Schedule 1 - Changes to grounds for possession

Renters (Reform) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:15 pm ar 21 Tachwedd 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Amendment proposed: 143, in schedule 1, page 65, line 10, leave out “6 months” and insert “2 years”.—(Matthew Pennycook.)

Amendments 143 and 144 would prohibit evictions under grounds 1 and 1A within two years of the beginning of a tenancy.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Rhif adran 4 Renters (Reform) Bill — Schedule 1 - Changes to grounds for possession

Ie: 7 MPs

Na: 9 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendments made: 2, in schedule 1, page 65, line 34, after “sell” insert

“a freehold or leasehold interest in”.

This amendment makes it clear that the ground of possession that the Bill creates for when a landlord is selling a dwelling-house (Ground 1A) is available where the landlord’s interest is a leasehold one as well as where the landlord holds the freehold of the dwelling-house.

Amendment 3, in schedule 1, page 65, line 35, after “dwelling-house” insert

“or to grant a lease of the dwelling-house for a term certain of more than 21 years which is not terminable before the end of that term by notice given by or to the landlord”.

This amendment makes the ground of possession for when a landlord is selling the dwelling-house (Ground 1A) also available to a landlord who is granting a lease of over 21 years.

Amendment 4, in schedule 1, page 66, line 10, after “sell” insert “their interest in”.

This amendment is a clarification to better express the availability of the ground of possession for when a landlord is selling the dwelling-house to landlords whose interest is leasehold.

Amendment 5, in schedule 1, page 66, leave out lines 15 to 17 and insert—

“(ii) a body registered as a social landlord in the register maintained under section 1 of the Housing Act 1996,

(iia) a body registered as a social landlord in the register kept under section 20(1) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010,”.—

This amendment expands on the term “registered social landlord” in Ground 1A (for landlords who are selling) to make it easier to see that the Welsh and Scottish registers of social landlords are the ones referred to here.

Amendment proposed: 194, in schedule 1, page 66, line 23, at end insert—

“(e) the landlord has offered to sell the property to the current tenant at the same value at which the landlord intends to list the property for public sale and the tenant has informed the landlord within four weeks of receiving the offer from the landlord that the tenant does not intend to buy the property at this value.”

This amendment would require landlords wishing to issue a notice for possession on the basis of Ground 1A to offer the current tenants the right to buy the property at the intended listing value before it goes onto the market.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Rhif adran 5 Renters (Reform) Bill — Schedule 1 - Changes to grounds for possession

Ie: 6 MPs

Na: 9 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

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

I beg to move amendment 6, in schedule 1, page 66, line 28, after “sell” insert

“a freehold or leasehold interest in”.

This amendment makes it clear that the ground of possession for when a landlord is selling the dwelling-house after a rent-to-buy agreement (Ground 1B) is available where the landlord’s interest is a leasehold one as well as where the landlord holds the freehold of the dwelling-house.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment 7.

Amendment 147, in schedule 1, page 66, line 29, after “dwelling-house” insert

“or to offer it to another tenant”.

This amendment would allow private registered providers of social housing to use new ground for possession 1B to offer properties to another tenant.

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

Government amendments 6 and 7 will apply to ground 1B, which ensures that private registered providers of social housing can gain possession if they want to sell, dispose of a lease on or grant a lease on a rent-to-buy property, having first given the sitting tenant the opportunity to buy it. Many private registered providers will sell their rent-to-buy homes to the existing tenants on shared ownership terms, but where they do not, they will be able to sell the home to another buyer on the same terms as those on which they had intended to sell to the sitting tenant. The amendments are technical changes to ensure that ground 1B works as intended; they will simply ensure that there is no ambiguity about what selling means. They will support the operation of rent to buy.

I thank the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich for tabling amendment 147, which would expand ground 1B. As I have set out, the Bill already takes steps to allow rent to buy to continue to operate in the new system. We are aware that stakeholders are concerned about the issue of providers selling to a different tenant from the sitting one; I will carefully consider that issue further.

