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The Housing Act 1980: Shorthold Provisions

Volume 414: debated on Tuesday 11 November 1980

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2.43 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they expect to announce the "shorthold" provisions of the Housing Act 1980.

(Lord ]]]]HS_COL-1254]]]] Bellwin)

My Lords, a commencement order was made on 7th November which will bring shorthold and the other main private rented sector provisions of the Housing Act 1980 into operation on 28th November.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for that most helpful and informative reply.

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister three brief questions. As he has told us, the orders are coming into effect shortly and, bearing in mind the advertising campaign mounted by the Government to promote the now even more untimely right to buy for council tenants, will the Government undertake to reassure tenants who may be confused by the introduction of short-hold that security of tenure for existing protected tenants is not being removed? Secondly, are the Government going to consult organisations which are expert in advising tenants on housing issues on the wording of the prescribed notice, since these organisations have great expertise and experience in making themselves understood by people who are not familiar with officialese? I understand that they have offered their help. Thirdly, what plans have the Government to monitor the use of shorthold tenancies and, in particular, any abuses which may occur?

My Lords, I confirm that security is not removed, but the noble Baroness must not confuse the right to buy which she mentioned, and which, as she knows, has nothing to do with the private sector, with the shorthold provisions. These are entirely concerned with the private sector. I confirm, if anyone should still be in doubt, that those who have security will not in any way lose it, although, in the case of shorthold, it comes within the term of the agreed new lease.

As to the plans that we have for monitoring the success or otherwise of shorthold, of course we shall be watching it closely, as I am sure will everyone who is interested in this matter. I think the other question which the noble Baroness asked was whether the Government would look at the letters which go out, but I am afraid I did not quite get the point as I was busy writing.

My Lords, what I was concerned with was the publicity put out by the Government to explain to people in simple language and whether the Government would be seeking the help of the voluntary housing organisations, which have experience and expertise in dealing simply with these matters. That is very important.

My Lords, there will in fact be publicity, as was foreshadowed in the Financial and Explanatory Memorandum to the Housing Bill. It will take the form of press advertisements and in addition an explanatory booklet, Shorthold Tenancies, is being produced and will be available, free, from rent offices, council offices and housing aid centres from 28th November.

My Lords, does the Minister's reference to the shorthold provisions being available not require further clarification? Is he aware that vast numbers of tenants in the United Kingdom have just been subjected to a new registration which covers not two years, as provided for in the 1980 Act, but three years, as provided for in the 1977 Act, and, moreover, that, according to statements sent out by rent officers, there can be no further application for registration unless circumstances undergo a change? Therefore, how does the shorthold provision come in at all?

My Lords, the short-hold provision, as we went into it at great length when we were passing the Housing Bill here, is a new attempt to try to encourage landlords who have hitherto not brought forward their accommodation to do so, because they will know that they will get it back after the fixed term, within five years. We believe that it will bring that accommodation on to the market. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, the two things are not quite the same. Certainly his other concern about what the rent officers are doing as regards fixing rents within the Rent Acts themselves has nothing to do with shorthold, which is a totally new concept starting for the first time.

Then, my Lords, will the Minister answer this question: what redress is available to that vast number of tenants, probably running into hundreds of thousands, who have been subjected to the new registration and called upon to pay very high increases in rates according to the decision of the rent officer? What redress is available to them? How do they come into the 1980 Act, or is it not true—and is it not about time that the truth was told—that they cannot apply for a new registration for another three years?

My Lords, the 1980 Act in no way affects the rights of tenants under the previous legislation. It does not diminish them one iota and the redress—if that is the word—for those tenants who are unhappy about the new rents which are now fixed is to go to the rent assessment committees.