, which, again, mortgage lenders will not lend on.

Therefore, a lot of mortgage lenders are asking leaseholders to go to the freeholder and ask them to do a cap on ground rent, which is then costing the leaseholder more money to get a deed of variation from their freeholder. That is if the freeholder agrees at all, because the freeholder does not have to agree to do a deed of variation to cap the ground rent. That is coming at a massive cost if someone wants to sell, but without that people are losing three, four or five sales, and people have given up because their properties are literally unsellable.

Cath Williams: There is a house on my estate where sales have fallen through twice already. It is a townhouse; it is worth about £220,000. The ground rent currently—it is on an RPI lease—is £400, which takes it over the 0.1% of property value. Two sets of buyers have had problems getting a lender to lend in that situation.

Q A final question from me: on your social media channels, you talk about the leasehold scandal as being very similar to Mr Bates—who is in Committee just over the way—against the Post Office. I mean, is that true? Is it David versus Goliath?

Katie Kendrick: Absolutely. When I watched the programme, I was shouting out loud. The parallels—the similarities—are astounding. The system there was a computer system; the system here is leasehold. People have been ripped off for so many years and paid unnecessary fees, and lots of leaseholders are thousands of pounds out of pocket. And that is because the system—the leasehold system—has allowed that to happen, and it is a scandal of the same magnitude, as far as I am concerned. People have, unfortunately, lost their lives. I have become a bit of an agony aunt for people; my phone never stops because people contact me in tears, and I have stopped people from taking their own lives because of leasehold. It is horrendous—absolutely horrendous—when you are living it and you feel completely trapped. It is when they feel that there is no way out that people look at taking another way out, and it is horrendous.

Cath Williams: And we were both told, weren’t we, by the CEOs of the developers that we bought our houses from, that there was no leasehold scandal?

Katie Kendrick: Yes.

Q Can you tell the Committee about what is commonly known as “fleecehold”? Does this Bill in any way deal with aspects such as that?

Katie Kendrick: Our campaign coined the term fleecehold, and it has been used as a bit of an umbrella to describe all of the different ways that we can be ripped off through our homes. It first began because, when we were enfranchising and buying our freeholds, the freeholder was trying to retain all the same permission fees—such as permission to put on a conservatory or to paint the front door—in the transfer document. Ultimately, you could be a freeholder but still have to pay permission fees to the original freeholder.

That is where fleecehold came from, but fleecehold is now used as a much broader phrase because we have estate management charges. The new build estates all have estate management charges attached to them. They have replaced one income stream—leasehold—by creating another asset in the open green spaces. We all have lovely big open spaces and lovely parks, but it is the residents who pay for that. Again, it is a private management company that manages them. You have no transparency over what they are spending.

I can remember somebody ringing me up and saying, “Katie, I have a breakdown of my estate management charges and they are charging me such-and-such for a park, so I rang up and said, ‘You’re charging me.’ ‘Yes, Mr Such-and-Such. You have to pay for the upkeep of your park.’” And he went, “I understand that, but I haven’t got a park.” It is outrageous. It is great that they are going to give people more right to challenge the costs, which they do not currently have with their freeholders. They have fewer rights than leaseholders to challenge at tribunal. But ultimately why have we gone to a private estate model? Why are people paying double council tax? They are paying full council tax the same as anybody else is, yet they now have to pay thousands of pounds in estate management charges. It is a ticking timebomb.

The estates look very nice now, but in the future when the pavements are falling to pieces—I spoke to a police officer and things are not enforceable because they are classed as private. Speeding restrictions? You could have a boy racer running through the estate, but the police cannot enforce anything. The same with double yellow lines and things like that. It is a ticking timebomb, because new build estates are popping up all over the place with private management companies.

Jo Derbyshire: There are some things in the Bill that try to stop things. Typically on fleecehold estates there might be freehold houses, but the estate management charge is secured legally by something called a rent charge. What most people do not understand is that if they withhold their estate management fees, the property can be converted from freehold to leasehold. Again, that cannot be right.

Q I just want to clarify your understanding of something that Mr Gardiner said earlier. I might need to put this to the Minister later, but Mr Gardiner said that if the new provisions on ground rent go through and ground rent goes to peppercorn or zero—I might be misquoting him.

