Examination of Witness

Renters (Reform) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:30 am ar 16 Tachwedd 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Judicaelle Hammond gave evidence.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Llafur, Makerfield 11:32, 16 Tachwedd 2023

We will now hear oral evidence from Judicaelle Hammond, director of policy and advice at the Country Land and Business Association. We have until 11.45 am; I remind all Members that matters should be limited to those within the scope of the Bill and that we have to stick to the timings. Could you please introduce yourself for the record?

Judicaelle Hammond:

I am Judicaelle Hammond; I am the director of policy and advice at the Country Land and Business Association. We have 26,000 members in England and Wales, who own and manage land-based businesses.

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

Thank you for coming to give evidence to us. Your association and members have expressed concerns about the impact of measures in the Bill on rural businesses and communities. Could you give us some detail about those concerns and how you think any changes to the Bill might mitigate themQ 98?

Judicaelle Hammond:

We are looking at the Bill very much from the rural perspective, and there are differences between rural and urban areas. A survey of our members in 2020 found that 90% of respondents provided some form of private rented housing. In a more recent survey, we found that 23% of respondents’ properties were let out at less than 80% of market rent, which means that CLA members are, in effect, key providers of affordable rural housing.

We represent rural landlords, but we also represent rural businesses that are trying to grow. To do so, they mostly need staff, and staff need somewhere to live. The private rented sector provides flexibility and solutions for people who either cannot or do not wish to buy. However, we are worried because the private rented sector is shrinking at an alarming rate: Government figures suggest a reduction of 16.5% between 2018 and 2021 in the number of privately rented homes in areas defined as rural. That is in line with what we are hearing on the grapevine. I should probably say that one thing that the CLA does is provide one-to-one, bespoke advice to members, including on the legal aspects of residential properties.

In 2023, we ran a member survey with a particular focus on housing in England. It suggested that 44% of rural landlords are planning to sell some of their properties over the next two years. Of those, 90% said that that was mainly for two reasons. The first was stricter minimum energy efficiency standards, which are expensive as well as technically difficult to implement in the kind of properties that our members have; the second was removal of section 21, which brings us to this Bill.

Our members are concerned because, at the moment, section 21 provides reassurance that they can get a property back relatively quickly if their personal circumstances change; if their business need changes, which is quite prevalent in rural areas; or if, God forbid, something is going wrong with the tenancy. That is something that section 8, both in its current form and in its new form, would not provide, because of the need for a court hearing. That is why we would want a court system that works. Actually, members would ideally prefer to have a version of section 21 at their disposal, albeit perhaps with a longer notice period.

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

Q We all want a court system that works. We hope we will get one at some point! Separately from that, what are the particular concerns about the amended grounds for possession in the Bill? Can you give us a sense of what your members want the properties back for, if it is not one of the categories that, say, ground 1 or ground 1A allows for? Are we talking about the very real problem in coastal and rural communities of people switching over to short-term lets and second-home sales?

Judicaelle Hammond:

No, it is none of those things. In terms of the alternative set of grounds, I think some new grounds in the Bill are really helpful, such as the incoming agricultural workers ground, the employers ground and the ground for repeated rent arrears. Where we would want to go further comes within two buckets: an economic bucket and a compliance bucket.

In the economic bucket, the new mandatory ground for possession for an incoming agricultural worker is great. We would like it extended, because although 85% of rural businesses have nothing to do with agriculture, quite a lot of them still need to house employees. For example, they could be in tourism, hospitality, trades, food manufacturing, forestry or the care professions, which we tend to forget. There is something about rural areas, just by dint of geography and the fact that they might be away from other places, so extending that ground would be very helpful.

Still in the economic bucket, there is another scenario. Here we are looking at properties being required to house an outgoing or retired agricultural worker or another protected tenant whom the landlord has a statutory duty to house and who is being moved to suitable alternative accommodation. This is in cases in which there is a new employee who will replace, as part of the business, an outgoing employee, but the landlord either still wants to house that outgoing employee or has a duty to house them. They might therefore need another property in which to house that retired employee or that protected employee. That is the second ground.

The third ground is where a landlord intends to use a property, or the land on which it is situated, for a completely non-residential purpose, by which we mean making it a workshop, turning it into an office or putting it to a commercial use. These are the three grounds in the economic bucket, if you like.

I have another two grounds, in terms of compliance with statutory duties, that are not yet in the Bill and which I will go over quickly. It is more than just a rural issue, but we are hearing quite a lot about it in our case load. The first is a landlord needing possession to undertake works required to meet statutory obligations—for example, minimum energy efficiency standards or the proposed decent homes standard. In some of the properties that our members have, the works that will be needed are so extensive that you cannot do them with a sitting tenant; you need to regain possession. The second ground that we would like to see is where there is a persistent refusal by a tenant to allow in a landlord or their agent for a statutory inspection, for example for gas and electricity safety. You would be surprised at how often this is the case.

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

Q Thank you to our witness. You mentioned wanting to get a property back in case there is a problem with the tenancy. Do you welcome the changes that we are making to abolish fixed-term tenancies?

You further mentioned the CLA’s opinion on section 21. In terms of reforming the court system, what changes would you want to see before the CLA would be happy to see the abolition of section 21?

Judicaelle Hammond:

If you do not mind, I will take your last question first. I think there is a need to reduce the time between making a court application and getting a property back. It can be a very lengthy process, particularly if you have to resort to bailiffs. There should be a success trigger on the face of the Bill, if at all possible, so that it is measurable. If you are going to abolish section 21, it should not be on any arbitrary date; you need to have a number of weeks. At the moment, the Ministry of Justice measures the average time it takes as 28 weeks, which is quite long. We need something much shorter, at which point you could say, “Yes, the court system, as reformed, is working.”

On the reforms themselves, digitisation will no doubt help. The question in our mind—given what analysis by the National Residential Landlords Association suggests as the cause of the delay—is whether that will be enough. There is a tremendous problem with the resourcing of the court system. To go back to my rural brief, we have lost 74 county courts since 2010, which has meant that the rest of the work has had to go elsewhere. It has also meant that landlords, and indeed tenants, in rural areas have to go further to go to a hearing. There is a question about resourcing as well as about making the process and system easier. Of course, there is the question of what happens after the court order has been given, so there is more to it than what is in the Bill at the moment.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Llafur, Makerfield

I am afraid that this will have to be the last question to this witness, so could we please have a short question and answer?

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

Q Could you expand a little on your concern about the way agricultural property can be repossessed to house an agricultural worker?

Judicaelle Hammond:

I think that what is in the Bill at the moment would fit for agricultural workers. The issue is that actually 85% of rural businesses have nothing to do with agriculture, and some of them still need employees to be there, either because their shift starts early or because there is a need for them to be on the grounds as a matter of urgency. That includes workers who are not within the ambit of what is agriculture; care workers are an obvious example. If you are in a remote community, you still need to house them. If you are an employer and you have a small business—a maintenance business or a heat pump installation business, for example—you would not necessarily want to have your employees very far away. How can you recruit and retain anyone if they cannot find anywhere to live? We are hearing from a lot of members, particularly on the tourism side, who are saying, “If I want people of the right calibre to do my marketing or some of my managerial duties, I have to be able to provide accommodation as part of the deal. Otherwise, they don’t come.”

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Llafur, Makerfield

I am afraid we are 40 seconds away from the end of the time allotted to the Committee to ask questions. Thank you very much, Ms Hammond, for coming to give evidence.