Examination of Witnesses

Renters (Reform) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:27 am ar 14 Tachwedd 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Polly Neate, Dame Clare Moriarty and Darren Baxter gave evidence.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research 9:29, 14 Tachwedd 2023

Welcome to the first evidence session of the Renters (Reform) Bill Committee. In particular, I welcome our first panel: Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter; Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive officer of Citizens Advice; and Darren Baxter, the principal policy adviser on housing and land for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Let me say in passing, so that we are all aware, that the first panel has to end by 10.10 am.

Polly is online. Polly, if I ignore you, can you please make yourself known by waving at me or something? It is rather hard to communicate online sometimes, so if I am not calling you to say something, please let me know plainly.

Perhaps it would be helpful if the witnesses introduced themselves for the record.

Dame Clare Moriarty:

I am Clare Moriarty, the chief executive of Citizens Advice.

Darren Baxter:

I am Darren Baxter, principal policy adviser for housing and land at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Polly Neate:

I am Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter. Thank you very much for letting me join virtually; I really appreciate it.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

Before I forget, let me ask members of the Committee whether they have any interests to declare. I am not sure whether the Chairman has to do so, but I own two buy-to-lets, not that that particularly matters.

Photo of Ben Spencer Ben Spencer Ceidwadwyr, Runnymede and Weybridge

I declare an interest in that I receive support, in particular as set out in my entry under category 2(a) on the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, from individuals with an interest in this area.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Ceidwadwyr, Walsall North

I am also the joint owner of a property that is let out for rent.

Photo of Craig Tracey Craig Tracey Ceidwadwyr, North Warwickshire

I am an owner of a property let out for commercial rent.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

As per my entry on the register of interests, I receive some support from campaigning organisations that support my office and that campaign on this issue; and I have lodgers at my house.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

Can I declare that I am also the joint owner of two properties that are let out, but are held in trust?

Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

I do not know whether I need to declare this, but I rent, so I am not a homeowner. Hopefully, that means that I have a particular interest in this.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

I think we all do, in one place or another, but that is probably not an interest to declare: it costs you money, rather than getting you any money.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Gray.Q

I will start with section 21. This was the Government’s manifesto commitment and is in many ways the centrepiece of the legislation, but clause 67 of the Bill has always given Ministers discretion as to when the system is introduced. A two-stage transition has been advertised, but the Government have recently made it clear that they will not abolish section 21 until unspecified court reforms are in place. Could you give us your views on those? Specifically, have the Government been clear enough about what they mean by court reforms? What are the criteria by which improvements will be judged?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

I should say at this stage that it is not necessary for all witnesses to answer all questions. Just answer those questions that you feel particularly interested in.

Dame Clare Moriarty:

The thing we really want to underline is the urgency of passing this Bill, introducing it and allowing tenants to benefit from its provisions. We are currently helping nearly 100 people a day with section 21 evictions. The longer the current situation continues, the more problematic it will be. We are seeing a very consistent rise in the number of people coming to us with homelessness issues.

Anything that looks at what needs to be put in place before the provisions can be brought into force, assuming they are enacted, needs to be looked at against that background. There may well be issues with the court system. It is worth remembering that only a minority of section 21 evictions actually go to court, because the majority of tenants leave at the point of getting a notice. It is an important symbolic issue, but it is not the biggest practical issue. Having looked at what is available and at what the Government say they plan to do on court reforms, I do not think it is very precise at this stage, but I am sure that work is going on in the background.

There is, in any case, an implementation timetable that will extend beyond Royal Assent. A reasonable thing to do would be to set that as the timetable for making court reforms, rather than making the provisions’ entry into force conditional on rather imprecise commitments about court reforms.