You mentioned that in the new Bill leaseholders will have to pay to get their ground rent to zero. Can you set out what that provision is? Where is that in the Bill?

Cath Williams: I don’t think we know. That was one of our questions. There is a process in the Bill about how a leaseholder can acquire the peppercorn ground rent, but who pays for that is not clear. I think that was raised before. I do not think leaseholders should pay, because it should not have been there in the first place.

Katie Kendrick: Or there should be a prescribed cost—“apply for your peppercorn now”—with a simple process. Otherwise it will be exploited, and lawyer will charge different amounts to convert. You can see what will happen, so it needs to be streamlined. Whatever we go for, it needs to be streamlined.

Cath Williams: And we need an online system that cuts out everybody in the middle, so that there is no confusion or discussion about what it should cost.

Q I could not agree more about the challenges you set out around people finding new ways to extort homeowners and the moves towards charging for the maintenance of public space. In my constituency of Mid Bedfordshire, many estates suffer from this issue. Mr Fuller will have similar ones on his estates in North East Bedfordshire. I completely agree that it feels shocking for lots of people that they are essentially paying twice for services: once for council tax and once for a charge that they have little control over and where there is often little guarantee of good services.

There are many estates in my patch where you can literally see where it becomes private because the condition of the road is shocking compared to 2 feet away, or the condition of the public space completely deteriorates. What measures would you like to see added to the Bill to help address that? Would you agree that ultimately we need mechanisms to ensure that a stated object can happen in a way that everyone can have confidence in?

Katie Kendrick: In an ideal world, the local authorities would be adopting these areas. I do not think there should be a private management at all. Local authorities used to, and they can charge the builders more for the land at the start.

Cath Williams: I agree.

Katie Kendrick: Adopt the lot.

Q Katie, it seems to me that you and your team should be congratulated—you are the agony aunts. Believe you me, people look to these ladies and groups of people as their saviours rather than the Government. Already, leaseholders are saying, “Well, perhaps we can make this peppercorn. If we all go for this peppercorn, perhaps we can work then to get that peppercorn and get in there, and get shut of it that way.” Really, this is the opportunity. We should be listening to them—granted—and I genuinely believe there is listening going on with this Bill.

We have to tie it down and not let the situation become like the one we have seen with the post offices. It is an obstacle course. People have committed suicide. Managers have broken down. Homes have been lost. Jobs have been lost. The management charges are unbelievable, and I do not think people understand that. I have not seen it anywhere, but a leaseholder has to write if they want to change the carpet; they then get charged a couple of hundred pounds for that, they get charged for the answer, and they get charged when somebody comes to have a look at it. That is how it goes on. The management charges are as big a fear as the lease, because leaseholders do not know where they are going.

The Government simply have to step in. It is the biggest money-making racket in this country now—and it is a racket. It is said that people have sat down and designed this system, and we should not leave these people to do the fighting on their own. I genuinely believe that there is desire to do so from both the Minister and our shadow Minister. Please come forward with your thoughts; do not give up. I do not believe for one minute you will give up.

Katie Kendrick: I believe there is political will to do this from across the House; there is unanimous agreement and there is no dispute. If there is no dispute, we just need to get it done.

Right, that is probably it then—[Laughter.] Thank you.

Examination of Witness

Amanda Gourlay gave evidence.

Good morning. Would our last witness like to introduce herself?

Amanda Gourlay: I am Amanda Gourlay. I am a barrister at Lazarev Cleaver LLP and I am an associate member of Tanfield Chambers. I have been in practice for nearly 20 years—I think it is 18.

Q Amanda, thank you for coming to talk to the Committee. You have expertise in a number of areas, but I wanted to probe you on something that we have not gone into the details of—the service charge provisions in clauses 26 to 30. Lots is left to regulations, but these clauses are potentially quite transformative—particularly clause 27, as most leaseholders will experience that clause as it relates to service charge demands. In your view, looking to improve the Bill further, what are the flaws, inconsistencies, deficiencies and problems with these clauses, albeit the regulations are coming, and what stipulations might we look to put in the Bill about what those regulations must look like?

