The Government’s consultation on introducing a decent homes standard to the private rented sector closed on 14 October. We are considering the responses carefully and will publish our response to the consultation as soon as we can. In the meantime, the Government have committed to ban Section 21 no-fault evictions to protect tenants and will introduce a renters reform Bill in this Parliament.
I thank the Minister for that definitive Answer. As we were promised it in 2022-23, this definitely feels like a disappointing push-back of the much-needed reform of the private rented sector, which I and many others look forward to, as there is much work to do. For example, last week in the Budget the Chancellor said that rent hikes of 11% were unaffordable and acted to cap rent rises faced by social tenants. However, private landlords are still free to charge the going market rent and, according to Zoopla, this has increased nationally by 12% in the past year. In the same Budget, the Government chose to freeze—
I will get to my question; I note that noble Lords have been more liberal with other speakers. In the same Budget, the Government chose yet again to freeze housing benefit and local housing allowance levels. Does the Minister believe that this is fair, as it disproportionately affects private renters? Are there plans to review these levels? Given that private tenants are likely to pay higher rents than their social sector counterparts, does she agree that they too deserve protection from unaffordable rent rises?
My Lords, the Government do not support the introduction of rent controls in the private rented sector. Historically, evidence suggests that this would discourage investment in the sector and lead to declining property standards as a result, which would not help either landlords or tenants. Recent international examples also suggest that rent controls can have an invertedly negative impact on the supply of housing and may encourage more illegal subletting.
My Lords, I am aware of many landlords who own one property which they use for letting purposes, and it amounts to their sole income. Does the Minister therefore agree that a one-size-fits-all rent freeze could damage those who rely on rental income to service their ever-increasing mortgages, thereby damaging the rental sector altogether?
My Lords, I think that is exactly what I have said. We need a balance here, in order for landlords to still provide this sector, which is an extremely important sector, and in the renters reform Bill that is coming forward I am sure that we will discuss that in further detail.
My Lords, whilst welcoming an enormous amount that is in the proposed legislation, I am very concerned about the capacity of the courts to undertake the justified evictions under Section 8. Currently, the waiting times are simply enormous, and this is putting off a lot of private landlords.
The noble Lord makes a very good point. When court action is needed for landlords to gain possession of their properties, the courts should provide fair and efficient access to justice. We are working with the judiciary, the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts & Tribunals Service to introduce reforms to make the possession process much more efficient for landlords, while maintaining essential protections for tenants built into the court processes.
My Lords, I declare my interest as an owner of rented properties. Following on from that last question, will my noble friend undertake that, in seeking to protect tenants from a minority of unscrupulous landlords, they will not make it impossible for proper landlords to regain their properties from tenants who may be behaving inappropriately?
My noble friend is right that we need a balance in this, and the way we are going to get a balance is through good debate on the Bill that is coming forward in this Parliament. We will have all those discussions and, hopefully, we will get something at the end which is balanced—for landlords but also, most importantly, for tenants.
My Lords, rents in London are up to double the level of rents elsewhere in the UK. Crisis has warned that the number of people sleeping rough in London has risen by a quarter in just one year, and more than half of those spotted on the streets are sleeping rough for the first time. What are the Government doing to prevent those who are struggling to pay their increasing rents from falling into homelessness?
My Lords, we have a number of interventions that can be used that the Chancellor brought in, both for people that are struggling with their rents and people who are struggling with household bills as a whole; that was all laid out in the Chancellor’s Statement last week. As far as homelessness is concerned, we are providing local authorities with £316 million in the homelessness prevention grant funding, and we are encouraging local authorities to use that flexibly, because it will not be the same in London as it is in other areas of the country.
My Lords, the Government’s own White Paper admits that the private rented sector
“offers the most expensive, least secure, and lowest quality housing”
to nearly 4.5 million households. Will the Government introduce a new renters’ charter to give tenants more choice and more control over their homes?
My Lords, I recognise that the Government are not going to introduce a freeze for the private rented sector or the social housing sector, but there is a cap on rents for social housing landlords, housing associations and councils. That cap means that they will not be getting the revenue they expected if they have the full increase in their rents. The main beneficiaries of this are the Government and Treasury, because housing benefit will be reduced—so the autumn Statement tells us—by £650 million. Will this windfall gain of £650 million for the Treasury over the next five years be recycled or reinvested back into social housing, where it is very badly needed, to upgrade the stock and build new homes?
The Government are already investing in social housing; we are putting £11.5 billion into building social housing. Some of the money from the windfall, as the noble Lord called it—I would not call it that—will go into that. There is also support going to local authorities to support those in the private rented sector who might have problems this winter and whom we might need to help out.
My Lords, following the tragic death of Awaab Ishak due to fungus growing in a family apartment, will my noble friend the Minister agree to a review of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 to stop this ever happening in the private rented sector?
As we discussed in a lot of detail last week, this was an extremely sad and very disturbing case. On whether we will look at the healthy homes standard again, I think we will now wait to see if it is going to be in the renters reform Bill. In the meantime, the Secretary of State wrote to all local authorities this week to insist that they look at their stock, so that we as a department and a Government know exactly what is happening in our social housing stock as far as mould and damp are concerned.
We have to understand that this country is in an economically difficult time, and very difficult decisions have to be made. If we look at what was given to very vulnerable groups of people in the Statement last week, I think noble Lords will agree that the Government are doing all they possibly can—