Polly Neate:

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and has been years in the making. At Shelter, we support thousands of renters every year face to face and millions digitally. Without question, we are seeing increased homelessness as a result of section 21 evictions, so I really want to stress, first of all, the urgency of ending section 21 evictions—it is the most urgent thing in the Bill. A tenant is served with a no-fault eviction every three minutes. In our view, there really is no need to delay ending no-fault evictions because of the reform to the justice system. We agree that court proceedings could be made more accessible and more efficient, and that that could be beneficial to tenants, but we do not think that the vital reforms in the Bill should be held up.

In fact, we believe that a robust Bill would reduce the number of evictions by increasing security to renters, rather than causing a significant increase in the burden on the courts. It simply is not the case that all evictions that now occur under section 21 will in future be heard in the courts as section 8 evictions. Many tenants—probably most tenants—will continue to leave before the end of their notice period, and therefore before court proceedings. Also, many evictions that now occur under section 21 would not meet the threshold for eviction under the new eviction grounds.

The Government were always going to have to hold their nerve over this Bill. This is a brave and reforming piece of legislation, so there was always going to be lobbying for delays and for watering down. That was always going to be the case; I think the Government always knew that. We urge the Government to hold their nerve and not to hold up the vital provisions in this Bill, which will reduce homelessness, for the sake of much more minor reforms that are massively less urgent.

Darren Baxter:

To build on what has been said, it is clear that this delay is unspecified. It is not clear at what point the Government would determine that sufficient reform had taken place in order to enact section 21: whether that is having put in place a process of digitalising the court system, or whether it is more of an “outcomes” measure with respect to caseload or waiting time being reduced. If this is the reason for delaying, there is an urgent need for clarity.

I absolutely back up what has been said so far: there is no need to delay this legislation. For landlords to go through the court process is fairly rare. Most tenants leave at the point at which they are sent a notice. In 2022, about 11,000 or 12,000 repossessions went through the court system in England and Wales. That is less than 1%: it is about 0.3% of all households who are renting privately in England and Wales. I understand why this is an anxiety for landlords, but we have to keep that anxiety proportionate to the great harms that an insecure private rented sector is doing. We have to move quickly to reform, particularly given that the consultation was in 2019. We have already been waiting a long time for reform to take place.

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Q Thank you to our witnesses for giving evidence. I have two questions. First, how do you think the blanket bans will work to level the playing field for renters? Secondly, what is your opinion of the impact that these reforms may have on private rented sector supply?

Polly Neate:

The connection is not brilliant, but I hope I heard the question correctly.

There are reasons why landlords might be facing difficulties, particularly due to mortgage rates, but we do not believe that there is evidence that these reforms will, in themselves, influence the PRS supply. In fact, the Government’s own work shows that the impact on supply will be minimal. We are not overly concerned about that. The evidence from Scotland is that there was not the promised mass exodus of landlords: data from the Scottish landlord register indicates that there has been no quantitative evidence of an impact on supply of PRS accommodation since the reforms there were introduced.

The most recent English housing survey data tells us that the private rented sector is still increasing in size. Some landlords may well be selling up or retiring, but we do not think that there is evidence that this is happening in the unprecedented numbers that people are suggesting. We just do not believe that is taking place. We certainly do not believe that this Bill will impact it significantly.

Darren Baxter:

I would back that. Various forms of data—the English housing survey, a comparison of stamp duty at the higher rate against capital gains tax on people selling properties, and other sources—show that over the past few years the private rented sector has grown. More landlords might be selling up in any given year, but there are still more who are buying. That has been against the backdrop of tax changes and various forms of regulatory reform over time that has tightened up the responsibilities on landlords.

I do not think we can draw a conclusion that that landlords are selling up. It is kind of the opposite. If that has changed—and the data is unclear—it has changed since interest rates increased significantly. That is because the cost of borrowing is a really significant variable for landlords. That should give you, as legislators, more confidence about this reform. It is not going to be this reform that pushes landlords out; it will be the responsibility of the independent Bank of England. That should provide sufficient confidence.