Amanda Gourlay: I would like start by quickly saying that while the Bill is welcome—as far as I am aware, we have been working towards leasehold reform for about six years now, from a service charge perspective—in an ideal world, although I appreciate that we are not starting with an ideal world, the best starting point would be to repeal everything we have so far so that we can codify and consolidate everything. I say that in relation to service charges, which apply only to leasehold properties, but also to bring all the charges relating to services and works that homeowners, occupiers and residents might pay within one regime, so that we are not looking at a separate regime for estate management charges or for estate management schemes, which are different from estate management charges, but we bring everything into one place. If I receive a demand for payment of maintenance of a park on my estate, it matters not to me whether I am a leaseholder or a freeholder—the money that I pay is exactly the same.

I wanted to set that out as my starting point, if I had a blank piece of paper and endless parliamentary time and patience. Having said that, we are where we are. I have made notes and, with your permission, I will run through them as quickly as I can, while still providing some degree of detail. I am a lawyer—I am one of those people whose living is derived from working with leasehold. I am one of the people who is often criticised in this arena.

I have had a good look at the clauses of the Bill. There are good things: there are time limits and an enforcement provision, and we are undoubtedly attempting to achieve some transparency. I wanted to put that out there as the good news to start off with.

From an improvement perspective, I want to start with clause 28, which deals with the provision of the written statement of account and the report the landlord will be required to provide. I have very little to say about clauses 26 and 27. Clause 26 brings the fixed service charge into the service charge regime. Clause 27, as you say, relates to the service charge demand. We do not know what the regulations are going to say. We do have an existing framework—a relatively limited one—for service charge demands, so there is something there, but we will need to see what the regulations do. What we would really benefit from is consistency in the regulations, so that across the board, as a leaseholder moves from one flat or property to another, they can expect to see the same charges set out in the same way, broadly speaking—so that they know what to look for when they go from one place to another.

The clause I have had quite a look at, with the benefit of some accounting input, is clause 28. It will insert two new sections into the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, which is the framework we are looking at when looking at the Bill from the perspective of these clauses. It is good that we have a time limit for the provision of service charge accounts. I have come across many cases where leaseholders are repeatedly asked to pay on-account service charges and they never receive a reconciliation at the end of the year, so there is no real knowledge of what is being spent.

We could do with looking at a template for the provision of service charge accounts. That may be a matter for regulation, rather than the Bill, but I want to explain to you why I say that is important. When the service charge accounts come over, they have often been prepared by the managing agent, who has then instructed an accountant to review them in some shape or form. Often, the accountant will simply say, “I have agreed a set of procedures that I am going to follow in relation to the service charge accounts. I am going to check that the numbers have been properly extracted and check a small sample of the invoices to make sure that what is said has been invoiced has found its way into the accounts.” What we do not find for leaseholders, unless the lease requires something like an audit, is a proper review of service charge accounts with a balance sheet, an income and expenditure report, and notes to the accounts.

The first thing I must say as I am explaining this is that I am not an accountant—far be it. If I may make a suggestion, it would be extremely helpful for the Committee to engage with either a firm of accountants or, in fact, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales; the Committee could then ask how they would go about formulating a proper system—probably in conjunction with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, under the fourth edition of the code, hopefully—in order to bring service charge accounting into the arena that it is currently in in the commercial code, or the professional statement that the commercial environment has in it.

Accounts is a big area, and it would be immensely helpful to have more involvement all round from accountants. I will not say accountants are the elephant in the room, as that would be a discourteous metaphor. They are the people who are never seen in tribunals. They are the people who do not speak loudly to Committees such as these. Yet, service charges are as much about the money as they are about the services. A balance sheet will give completeness. Income and expenditure will tell you what has come in and what has gone out. It makes sense.

While we are there, might I also invite the Committee to consider trying to bring together the differing understandings of “incurred” in the 1985 Act, as against what an accountant will understand. An accountant will understand a cost being incurred when that service is effectively provided. When I consume electricity, I incur a cost from an accountant’s perspective. From a lawyer’s perspective, I do not incur that cost until either, as a landlord, I receive the invoice, or I pay that invoice. So, they are very different dates and times. Some consistency between those professions would be helpful.

We would very much benefit from cost classifications that would support the provision of service charge accounting. It would also support the tribunal in understanding where to look for certain costs in relation to service charges. Cost classification would simply be some headings, some detail beyond that and then detail of the service that has actually been provided.

I am stepping entirely outside my area of comfort, but I confess I am married to a chartered accountant who specialises in commercial service charges. I have some wonderful Sunday morning conversations with him over breakfast. Those are points that, between us, we have come up with—looking at the way that service charge accounts have been prepared.

