Enforcement by local weights and measures authorities

Part of Tenant Fees Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:25 am ar 12 Mehefin 2018.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 9:25, 12 Mehefin 2018

I am generous in giving way, but in this occasion I may have been too generous, because I was just about to make that point. It is exactly because we recognise that in different areas there are different situations that we do not want to mandate a top-down approach. We have encouraged close co-operation. I do not want to pre-empt our debate on the next clause, which talks specifically about the powers for district authorities to enforce the provisions in the Bill. Also, on the particular question raised about client money protection and who ought to be the body enforcing that, 74% of respondents to the consultation said that that enforcement should primarily be by trading standards. It is important to note that trading standards can, under this legislation, discharge their responsibilities to the local housing authority, should they feel that is most appropriate for their area. I hope that addresses concerns on that point.

I do not want to pre-empt a future conversation we will no doubt have on the appropriate level of resources. However, to the specific question of how a trading standards operation prioritises between various tasks, it is not for me to direct them to a different area. There will be different needs for each area and they will make those decisions themselves.

Committee Members should note that, as a result of this and previous housing legislation, notably the Housing and Planning Act 2016, local trading standards authorities are able to keep the money they make from civil penalties related to housing to fund greater enforcement of these housing measures. Those powers have been in place only since April 2017, so it is too early to say exactly how they are working, but I can say that the early news is encouraging. For example, in Torbay, trading standards have used the revenue that they have raised from civil penalties to fund an extra enforcement officer specifically for housing. That provides good evidence that the model we propose in this legislation will stand the test of time and prove to be fruitful.

Lastly, I turn to the points raised by the hon. Lady about the burden of proof and whether the right threshold for enforcement has been set in the Bill. I believe it has, for a couple of simple reasons. First, it is worth bearing in mind that we are talking about judicial matters, so we should properly consider these questions. The Bill includes a two-step process to a criminal conviction, if a landlord or letting agent breaks the terms of the legislation twice in a five-year period. The second of those contraventions will trigger a criminal conviction, a potentially unlimited fine and a banning order for that institution. That is obviously a very serious penalty, and for that reason it is right that the burden of proof is analogous to that of a criminal conviction, which is “beyond all reasonable doubt”. That is why the legislation is designed in the way that it is. It would not be appropriate or legally fair to have a criminal conviction penalty without a criminal conviction burden of proof.

It is also worth noting that that was laid out in the draft Bill and there were, to our knowledge, no adverse comments either from participants or the Select Committee. It is also important to note that it is usual to require a criminal standard of proof for financial penalties that are issued as an alternative to prosecution. For example, it is a requirement for any regulations made under the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008, to confer powers on regulators, to impose financial penalties for an offence, and is also the position for several other pieces of legislation, including the Housing and Planning Act 2016, the Housing Act 2004 and the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009.