Blanket bans are important but not perfect. If we think of “No DSS”—discrimination against people who claim benefits—there are all sorts of ways in which people who are in receipt of social security benefits might be discriminated against by landlords at the point at which they apply for a house. Income checks, for example, might push them out of the market.

Fundamentally, unless you increase people’s income, they might struggle to rent privately, but it is an important signal to the market that you cannot discriminate against a group of people just because they receive benefits. The same goes for families with children: it is important to say that if you have kids you should be allowed to rent a property, and that if you are putting a property on the market you should be open to who lives in it. These measures will not solve 100% of the problem, but they are really important signalling devices that this legislation can provide.

Dame Clare Moriarty:

On the supply question, it is worth looking at the international angle. The Social Market Foundation has done some quite interesting analysis. First, England is an outlier in still having no-fault evictions. Most countries do not, and many of the countries that do not have them have much larger private rented sectors. There are all sorts of different reasons for that, but there does not appear to be a correlation between reduced size of private rented sector and the banning of no-fault evictions. That is just to add to the important points that Darren and Polly have made.

On the point about blanket bans, that is something that we see coming through quite a bit, including with people who would not fail to be able to rent on the grounds of income alone. They are either told that they cannot rent or possible conditions are put on them, including six to 12 months’ rent up front, just because they are in receipt of benefits. Those are really serious points. I know that the Government have made a commitment to table an amendment to deal with that, which we would very much welcome.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

Before we go on, may I reiterate that we will finish at 10.10 am precisely, even if someone is mid-sentence? Questions and answers should both be brief and to the point.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Llafur, Westminster North

The abolition of no-fault eviction will mean that there are other grounds for possession. Can I ask whether you consider that the wording of the Bill is sufficient to ensure that the grounds that exist will not lead, in some instances, to de facto no-fault evictions? In particular, can you tell us your views of the exceptions in relation to antisocial behaviourQ ? Are the measures robust enough to deal with such behaviour, as well as making sure that people are not evicted wrongly on those grounds?

Dame Clare Moriarty:

I will leave the question of antisocial behaviour entirely to Polly, but on the question whether we think there is a risk that there could be no-fault evictions by another route: yes, we definitely do. There were two time limits in the original consultation, including one for the period before which grounds 1 and 1A would apply, for people reclaiming a house to move family into it or in order to sell it. There was an initial period of two years before that could be effected, which has been reduced to six months. The original consultation also included a period of 12 months after those grounds had been used before the property could be re-let. That has been reduced to three months.

Both of those are problematic for different reasons. First, even the most exemplary tenant could rely on only six months before they might be removed from their home on a no-fault ground. That does not deliver the security that the Bill is designed to give people. Secondly, if the grounds are invoked and people are moved out, saying that the property could be re-let three months later does not give the impression that this is being taken seriously. If the ground is only ever used for people to move family in to sell the house, there should be no question about the property being back on the market. There may be circumstances in which that happens, but three months is not enough for people to feel that this is a serious intent. I am not saying that this is something that people would be looking to get round, but if there is only a three-month empty period before they could re-let the property, that does not give confidence that this is a piece of legislation providing that security.

Polly Neate:

I absolutely agree with all those points; I will not bother to repeat them. The antisocial point is really important. I absolutely understand why landlords are anxious about antisocial behaviour, but it is already covered by two different grounds for possession under section 8. Those will continue to be grounds for possession once section 21 is scrapped. Without the proposed changes, landlords would still be able to evict tenants engaging in antisocial behaviour—and they should be able to.

The big worry is the wording change from “likely to cause” nuisance to “capable of causing” nuisance or annoyance. That widens the definition of antisocial behaviour. There is a real worry—and I have seen this in several roles in my career—that domestic abuse, serious mental health issues and some forms of learning difficulties can easily be misinterpreted or targeted as being antisocial behaviour. There is a real risk with this change that people will be evicted unjustly, when what they really need is help and support; they are not antisocial tenants. That is the worry. We would say that there are already ample means to be able to evict for antisocial behaviour, and it is quite right that that should happen, but we really need to not risk widening that net and catching people in a wholly unjust and even dangerous way.