Further, in clause 28, there is a word I have not seen before in relation to service charges. That is that there is an obligation to provide leaseholders information about variable service charges “arising”. I am not sure what that means, and it would benefit from some explanation. That is the sort of word that will find its way into tribunals, I would expect. If “incurred” did, and found its way to the Court of Appeal, “arising” could do with some explanation.

The report, which is the second element in clause 28, which a landlord is required to—

The point is not to make a long speech. The purpose is to answer questions. You might want to draw your remarks to a conclusion, so that my colleagues can ask you questions.

Amanda Gourlay: Certainly. I was asked a question and the only way I could answer was by taking you through the detail, because general comments are not going to help the Committee in formulating its way forward.

I am a lawyer, too; I know that we manage to speak quite a lot.

Amanda Gourlay: I am grateful, thank you very much.

Q Thank you for comprehensive run-down so far. I am sure there is more to come.

Amanda Gourlay: I am going to try not to go too far. I have been described as enthusiastic and I find I have to pull back slightly.

Q We need that level of enthusiasm, and the granular information really helps us to formulate our views. You were sitting in on the previous evidence session, when we heard some strong, and in some ways harrowing, evidence from the brilliant campaigners from the National Leasehold Campaign, particularly around transparency, not just on service charges but with regard to the sale of leases, and the lack of information on that, and the increased cost for leaseholders who wish to enfranchise.

What did you make of that? Clearly, the Bill contains a number of provisions, particularly on consumer rights. From my perspective, the most interesting is around transparency. Do you think the Bill goes far enough? You have already given examples on service charge accounts, but are there other ways that the Bill could go further to improve that?

Amanda Gourlay: What I would say, to start with, is that my area of expertise is service charges. I know the Committee will hear from Philip Freedman KC (Hon) and Philip Rainey KC on Thursday. I would defer to them on all matters on enfranchisement. That is my preface to your question. Transparency is going to come from consistent information being provided in the service charge arena. Thinking specifically about the sale of properties—the assignment of leases and the sale of leases—one issue that comes up quite regularly is the provision of information on the position on service charges, including questions like, “Has the leaseholder paid all the service charges?”, “Are there any works proposed for the future?” and those sorts of general questions that we all want to know the answers to if we are going to buy a property. There is no regulation of that whatsoever at the moment, and it is quite a sticking point.

I have had one or two cases where I have been involved in those sorts of issues—where a leaseholder has wanted to sell on their lease and has simply not been able to obtain the information from whoever it is who should be providing it and to whom the request has been made. That information is really something that we need to see pushed forward.

The Bill does provide two clauses about the provision of information. Provided that it is understood that those provisions extend not only to the leaseholder—“Please tell me about my service charges”—but also to the packs that conveyancers will ask for when flats are being sold on, it would be a good thing to move that forward, because it has been a real struggle to impose an obligation or to find a way of obtaining that information in a reasonable time and at a proper price from the managing agent. That would be my answer in terms of sales.

Q What would you consider a reasonable time? I mean, 24 hours would be great, but—

Amanda Gourlay: Twenty-four hours would be great, but that would probably sow total panic at the receiving end—I know that it would if I received that and I was doing something else. It will depend very much on the nature of the property. There are some very complex developments over in the east end of London. On the other hand, there are Victorian houses that are only two or three flats, and that should be much more straightforward.

I am aware that people have been able to pay for, say, a seven-day or five-day service, and there has been an uplift in the price for that. I am not the best person to ask about what the price should be. What I would say is that if a managing agent to whom this request would normally go is keeping their records up to date, one would hope that with the progress we have in software nowadays, that should very much just be the pressing of a button.

On work that is going to be carried out in the future, I have heard talk about, for example, mandatory planned maintenance plans. I have not seen those in the Bill. If a building or property is being well managed, one would expect there to be a plan for the next five or 10 years—what is needed to be done in terms of decorating, lift replacement and so on. Again, if that is in place, I would anticipate that it should be relatively straightforward to produce the information. I cannot give a specific answer; what I would say is that if we are all keeping our records up to date, that should be a relatively speedy process.

Q I understand that you were involved in the Canary Riverside judgment just before Christmas.