I commend Government amendments 6 and 7 to the Committee, and I ask the hon. Gentleman kindly not to press his amendment.

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

I rise to speak to amendment 147, which stands in my name and the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Weaver Vale, for North Tyneside and for Brighton, Kemptown.

As we have discussed, schedule 1 specifies the reasons that landlords will be able to seek possession once the new tenancy system has come into force. As the Minister has explained, paragraph 4 of schedule 1 provides for a new mandatory ground 1B, which will require a court to award possession when private registered providers of social housing are selling a property under a rent-to-buy or London living rent arrangement. Social landlords will be able to use the new ground only where the defined period stated in the rent-to-buy agreement has expired, and to do so they will have to have complied with any terms in the relevant agreement that require them to offer the sitting tenant the opportunity to purchase the property.

The Bill is concerned primarily with the private rented sector, but it has implications for social housing providers in a number of different areas. New mandatory ground 1B relates to one of those, namely affordable products, offered by registered providers, that are designed to enable tenants to use the savings accrued by sub-market rents to save up for a deposit and ultimately purchase the property at a price no more than market value before it is offered for general sale. New ground 1B will ensure that rent-to-buy schemes, including London living rent, will remain viable in the new tenancy system by providing a mechanism for possession to be gained to sell the property at the end of the scheme in line with the terms of agreement.

Although the new ground is absolutely necessary, the proposed drafting would prevent it from being used when a rent-to-buy property is not being sold but when a new tenant is moving into it. A hypothetical example was given by the chief executive of the National Housing Federation, Kate Henderson, in Tuesday’s evidence session:

“you have somebody who is in a rent-to-buy property, has been there for five years and has decided that they do not want to buy it or they cannot buy it; we would like the ground available so that that property could be given to another tenant who would like to use the property as it was intended and designed to be used—as a rent to buy.”––[Official Report, Renters (Reform) Public Bill Committee, 14 November 2023; c. 52, Q63.]

Amendment 147 would ensure that the new mandatory ground could be used in precisely the terms set out for the Committee by Ms Henderson, thereby enabling a product that—let us bear in mind—is supported by Government grants through the affordable homes programme to continue to operate as intended where a property has not been sold but the tenancy needs to be transferred. It is a simple, straightforward and reasonable amendment. I have no doubt that the Government will incorporate it into the Bill at some stage; I would welcome some positive noises in that respect from the Minister.

I will touch briefly on Government amendments 6 and 7. Government amendment 6 simply makes it clear that ground 1B includes the sale of a leasehold interest as well as a freehold interest. That is obviously necessary, and we welcome it. However, can the Minister tell me—I am happy for him to write to me; these are very technical points—whether the amendment would include a commonhold interest? Presumably it should, as commonhold is a form of freehold, but given the Government’s seemingly lukewarm position on commonhold reform—I do not want to pre-empt the Bill that may be published in the next week or two—we would like some clarity in that respect.

Government amendment 7 would ensure that ground 1B can be used where the landlord proposes to grant a lease. We are concerned that there is potential for abuse there. I would be grateful if the Minister reassured the Committee about what would prevent a landlord from deciding—drawing explicitly on the amendment—to grant a sham lease to a family member or connected company simply for the purposes of utilising ground 1B.

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 3:30, 21 Tachwedd 2023

The points that the hon. Gentleman raises are fairly technical in nature, so I will endeavour to write to him as soon as possible; I will copy in members of the Committee. As I have already outlined, I will consider his amendment 147 carefully in the further steps of the Bill.

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

I think that that is about as positive a response as will come, so I look forward to what may be forthcoming from the Government.

Amendment 6 agreed to.

Amendment made: 7, in schedule 1, page 66, line 29, after “dwelling-house” insert

“or to grant a lease of the dwelling-house for a term certain of more than 21 years which is not terminable before the end of that term by notice given by or to the landlord”.—(Jacob Young.)