Darren Baxter:

I have just a couple of points. On the ground that Clare mentioned—selling or moving back in—we need to recognise that this Bill is about improving security for renters. There is legal insecurity that comes from section 21; there is also a structural insecurity, which is that the sector is made up of lots of small-scale landlords churning in and churning out. That leads to people being kicked out because landlords sell. It is the most common reason why section 21 is used, and it is the most common reason why a no-fault eviction leads to homelessness, which has a huge impact on households and on councils’ finances, public spending and so on. We should be using this Bill to think about different forms of security, and the amendments that Clare mentioned would not only address the abuse of that ground, but give a more general security to tenants.

The other risk is no-fault evictions through the back door, through rent rises or so-called economic evictions: jacking up the rent to an unsustainable level, which then forces a tenant out so the landlord does not have to use the court process. We think you could amend that by having a limit on in-tenancy rent rises, capping at, say, the consumer prices index or wage growth—whichever is lower in any one year. That would stop landlords using that as a route for driving tenants out.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Ceidwadwyr, Cities of London and Westminster

Building on what Mr Baxter was just saying and what Ms Neate said in her first comments, Shelter says Q that it has seen a huge rise in section 21 no-fault evictions over the past year or so. Is there a particular reason given by tenants for their evictions? Are you seeing a trend that is being used at this moment on section 21?

Polly Neate:

May I start, as you specifically mentioned Shelter? What we are seeing is an overall increase in no-fault evictions, partly because of deteriorating standards within the private rented sector. We are seeing tenants who complain about the poor conditions in which they are living then being subject to a no-fault eviction. As standards are becoming worse in the sector, we are seeing that happening much more.

There is also an increase in no-fault evictions because the landlord wants to put the rent up. Again, that is partly because of the shortage of accommodation. It is partly because there is now such overwhelming demand that that is possible. We hear a lot in the news about how many hoops tenants are being required to go through, even including bidding wars for properties. If a landlord believes that there is an opportunity to make a lot more from a property, there is a temptation to get the current tenants out in order to be able to do that.

Those are two of the main trends that we are seeing. The point about standards is particularly important, because this goes to the root of the greater security that the Bill is intended to introduce. It is not only about no-fault evictions being used when tenants complain; there is an even bigger problem, which is that the threat of a no-fault eviction stops tenants complaining about poor standards in the first place. That increases the risk of poor standards within the sector. It stops people complaining. It means that more and more families are living in conditions that are potentially damaging to their health. Part of what this Bill is intended to do is improve the entire sector. The point about the relationship between no-fault evictions and poor standards is really central to that aim.

Dame Clare Moriarty:

In terms of data, we are seeing larger numbers of section 21 evictions. It is a big increase, with 45% more people coming to us for help than at the same time last year. In terms of homelessness issues generally, we have seen a steep rise—a really consistent rise from early 2020, which amounts to about 25% year on year and 35% year on year for people in the private rented sector. It is worth recognising that there is a real increase in homelessness. There will be lots more data, which we will be happy to share with the Committee afterwards.

As for reasons why people are coming to us for section 21, I do not have detailed data at my fingertips. I will certainly ask whether there is more that we could analyse and share with you. I completely agree with Polly: we certainly see what are called retaliatory evictions. We are helping about 180 people a month who are being evicted after they have complained about conditions. We are certainly hearing from people the pattern that when the landlord presents a rent rise and people say, “We can’t afford that—a £500-a-month rent increase is just not absorbable,” they will then be threatened with section 21 eviction. As I say, I am happy to dig out more from our data to see exactly what is going on.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

If you can dig out that data and let the Committee have it formally, that will be very helpful.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

Q We have been talking about economic evictions. Currently, if someone approaches the rent tribunal, it can determine whether a rent goes up or down. Citizens Advice and Shelter are particularly likely to support tenants who go to that rent tribunal. Is there a danger that people will not want to risk it?