Amanda Gourlay: That is correct—yes. Forgive me; I was involved in Canary Riverside between 2016 and 2017. My involvement finished in June 2017.

Q Thank you. But you are aware of the judgment that came through just before Christmas in the case.

Amanda Gourlay: I am not sure that I am—no.

Q Were you involved in relation to the uncovering of the £1.6 million commission for insurance?

Amanda Gourlay: No, I was not involved in that element of it.

Q In that case, I am probably better putting those questions to a later witness.

In relation to that case, and on the accountable person provisions and section 24 amendments in the Building Safety Act—this relates to a question I asked earlier—the tribunal decided in the Canary Riverside case that the section 24 manager cannot be the accountable person, and that risks the section 24 management order failing, and the failed freeholder coming back to take control of the leaseholders and their service charge moneys. The implications of that decision really are quite dramatic. It means that the lifeline of the section 24 court-appointed manager provision from the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 has been removed from leaseholders, particularly those who cannot afford to buy their freehold or do not qualify for the right to manage. How should we address that problem in the structure of the Bill?

Amanda Gourlay: I do not think you need to do that in the structure of the Bill. Casting my mind back to the Building Safety Act, which is now in second place to the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill in my mind, my understanding is that there is provision for a special measures manager in that Act. If that were brought into force, one would have a recourse. I am very happy to open my computer and look at the Act, but I do seem to recall that there is provision for a special measures manager to take over the building safety or the accountable person role in a manner of speaking. I say that in the loosest terms, without having checked the law.

Q I am sure Ms Maclean will have details from her past life. Thank you for that—it is extremely helpful. You referred to clauses 27 and 28 and said that the word “arising” was one that troubled you. Could you point us to which clause that is in, so that we can be clear about it? You will have heard the question I put to another witness about making provision in the Bill, as there had been, although it was never brought into play, in the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002, for leaseholders to be able to withhold their service charges if all that is set out in proposed new sections 21D and 21E has not been complied with?

Amanda Gourlay: There is always a concern looking forward as to how things might play out. I will deal your question on “arising” first, then come to your other point. Clause 28(2) inserts proposed new section 21D, “Service charge accounts”. Subsection (2)(a)(i) talks about the variable service charges “arising in the period”.

Ah, “arising in the period”. Gotcha.

Amanda Gourlay: Turning to the second part of your question, one of the very big difficulties with the reform of leasehold is that good and bad—to put it in very binary terms—do not sit on one side or the other. While it seems to me that in an appropriate situation it would be entirely reasonable for a leaseholder to be able to withhold their service charges, there may equally be leaseholders who consider that this is an opportunity not to pay, for different reasons. There is always that risk. If one does not pay one’s service charge and is obliged to do so—for example, by going to tribunal and the tribunal says that actually £2,000 is payable—one is at risk of legal costs, which I am sure we will come on to in relation to the risk of forfeiture.

Q I was thinking not so much about where there is a dispute over reasonableness but more about whether the process that is set out in proposed new section 21D had been followed—for example, someone had not laid the accounts within six months and had not gone through all the set requirements in the Bill. Rather than it being a dispute about substance, the charge would be withheld on the basis of a failure of process by the freeholder.

Amanda Gourlay: Yes, and I understood your question that way. I think my concern is that if there is a minor breach, is that simply a situation where we withhold service charges entirely? The question is the nature of the breach and whether it is or is not a breach. In principle, I would agree that it would be a sensible form of enforcement, because it is the absolute. It is the most draconian form of enforcement. One should always bear in mind, however, that if a third-party management company—a residents management company—is obliged to insure a building and has absolutely no wherewithal to insure it, there is that risk. Things may need to be done that simply cannot wait but, in principle, I see no reason why that should not be a remedy for failure to follow the process.

Q Although I said at the outset that I would not pursue the insurance costs with you, I think we can probably agree that the £1.6 million commission that was ruled illegal will take out the idea of commission—but that will move to fees instead. Given what you said about “arising”, do you have similar fears that fees for work charged might also open that up to a multitude of sins in the Bill?

Amanda Gourlay: Do you mean generally, or in relation to insurance?

In relation to insurance—because it will no longer be possible to charge commission, but it will be possible to charge a fee.

