My Lords, I declare my residential and commercial property interests as set out in the register. The Housing and Planning Act 2016 introduced a database of rogue landlords and property agents as part of a package of measures to tackle poor standards within the private rented sector. This included banning orders, civil penalties of up to £30,000 and rent repayment orders. The database went live on 6 April 2018 and currently contains 43 entries.
Given the Government’s original estimate that there are well over 10,000 rogue landlords and that there would be 600 banning orders a year—not seven, as is currently the case—and given that every one of these criminal and rogue landlords getting away with it means untold misery for thousands of tenants, what was the Minister’s response when he found out it was such a small number? As a Minister, what did he then do to put this right?
My Lords, this database is not meant to be a metric of local authority enforcement work. In its current form, it is targeted at only the very worst and most persistent offenders who have been convicted of a narrow range of offences or have received two civil penalty notices within a 12-month period. I have satisfied myself that the Government have provided a lot of support regarding improving enforcement against the most egregious and rogue landlords.
My Lords, due to inadequate levels of social housing and prohibitively expensive house prices, the proportion of households living in private rented accommodation is almost certain to go on increasing. There are many problems with this sector, as the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, has said. We are talking here about rogue landlords; there are of course also good ones, but we really do not have a clue about how many landlords there are and how well they all operate. Would it not be sensible to legislate for a comprehensive register, local authority by local authority, of all landlords and for registration to be subject to a requirement of minimum standards of safety and security and minimum terms for rental agreements?
My Lords, the majority of private rented sector landlords provide decent and well-maintained homes; in fact, the proportion of non-decent homes has declined dramatically from 41% in 2009 to 23% in 2019. We have committed to exploring the merits of introducing a national landlord register and we will engage with a range of stakeholders across the sector to understand the benefits of different options for introducing one.
That was a complacent answer from the Minister because this has been going on for a long time, and a national register would be an excellent thing. After hearing this debate, how much urgency will the Minister put into speeding up the introduction of that register?
There is no complacency; I am merely outlining that we are considering the introduction of the register as part of our commitment to introduce a White Paper in the autumn. That will contain a number of measures designed to redress the balance between landlord and tenant.
My Lords, I commend the excellent report Journeys in the Shadow Private Rented Sector by Cambridge House, which reveals the extent of organised crime in the murkier parts of this market: criminals who are wholly undeterred by local authority sanctions; the obliging of tenants who feel defenceless to pay their rent in cash; and police who are ill equipped to deal with this criminality, not just roguery. Will the Government respond to the report’s recommendations, such as the better detection of unlicensed HMOs and better monitoring of online platforms advertising private rentals?
The report that my noble friend refers to provides valuable insights, highlighting illegal evictions and behaviours by the most criminal and irresponsible landlords and agents. Such reports will be very helpful in developing our proposed reforms. We will be publishing the White Paper in the autumn and continuing to work with these stakeholders, who have valuable knowledge in these matters.
My Lords, I declare that I have recently let one property. Generation Rent, in its report published today, recommends a national regulator for standards in the private rented sector that has responsibility for overseeing the sector and ensuring that enforcement measures work effectively. This would include a national register of landlords. Will the Government please consider this proposal, which is also supported by Shelter and other bodies?
My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that we build back fairer and to improving the relationship between landlords and tenants. We will certainly consider the policy ideas put forward by Generation Rent as part of our commitment to that reform.
My Lords, I am advised that, in the two years since its launch, the Government’s database to keep track of rogue landlords contains only 21 names so far, submitted by 15 local authorities, despite the Government’s estimate that there are as many as 10,500. What reforms are the Government therefore proposing for a more realistic approach to identifying rogue landlords? Further, do they have any plans for a national rogue tenant database?
I thank my noble friend but the latest data shows that the figure is slightly higher than that: there are 43 entries by 26 local authorities. However, we will consider what we can do to improve access to the database. We currently have no plans to introduce a national tenants database. There are a number of measures we can put in place, such as the referencing scheme, which we think are sufficient.
Does the Minister agree with me that the reason why people fall into the hands of rogue landlords is that they are in need? They are often the most desperate people, and do not have a choice. Can we not support the decent landlords by getting them back to profitability as soon as possible—but not by Covid-inspired mass evictions?
We have taken a balanced approach whereby we have tried to ensure that we do not see the mass evictions the noble Lord refers to. Equally, it is important that we crack down on rogue landlords. We have invested close to £7 million to improve the enforcement powers of local authorities, because those who do overstep the mark need to feel the full force of the law, whether that is the criminal law or housing legislation.
My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. Does the noble Lord think that the whole concept of the rogue landlords database has so far been a failure? Notwithstanding his answer to that, what is he planning to do to make the intent behind the concept a reality? Can we have a bit more detail on the White Paper and future measures?
I do not accept that it has been a failure, partly because of the time taken going through the process of charging and convicting individuals. As I pointed out in the previous answer, it is one of a number of measures that we introduced to tackle the issue of rogue landlords. Obviously, we are consulting on a number of wider measures, including increasing the scope and accessibility of this database as part of that White Paper. More will be announced later in the year.
My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of interests. Can the Minister comment on the position on creating a register of short-term lets, whether by council area or more generally? These now represent a significant part of the rental market; most are unknown to councils and, consequently, avoid safety checks.
My Lords, I believe that this is being considered by the Tourism Minister, who will be publishing a tourism recovery plan in spring. Landlords who let out accommodation on a short-term basis must do so responsibly and in accordance with the law.
My Lords, for decades, we have been all too aware of the detrimental effect on those most vulnerable of substandard, privately rented family accommodation, operated by so-called rogue landlords. Many of those who suffer the most will know nothing about the list or how to complain. There has been a raft of new housing and planning policy announcements and national adverts over the past few months, including www.ownyourhome.gov.uk. Will the Minister and his department consider widening access to this and other public information and make it available in small satellite channels, which target numerous community languages?
My Lords, one of the measures in our wider reform of the relationship between landlords and tenants is to make sure that landlords are all members of a redress scheme. I will look at some of the other points the noble Baroness has raised as part of that reform agenda.