Polly Neate:

I don’t think so, no. I think the provisions in the Bill will make renting so much more secure that it will make sure that people are much less likely to have recourse to all forms of the courts—the rent tribunal and so on. The objective of the Bill will be effective in reducing the burden on all of that.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

Q So you are saying that the Bill will create an atmosphere in which people will not need to take cases to the tribunal, because these things will be resolved before between tenant and landlord?

Polly Neate:

Yes, exactly.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

Q There is a six-month protection from eviction with a new tenancy, but beyond that no other protections are afforded to people in terms of evictions. Should that be linked to rent rises, so that every time a rent rises, the six-month protection for no-fault eviction is restarted?

Dame Clare Moriarty:

We would say that six months is simply not long enough. If you are moving into a property, you want to make it your home—we hear from tenants the idea that you can only feel secure there for six months does not allow people to do that.

Dame Clare Moriarty:

The original proposition was two years, which we think is a reasonable amount of time. Whether you would restart the clock at a rent rise—that is an interesting proposition. It is not something we have worked on ourselves. I don’t know whether you have at JRF?

Darren Baxter:

Our position is similar—the initial period should be longer. Two years or beyond is an interesting idea and one I would not reject out of hand, but it is not something we have worked out.

To jump back to your previous point about the rent tribunal, the risk you identify is valid. Polly’s point about better security giving people a chance to exercise their rights is true, but if you have a rent tribunal where you can challenge your rent, but that rent might go up, there is a risk that people see that as rolling the dice on potentially having to pay even more than they faced originally. Capping that, so that effectively the rent can go down but it cannot go any higher than the landlord was asking for, would be a reasonable reform that would encourage people to use the tribunal.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

Q Should people be able to see the previous rents in that property through the property portal? Should tenants who are now in the property be able to say, “How much did the last tenants pay?”

Dame Clare Moriarty:

The property portal could be really helpful for tenants in understanding what has happened with the property in the past. Previous rents would certainly be interesting. Also, there is the issue of whether or not the landlord has previously used the available grounds for what are effectively still no-fault evictions. While the design of the property portal is about landlords, if it had the right information and was properly regulated, it could be a real benefit for tenants and give them more confidence, at the point when they enter into a tenancy, so that they know a bit more about who they are dealing with. Tenants are often dealing with letting agents, and it is only when they have signed the contract that they actually have any contact with the landlord. The quality of the landlord is incredibly important to their quality of life.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

Q Should this information be public, or is it that before you sign the contract you should have access to the check so that you can quality-assure your landlord? I am trying to work out the levels. Are we saying that all this information should be out in the ether, or is there some sort of system that you are thinking about?

Dame Clare Moriarty:

Again, this is not something on which I would like to get into too much detail, because I do not have the knowledge. Certainly, the point about a tenant, at the point where they commit to a tenancy, not doing that blind to information about the landlord is really important. Whether the only way of doing that is by making it public, or whether at a certain point in the process there are ways in which they could be given access to information, is probably in the detail of the property portal.

Polly Neate:

What is important is that people have access to the information at the right point. This will also be of benefit to local authorities when they are trying to regulate private renting. There are lots of issues around that at the moment. Some of them are about resources, but the property portal would make it much more straightforward and less resource-intensive to be able to properly regulate standards in private renting. That is another important benefit.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Q Given that somebody is being evicted every 23 minutes through a section 21 no-fault eviction, should there be a timescale to abolish no-fault evictions? Would a clear timescale be helpful, particularly to the people concerned?

My second point is about prevention. What more needs to happen regarding the duties of local authorities and councils to people who are not evicted, given some of the current holes in the Bill?