Amanda Gourlay: That is always a risk. In fact, that is a risk across the whole Bill where more obligations are imposed on a landlord. If the costs of those obligations are recoverable under the terms of the lease as part of the management, it is almost inevitable that charges will go up. They will have to: I am going to have to do more work, so I would like to be paid more.” The only control of those that we have at the moment is under section 19 of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, which is whether the costs are reasonable in amount for the standard of work that is provided. One would hope that there would be degrees of transparency, but of course there is no obligation to account necessarily for the fees, save for the limitation of administration charges and the obligation to publish a schedule of fees of administration charges.

Again, however—I am sorry that I am providing such long answers—where it comes to publishing a schedule of administration charges, that is quite straightforward for most cases, but clearly if someone wants to carry out a significant change to a flat on the 15th floor of a building, the costs will be difficult to quantify in advance. There is still wriggle room, I think, in the administration charge limitations for costs to be higher.

Finally, proposed new section 21E of the 1985 Act talks about annual reports, while proposed new section 21D sets out the basis of the accounts and when they must be presented. What is your understanding of the difference between the report—as set out,

“before the report date for an accounting period, provide the tenant with a report”—

and the accounts, which have to be presented at the end of the sixth month after the period? Is there any requirement in the Bill as drafted to ensure that the information available in the accounts is greater or more detailed—indeed, in any way different—from the report?

Amanda Gourlay: That is a question with which I have battled for a number of hours. The conclusion I reached was that proposed new section 21D very plainly envisages the involvement of a chartered accountant—a qualified accountant; proposed new section 21E is different because it would appear to be more narrative, a more general description of the information that has to be provided.

If you look at the Bill, subsection 21E(3), which entitles the appropriate authority to make provision about information to be contained in the report, is extremely broad. It refers only to

“matters which…are likely to be of interest to a tenant”.

That is a very wide scope. The information in effect has to be provided within a month of the service charge year-end, whereas the service charge accounts must be provided within six months.

While I am on that point, proposed new section 21E is enforceable under the enforcement provision, which I think is clause 30; rather peculiarly, however, proposed new section 21D is not. I invite the Committee to consider whether that new section 21D should be brought within the scope of clause 30.

Q I just wanted to follow up on something, so that I am clear in my own mind in relation to Mr Gardiner’s question about the provisions in the 2002 Act that have not been brought into force, and it directly relates to what you have just said about proposed new section 21D.

In some senses, many of the new requirements in this section are covered by the enforcement measures in clause 30. Is proposed new section 21D the only example, or are there other examples, of where that power in the 2002 Act might be considered necessary for a leaseholder to use, because the enforcement provisions do not cover the full gamut, if you like? I suppose that I am trying to get to where the enforcement clause is lacking. Is Mr Gardiner correct in specifying that there are circumstances in which you would want to withhold because the non-payable enforcement clauses do not bite in the relevant way?

Amanda Gourlay: I am instinctively nervous about withholding, even if it is simply a question of process.

Q I suppose what I am getting at is that you would not need to withhold if the enforcement clause properly covers all the requirements therein.

Amanda Gourlay: It seemed to me that when I was reading through the clauses in the Bill that it was really section 25D that stood out as the measure that was not covered by clause 30. Clause 30 very clearly enumerates that we have section 21C(1) which is about the demand for a payment; 21E, which is about the reports—obviously, between C and E there is D, which is not in there—and then we also have 21E covered. You can literally trace those measures through. D was the one that stood out for me as being a necessity.

It might be said that that is because the provision of those accounts is outside the control of the landlord, because the accountant is the person who is preparing the accounts and they may—you will understand that I am trying to argue both against myself and for myself. There is that possible argument that may be proposed as a counter-argument to mine.

Q Ms Gourlay, I just wanted to go to part 4, which is about the regulation of estate management charges. You talked at the outset about bringing everything together in the process and we have heard a lot about people saying how it is all a bit of a David and Goliath process, so I wanted to get your views on how effective you think some of the measures in the Bill are when it comes to trying to help David in his battle against Goliath. We should always remember that David actually beats Goliath; I do not know why or whether that is a bad thing.

You talked also about the provision of information and how important it is that people have access to annual reports and so on. In clause 49, there is a provision whereby the failure to provide things such as annual reports will carry a charge, with a maximum charge of up to £5,000. Then in clause 51, which addresses other aspects of what should be provided—in this case, charge schedules; you said how important they were—there is a maximum charge of £1,000. Does that sound like a sufficiently large sling from which a shot may be fired, or is it just a cost of doing business?