This amendment makes the ground of possession for when a landlord is selling the dwelling-house after a rent-to-buy agreement (Ground 1B) also available to a landlord who is granting a lease of over 21 years.

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

I beg to move amendment 188, in schedule 1, page 67, line 23, after “terminate that tenancy”, insert

“(including any tenancy at will or other tenancy arising on expiry of a fixed-term lease)”.

This amendment would extend Ground 2ZA to apply in a situation where a tenancy at will may arise.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 189, in schedule 1, page 67, line 40, at end insert—

“(c) where the intermediate landlord serves notice under this Ground, the intermediate landlord shall be deemed to continue to hold sufficient interest in the dwelling-house to maintain a continuing right to possession until conclusion of any possession proceedings.”

This amendment would ensure that an intermediate landlord retains possession of the property and remains as the landlord of the occupying tenant until the conclusion of possession proceedings.

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

In her evidence to the Committee last week, in addition to the request that she made on behalf of housing associations in respect of new ground 1B, the NHF chief executive Kate Henderson also made the case for greater clarity in the Bill on new mandatory ground 2ZA. As is set out in the explanatory notes accompanying the Bill, new ground 2ZA will require a court to award possession when a social or other specified intermediate landlord

“has a superior lease and that superior lease is coming to an end”,

thus enabling them to comply with the terms of the superior lease to which they were subject. The clarification for which Ms Henderson argued related to if new ground 2ZA could be used on a tenancy at will—in other words, a tenancy that arises when a tenant occupies a property with landlord consent indefinitely on the basis that either party can end the arrangement by giving immediate notice at any time.

Amendment 188 would ensure that new ground 2ZA would apply in a situation in which a tenancy at will may arise. That is particularly important for social landlords who use superior and intermediate leases to provide specialist supported accommodation.

Amendment 189 would ensure that social or specified intermediate landlords obtain possession of a property when serving notice under the ground. That would see those landlords remain the landlord of the occupational tenant until the conclusion of possession proceedings, rather than running the risk of the superior landlord becoming the landlord for the occupational tenant. We believe that these are both common-sense amendments, and we hope that the Government will accept them either today or at some future point.

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for tabling amendments 188 and 189, which seek to amend new ground 2ZA. I know he said they were a concern to the National Housing Federation. We have had similar conversations with the federation. The amendments would change the ground so that it would continue to apply where the superior lease should have ended but is carrying on in some capacity, either as a tenancy at will or in another form. The ground is already drafted to cover those circumstances, so the amendments are unnecessary.

The amendments would also seek to make a much broader change that would allow the intermediate landlord to retain an interest in the property after the superior lease has come to an end. That would be where the intermediate landlord has commenced possession proceedings, presumably to enable them to conclude them. It is already the case that superior leases can make contractual provision for exactly that scenario, and the Bill does not interfere with that. Where there is not contractual provision in the superior lease, ground 2ZB in the Bill allows a superior landlord to continue the same possession proceedings. That will ensure that possession proceedings can continue.

I therefore ask the hon. Member kindly to withdraw his amendment.

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

Those were two very helpful explanations of why these amendments are necessary. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment 8, in schedule 1, page 68, line 25, at end insert—

“(d) after that unnumbered paragraph insert ‘and—

(c) if the tenancy arose by succession as mentioned in section 39(5), notice was given to the previous tenant under Case 14 of Schedule 15 to the Rent Act 1977, and

(d) the tenancy is not an assured agricultural occupancy in respect of which the agricultural worker condition is fulfilled by virtue of paragraph 3 of Schedule 3.’”

This amendment to the ground of possession for former student accommodation requires notice to have been given under the equivalent Case in the Rent Act 1977, where the assured tenancy succeeded a tenancy under the 1977 Act, and makes an exception for certain assured agricultural occupancies which arose by succession.