Polly Neate:

Yes, it would be very beneficial to have a clear timetable. I cannot stress clearly enough my previous point: this was always going to be subject to lobbying for delays and it is really important that the Government hold their nerve. We need clarity about when this will happen, because we also have a commitment to reducing homelessness and this is a really important way of doing that. When people get the eviction notice, for whatever reason, it is really important that they still have the right to access homelessness assistance from their local authority. It is really important that that right is not watered down as a result of the Bill.

Photo of Helen Morgan Helen Morgan Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Levelling up, Housing and Communities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Local Government)

Q Building on the point about local authorities and their responsibilities to people who have been evicted, they are currently reporting intense pressure on their budgets because of the escalating number of people who have been evicted and made homeless. Could you build on what you would like to see in the Bill to protect those people? Do you think that ending no-fault evictions more rapidly would assist local authorities in managing the financial pressures of those homeless people?

Darren Baxter:

We know from the data that local authorities capture why households come to them reporting homelessness, and why they then have a duty to house them, and section 21 no-fault evictions are a really significant part of that. Anything that reduces that flow will inevitably take some pressure off local authorities, so the more quickly you do this, the more quickly you stop one of the really significant drivers of homelessness.

Dame Clare Moriarty:

We need to recognise that there is a whole range of problems with the housing market, including the extent to which rents are simply not affordable for many people. The local housing allowance is now seriously out of kilter with what people are paying for rent. That means that if you are on benefit in the private rented sector, a big chunk of your living costs go just on paying rent.

There are lots of broader questions playing into the pressures landing on local authorities. Having said that, section 21 evictions are definitely part of the problem, but they can be addressed, and the Government are committed to addressing them. As Darren was saying, this Bill has been a very long time in the making, and addressing the issue of insecurity for tenants, and the number of evictions that that is driving, has to be helpful. We should not kid ourselves that it solves the whole housing market problem, but it would make a real difference to people.

Polly Neate:

I agree with all that. The Government have decided to remove the prevention duty and not replicate it for section 8 evictions, leaving it to the discretion of local authorities to decide when a duty is owed to tenants. Given the resource constraints and the issues in local authorities, there is a real risk that people just will not get the homelessness support that they need, so we urge that that be changed in the Bill.

It is absolutely right to say that no-fault evictions are not the only reason local authorities are overwhelmed by homelessness. The freezing of housing benefit and of local housing allowance is another major reason, and of course the really serious lack of social housing stock is at the root of this. This is not a magic bullet to resolve these issues, but the Government can remove a really significant factor contributing to the overwhelming pressure on local authorities.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Q Returning to possession grounds, concerns have been raised about new grounds 1, 1A and 6A and the changes to existing ground 14. I want to ask the witnesses a question about the new ground for possession 8A, which concerns repeated rent arrears. Do you think that that new ground is needed in any form, or should it be removed from the Bill? If it is to stay in the Bill, what changes might strengthen it to better protect tenants?

Polly Neate:

Answering as quickly as possible, we think it should be removed from the Bill.

Dame Clare Moriarty:

Yes, it feels like something that is targeting a group of people who are probably in crisis. It is a very specific set of circumstances that applies if you fall into arrears three times in two years, but not to the point at which the serious rent arrears ground comes in. These are people who are either suffering multiple adverse life events or possibly trying to avoid losing the roof over their head by borrowing in insecure ways, but they need help and advice, not to be evicted.

Darren Baxter:

We also do not think it is necessary. Adding to that, I think it is punishing people for doing the right thing. This is a group of people who have fallen behind, but then ultimately paid that money back, which is what this system is encouraging people to do. It is effectively punishing people for putting the situation right.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

That brings us to the end of our first panel of the morning. I thank Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter; Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive officer of Citizens Advice; and Darren Baxter, principal policy adviser on housing and land for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Thank you all very much for giving evidence to the Committee; it will be extremely useful and will be borne in mind during the Committee sittings that lie ahead of us.