Examination of Witness

Renters (Reform) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:48 pm ar 14 Tachwedd 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

James Prestwich gave evidence.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Llafur, Makerfield 4:20, 14 Tachwedd 2023

We will now hear oral evidence from James Prestwich, the director of policy and external affairs at the Chartered Institute of Housing. We have until 4.45 pm for this panel. Welcome, James. Could you please introduce yourself?

James Prestwich:

I am James Prestwich, director of policy and external affairs at the Chartered Institute of Housing. We are the professional body for the housing sector. Our members are individuals rather than organisations. We are cross-tenure and cross-UK in our remit.

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

Q James, I will ask you this because I have seen you sitting at the back listening to all the other evidence, and you may well have seen what we did this morning. This is a very open question: after all that you have heard today, is there anything you want to highlight that we have not covered? Do you want to generally give us your views on what is good in the Bill, or what its defects and deficiencies are? I might come back with a further question about that.

James Prestwich:

I am very conscious that you have heard from any number of really esteemed experts on all manner of aspects of the Bill in today’s sessions, and there was an awful lot to agree with. A question has continued to be posed about striking the balance, and I suppose the position of the CIH is that if we accept that the private rented sector has an important role to play in meeting housing need—I think we all probably do—it is hard to look at what we have at the moment and think that the balance is right. It is tipped much too far in favour of the landlord rather than the tenants. A lot in the Bill is positive in looking to provide a better deal, but there are still some gaps and areas where it would be good to go further. A lot has been said about what was in the White Paper. We need action and to follow through on that now, particularly on the decent homes standard and an assurance on a timetable for its introduction.

We have seen over the past year to 18 months the impact on people of the cost of living challenges, particularly around energy efficiency. Experts have spoken about the importance of ensuring that families and people in receipt of welfare benefits are not discriminated against by landlords, so it is important that we see really firm action on that. We have talked a lot about section 21 and no-fault evictions, and it is worth saying that it is really good to see what is in the Bill as far as section 21 is concerned.

As for those landlord grounds of concern, though, the two-month notice period is a little on the short side. We know—witnesses have stressed this point—that one of the biggest causes of homelessness is the ending of a tenancy via section 21. It takes time for people to find another property, particularly in hot rental markets, and I think it would be reasonable to expect a longer period to allow people to try to find alternative accommodation.

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

Q Very quickly, specifically on ground 8A, which we discussed this morning, what is the view of the CIH on whether it should be removed from or remain in the Bill? If it should remain in the Bill, should it be made discretionary? Should it be tightened? What is your view on that new ground for possession?

James Prestwich:

We have heard really well-reasoned, well-argued points today about the importance of making that a discretionary ground. We know the challenges that people face when paying rent, particularly when we think about interaction with the local housing allowance, which witnesses have talked about. It is important that we are able to trust judges to make informed decisions based on the evidence of the case—the evidence presented before them.

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

Q Thank you, James; it is great credit to you for sticking through a lot of this. I thank the other witnesses who stayed and listened to some of the other responses. Obviously, a lot of these changes aim to professionalise the sector. I am keen to understand from your perspective what you see as the opportunities presented by the portal and how they can support landlords to better understand their responsibilities.

James Prestwich:

Again, as other witnesses have said, there is an awful lot to like about the landlord portal. We have talked quite a lot about the benefits that the portal will have for tenants, but it is right that there are significant advantages for landlords as well. This point might not have been made yet, but the overwhelming majority of landlords, regardless of the number of homes they own, are thoroughly decent people doing a decent job. We know there are examples of poor quality and poor practice, as there are in all professions, but any tool that enables landlords to get a better understanding of the responsibilities expected of them is to be welcomed. The point about how we get the portal to work both ways is really important. There is something about the sort of information that local authorities will be able to access from the portal, although they do not at the moment. That should enable local authorities, providing they have got the capacity and resources, to be able to take a harder line when people fall below the standards that we all want to expect from landlords.

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

Q You said that the two-month period seemed quite short, and four months might be preferable. We heard earlier about the cost of moving, as well as the difficulty. Where there are no-fault grounds, is there an argument that there should be some payment to the tenant? Alternatively, as Generation Rent suggested, once the no-fault eviction has been ordered, should no rent effectively be paid for those two months so that a tenant can leave at any time or can use that time to save up?

James Prestwich:

There is a lot that Ben Twomey said that you could agree with. I think the challenge here is about how we try to find that balance. We know that a lot of people in the private rented sector are accidental landlords. Previously, I was an accidental landlord and an accidental tenant, and neither of those things was particularly pleasant, so I have a little experience of that. There is a real challenge around all of that that we have not quite bottomed out yet.

James Prestwich:

Yes, it is.

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

You are saying you think work needs to be done but you are not quite sure of the solution yet.

James Prestwich:

Yes, that is probably the case.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Llafur, Makerfield

If there are no further questions, I thank all the witnesses for the time and expertise that they have given with their evidence.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Mr Gagan Mohindra.)

Adjourned till Thursday 16 November at half-past Eleven o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

RRB01 PayProp UK

RRB02 Thomas Dove

RRB03 West Midlands Combined Authority Homelessness Taskforce

RRB04 Marie Curie

RRB05 Cats Protection

RRB06 St Mungo’s homelessness charity

RRB07 Grainger plc

RRB08 British Property Federation (BPF)

RRB09 Shelter

RRB10 The Property Institute

RRB11 Greystar

RRB12 Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance

RRB13 Dogs Trust

RRB14 Renters’ Reform Coalition

RRB15 Professor Christopher Hodges OBE PhD MA FSALS FRSA

RRB16 Positive Money

RRB17 Large Agents’ Representation Group (LARG)

RRB18 Generation Rent

RRB19 Get Living PLC

RRB20 National Residential Landlords Association

RRB21 Crisis

RRB22 Student Accredited Private Rental Sector (SAPRS)

RRB23 National Debtline