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

Under the new system, landlords will be required to notify their tenant, through the new mandatory written statement of terms, where they wish to regain possession through the use of what are called “prior notice” grounds. Government amendments 8 and 10 make consequential changes to the Housing Act 1988 to reflect the new “prior notice” requirements. This will preserve the enhanced security of tenure afforded to assured tenancies that have succeeded tenancies under the Rent Act 1977 and assured agricultural occupancies.

Government amendment 60 will make further consequential changes to the Housing Act 1988 to reflect new “prior notice” requirements. These requirements under the new system mean landlords will need to notify their tenant through the new mandatory written statement of terms, where they wish to regain possession through the use of what are called “prior notice” grounds.

I commend the amendments to the Committee.

Amendment 8 agreed to.

Amendments made: 9, in schedule 1, page 68, line 25, at end insert—

9A After Ground 4 insert—

The dwelling-house is an HMO and—

(a) at the beginning of the tenancy, as regards each tenant either—

(i) the tenant was a full-time student, or

(ii) the landlord reasonably believed that the tenant would become a full-time student during the tenancy,

(b) the tenants are joint tenants,

(c) the date specified in the notice under section 8 is a date between 1 June and 30 September in any year, and

(d) the landlord seeking possession intends, on the next occasion on which the dwelling-house is let, to let it to people who are full-time students or who the landlord reasonably believes will become full-time students during the tenancy.

In this ground, “full-time student” means a person receiving education provided by means of a full-time course—

(a) of any description mentioned in Schedule 6 to the Education Reform Act 1988 provided by an institution in England or Wales;

(b) of any description mentioned in section 38(2) of the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 provided by an institution in Scotland;

(c) of any description mentioned in Schedule 1 to the Further Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 (S.I. 1997/1772 (N.I. 15)) provided by an institution in Northern Ireland.’”

This amendment inserts a new ground of possession to allow a landlord to recover possession of a house of multiple occupation let to full-time students at the end of the academic year, in order to let it to students again.

Amendment 10, in schedule 1, page 68, line 27, at end insert—

“(b) after paragraph (b) insert—

‘(c) if the tenancy arose by succession as mentioned in section 39(5), notice was given to the previous tenant under Case 15 of Schedule 15 to the Rent Act 1977, and

(d) the tenancy is not an assured agricultural occupancy in respect of which the agricultural worker condition is fulfilled by virtue of paragraph 3 of Schedule 3.’”—(Jacob Young.)

This amendment to the ground for possession for a residence for a minister of religion (Ground 5) requires prior notice to have been given if the tenancy arose by succession after a statutory tenancy, and excepts certain agricultural occupancies from the ground.

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

I beg to move amendment 11, in schedule 1, page 71, line 35, leave out from “authority” to end of line 36 and insert

“means a district council, a county council in England for an area for which there is no district council, a London borough council, the Common Council of the City of London or the Council of the Isles of Scilly.”

This amendment makes it clear that the reference to a local housing authority in new Ground 5G in Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988 does not cover Welsh county councils and county borough councils.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 50, 61, 66, 69, 79 and 107.

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

These amendments will make technical changes to remove separate definitions of “local housing authority” and create a single definition to be used throughout the Bill, to ensure alignment and greater simplification as far as possible. For example, Government amendment 11 excludes Welsh local authorities and includes county councils in England where there is no district council, in new possession ground 5G. I commend the amendments to the Committee.

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

I will be very brief. The Minister and I discussed this subject outside the Committee earlier. As he knows, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 has created a new kind of authority for England: combined county authorities. However, CCAs are not referred to in these amendments, which are otherwise completely uncontroversial and whose inclusion we welcome. I just wonder whether the Minister could give us a reason, on the record, for their omission. Is it because a county council cannot ordinarily be a local housing authority, or is there another reason?