Amanda Gourlay: Again, we come back to the fact that for some landlords, particularly those that might be management companies with no other assets, £1,000 would be crippling; effectively, that might put them into insolvency unless they can recover those moneys from other leaseholders. For other landlords, even £5,000 will be next to nothing. It is a shot across the bows; it is clear that such failure is regarded with disapproval.

What I would like to do is to take those figures back, because they appear in part 3 as well as in relation to the estate management charges. The way in which they are formulated is that they are damages that can be awarded to a tenant if they make an application, certainly on the leasehold side of things—

Q Not in this section.

Amanda Gourlay: Not in that section.

If it is effectively a civil fine, there needs to be a sliding scale. In the tenancy deposit scheme, the way that things work is that, as you may know, if the landlord has not protected the deposit, they have to pay back an amount that is between one and three times that deposit. Some form of sliding scale would seem to be appropriate. I am not the right person to ask about sums and amounts; that is a policy question, really.

Q However, I think you have given some view about how you think it should be assessed.

Amanda Gourlay: I think it should be assessed on a sliding scale, to take account of the differences of interest—

Q The other part is that bringing a lot of this together will mean that the first-tier tribunal has a lot more work. Do you think that people may want to get justice, but that it will be denied because the first-tier tribunal is going to be overwhelmed?

Amanda Gourlay: I would not anticipate that the first-tier tribunal would be overwhelmed. At the moment, I find that my hearings go through within a reasonable period of time. That is the best I can say.

Q Would commonhold being the default position make your job less complex?

Amanda Gourlay: In the first few years, it would make it more complex, because I would have to learn about it. I have read the Law Commission’s report, and any new scheme is going to involve some bedding down. From what I read and hear about commonhold, it should make matters less litigious. That is what I hear. I have no experience of commonhold directly, however.

Q Having heard from some of our other witnesses, and from the casework that I see in my office, it strikes me that there is a lot of bad practice in the sector. We heard from one of our first witnesses this morning about recurring charges not being disclosed at the point of sale. Does the Bill address that sufficiently? Would it be more sensible to have a clause stating that if recurring charges are not disclosed when the transaction is complete and you purchase the property, they are not paid?

Amanda Gourlay: The difficulty always comes back to what information people are given when they purchase a property, or when they take on the lease of a flat or a house. On the whole, those in the conveyancing industry who behave ethically do their best to inform people. I have very little conveyancing experience, so I am going to hold my fire on that a little. Clearly, if something is important, it should be drawn to a purchaser’s attention. Recurring charges are something I would have anticipated. Anecdotally, I have heard that people will say, “I don’t understand why I am paying a service charge—I own my flat.” “Education” always sounds slightly high-handed, but more information being made available or accessible would be useful.

Q It is one thing knowing that you have a service charge—when you buy a flat, you know that—but it is quite another when you do not know about it and it suddenly hits you after you have signed on the dotted line. To me, that is more of a problem, but thank you very much.

We have just three minutes left, as we are bound by the programme motion. We will hear questions from Rachel Maclean and then Barry Gardiner, and we will finish by 11.25, as per the programme motion.

Q Have you ever acted for freeholders against leaseholders? Have you ever found that the leaseholders have been egregious, rather than the other way round?

Amanda Gourlay: I believe I have acted for freeholders against leaseholders on occasion.

Q You referenced the damages under proposed new section 25A of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, which “may not exceed £5,000”. The tribunal does not have to award £5,000; it is a ceiling, rather than a floor. Often a single leaseholder will go to the tribunal and get an award, but they are representative of problems that all the other leaseholders have. Rather than saying that damages under the proposed new section may not exceed £5,000, would it make sense to say that damages to each leaseholder may not exceed £5,000?

Amanda Gourlay: That would make sense, but damages are not an appropriate remedy in this particular situation. It is very rare that a leaseholder will suffer financial loss. It is more about encouraging good behaviour.

Q Thank you. Will you send me a full report on the details that you did not get a chance to share?

Amanda Gourlay: I will, yes. I had no intention of making a speech, and I am sorry if I trespassed on people’s patience.

That is fine. Do not worry.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned.—(Mr Mohindra.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.