To ask Her Majesty’s Government what projects they anticipate the funds announced to tackle rogue landlords will be used for.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare my relevant interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
My Lords, the fund will target approaches that local authorities have told us would make a real difference to local enforcement, tackling rogue landlords who make tenants’ lives a misery. Projects can be of any size and could include better ways of gathering intelligence on housing stock, improved data sharing within and across local authority boundaries, and new software to make housing inspections easier. The Government are looking for approaches that could be shared across local authorities.
My Lords, there have been some disturbing reports in the media of individuals convicted of various serious offences still operating in the private rented sector. While the additional money announced is very welcome, does the Minister accept that the most pressing thing to do in respect of rogue landlords is to enter some names on the database, to allow public access to it and to find parliamentary time to make that happen? “When parliamentary time allows” is not an adequate response to this question.
My Lords, I have some sympathy with what the noble Lord suggests. He will know in particular that we are committed to opening the register to the public as soon as parliamentary time is available. On the broader issue of entries in the register, there are two things to bear in mind. First, there has been some inaccurate reporting in some newspapers of matters that are not banning offences and could not be entered in the register. Other matters that could be put on the register relate only to offences that have been committed since 6 April this year. Not only do such matters have to go through the courts but there must then be an application for the landlord to be put on the register, and time is allowed for the person who would be put on the register to appeal against that. So it is relatively early days, but I agree with the noble Lord that, in the fullness of time, we would expect—indeed, hope, in the light of circumstances—that names will go into the register.
What my noble friend is saying is all very well, but it is all pretty complicated. Is not the key issue that rogue landlords are out there and that properties are being let that are not fit for purpose? We need a regulatory body operating either through local government or with some other function. This cannot just drift on for another 12 months. We need some action from Her Majesty’s Government. I accept that some initiatives have been taken already, but the whole lot needs pulling together so that rogue landlords can be driven out from letting properties that are unfit for purpose.
My Lords, I do not disagree with my noble friend’s desire, but he will be aware that, just next week, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill, which will improve enforcement in relation to rogue landlords, will start going through this House. The Bill has already gone through the Commons with cross-party support, and I am sure that the same will happen here. That is an important part of this. I repeat that it is very early days; we are six months in from the first occasion when there could be a conviction under the new offences, with entry in the register. In the fullness of time, I trust—and I am sure that people will be watching like hawks—that this will be put right.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that we need an open register urgently and cannot afford to wait for it, given that nearly a quarter of households in the UK now rent privately? Can the Minister explain the difference between an open register of that nature for landlords and, let us say, food hygiene ratings? Surely it is just as important to have a rating for where you live as it is for where you eat.
My Lords, to reiterate the point I made to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, we are committed to ensuring that the register is open: it is now only a matter of finding parliamentary time in order to put that right. The noble Baroness is right about the importance of that and we are committed to doing it: just as soon as we are able to do so we will bring it forward and I am very pleased that we will be getting her support for that.
My Lords, will the Minister say what is being done to ensure that, where landlords own properties that are empty, they will be listed on the register? What can be done to incentivise landlords who own empty properties to put them into use for people who are in housing need? Can he tell the House how many properties owned by private landlords are standing empty in the country today?
My Lords, I am not able to give the noble Lord that information from the Dispatch Box, but I will write to him with those figures, in so far as they are available. In relation to empty properties, he will be aware that some time ago we took legislation through this House to increase the ability of local authorities—indeed, we increased it further here than did the Commons—to charge a higher council tax for empty properties. I think that that will go some way towards dealing with the important issue he refers to.
My Lords, I declare my interest in the register. Is there a suggestion that here we might at last have a licensed register of people occupying these properties on short lets? Most of them now are not declared by the landlord and many are giving absolute agony to the other residents in blocks of flats where their leases really prohibit these short holiday lets.
My Lords, that was a not unexpected question from my noble friend. I refer her to the Short Term Accommodation Association, which is doing very valuable work in policing this area and ensuring that it is not abused by people going for short-term lets. As to any breaches of leases, she will be aware that that is a contractual issue between the landlord and the tenant.
My Lords, will the Minister explain the lack of parliamentary time? We are not sitting to anything like 10pm on weekdays now. We may all be waiting for other legislation, but is it a real excuse that we do not have parliamentary time to bring in this important register?
Yes, my Lords, it is a very real reason, because it will take parliamentary time in both Houses. I will take back the noble Lord’s concerns, but I am very confident when I look at the parliamentary timetable in the months ahead that we do really have important business to get through. This is important business and something we are pushing hard upon—and, believe me, as soon as my department can find the time we will bring it forward.