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to clarify. A combined county authority can exercise the functions of a district council, which will be a local housing authority, if the regulations made under the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act provide for the conferral of those functions on a case-by-case basis. As a result, the Government do not believe that there is any need to include combined county authorities in the general definition of a local housing authority at present.

Amendment 11 agreed to.

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

I beg to move amendment 12, in schedule 1, page 71, line 40, for “A relevant landlord” substitute

“The landlord seeking possession is mentioned in the first column in a row of the table in this ground, the tenancy is mentioned in the second column of that row, and a person mentioned in the third column of that row”.

This amendment, together with Amendment 14, allows certain social landlords to rely on Ground 6 to get possession of a property let under an assured tenancy if they intend to carry out building works.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 148, in schedule 1, page 72, line 3, leave out “6 months” and insert “2 years”.

This amendment would ensure that no tenant could be evicted on grounds of redevelopment within two years of the beginning of a tenancy.

Government amendments 13 to 15.

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

Government amendments 12 to 15 expand the circumstances in which private registered providers of social housing can use the redevelopment ground for possession, known as ground 6. Private registered providers let out property that they know they will substantially redevelop or demolish through an assured shorthold tenancy. That allows them the use of section 21, as they are prohibited from using the existing redevelopment possession ground in almost all circumstances. The amendments widen the definition of “relevant landlord” to include private registered providers, so that they can use the ground for redevelopment in future. However, they will be able to use it only for tenancies that were not granted pursuant to a local authority nomination; that will ensure that tenants whose tenancy was granted pursuant to a local authority nomination retain their long-term social tenancy. The landlords will also be required to provide notice to the tenant before the tenancy begins, or on the day it begins, that they intend to use the redevelopment ground because they are planning to redevelop the property. That will ensure that tenants are fully informed about landlords’ intentions.

The Government believe that it is essential that property earmarked for future redevelopment is still available to live in. The amendments will enable social landlords to make the best possible use of housing stock, and prevent properties that could provide a home needlessly standing empty.

I thank the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich for tabling his amendment 148, on ground 6. If there was a longer period before landlords could use the ground, there would be a risk of landlords not making their properties available for rent, which could reduce the supply of much-needed homes. Landlords also need the flexibility that is a key benefit of periodic tenancies. Our proposals strike the right balance. Although the vast majority of improvement works can take place with a tenant in situ, not allowing landlords to use the ground for two years may prevent them from ensuring that a property is maintained to the required standard. I therefore ask him to withdraw his amendment.

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

I rise to speak to amendment 148 in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale. Paragraph 18 of schedule 1 amends ground 6 in schedule 2 to the 1988 Act. As the Minister has set out, the revised ground, which remains mandatory, would require a court to award possession if a relevant landlord wishes to undertake substantial redevelopment of a property, or a part of a building in which the property is located. The landlord must demonstrate that the changes cannot be accomplished with the tenant living there.

Paragraph 18(3) of schedule 1 inserts proposed new paragraph (aa) into ground 6 in schedule 2 to the 1988 Act. New paragraph (aa) specifies that the ground cannot be used unless the landlord was authorised to acquire the property by a compulsory purchase order, or the tenancy had existed for at least six months at the date specified in the notice. The circumstances in which the amended ground is likely to be used are quite limited. However, we believe, as in the case of other mandatory no-fault grounds, that tenants deserve more security than is proposed.

I go back to a point that we have made several times today. The impact on tenants of frequent, short-notice, unexpected moves cannot be over-stated. Such instability takes a mental and physical toll. It prevents tenants from putting down roots in communities; puts them under financial strain, given the high cost of moving, which was mentioned earlier; and prevents them from saving for a deposit to buy their own home. For the millions of families with children now living in the private rented sector, it has a direct and tangible negative impact, including on children’s education as a result of constant school moves.

It is not right that a tenant should continue to be exposed to the risk of a de facto no-fault eviction only six months after starting a tenancy. Any landlord who wishes to undertake substantial redevelopment—it must be substantial—that cannot be accomplished with the tenant in situ should plan for it over the long term. We therefore think it is reasonable to extend the protected period for ground 6 from six months to two years, and amendment 148 would do that.

I finish by tackling head-on the argument that the Minister continues to use: that our changes create a risk that landlords will not use their properties, which would impact supply. What is the evidence for that risk? The Government keep using the defence that landlords will exit the sector. Of course, if they exit the sector, the property is not then used for nothing; it is either sold or taken back into local authority ownership. What evidence do the Government have that measures that we propose, including this amendment, would cause landlords not to use their properties, and would therefore further exacerbate supply problems in the sector?

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 3:45, 21 Tachwedd 2023

On the hon. Gentleman’s questions around security, tenants will have much more security under the new system; under it, landlords will always need a reason to evict a tenant, and must be prepared to evidence that reason in court. That is unlike what happens under section 21. He referred to my comments about properties sitting empty before redevelopment. Obviously, a landlord who was looking to redevelop a property in the near future, but was not yet able to, would not be minded to put a tenant in there unless they had reasonable means of taking back control of that property.

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

That scenario raises an interesting question that takes us back to the debate we had on ground 1. As the Minister has just argued, landlords who wish to substantially redevelop their property probably have some prior awareness of the likelihood that they will do that. If he will not accept our amendment, will he at least consider having some form of prior notice mechanism, as there used to be for ground 1 before the Government amended it, so that tenants signing up to a tenancy at least have some indication, when signing their agreement, that a landlord may seek to use this ground in the future? Then, at least, the tenant would enter the agreement fully aware that they may be evicted, with six months’ notice, on that ground.

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

The challenge in going down the route of prior notice is that there is a unique circumstance in which prior notice might be used. If we were to apply prior notice across all types of tenancies, it could be argued that it would be less obvious to tenants that they were in a unique circumstance in which prior notice was relevant. I therefore do not accept the arguments on prior notice.

Amendment 12 agreed to.

Amendments made: 13, in schedule 1, page 72, line 10, at end insert—

“(ab) if the landlord seeking possession is a relevant social landlord and is the person intending to carry out the work, the landlord gave the tenant, before the beginning of the tenancy or on the day on which it began, a written statement of the landlord’s wish to be able to recover possession on the basis of an intention to carry out work mentioned in this ground, and”.

This amendment provides that a “relevant social landlord” as defined in Amendment 15 may only regain possession on the basis of their intention to carry out redevelopment work if they have given a statement to the tenant of their wish to do so before the beginning of the tenancy or on the day on which it began.

Amendment 14, in schedule 1, page 72, line 14, for lines 14 to 33 substitute—

Table

“Landlord seeking possession

Tenancy

Landlord intending to redevelop

a relevant social landlord

a tenancy of a dwelling-house that was granted pursuant to a nomination as mentioned in section 159(2)(c) of the Housing Act 1996

a superior landlord

a relevant social landlord

a tenancy of the dwelling-house that was not granted pursuant to a nomination as mentioned in section 159(2)(c) of the Housing Act 1996

(a) the landlord who is seeking possession

(b) a superior landlord

the unit-holder of a commonhold unit relation to which a commonhold association exercises functions

a tenancy of a dwelling-house which is contained in or comprises the commonhold unit

(a) the landlord who is seeking possession

(b) the commonhold association

any landlord other than a relevant social landlord or a unit-holder of a commonhold unit in relation to which a commonhold association exercises functions

any tenancy

the landlord who is seeking possession”

This amendment, together with Amendment 12, allows certain social landlords to rely on Ground 6 to get possession of a property let under an assured tenancy if they intend to carry out building works, and allows a commonhold unit-holder who has let their unit under an assured tenancy to regain possession if the commonhold association is planning works.

Amendment 15, in schedule 1, page 72, line 37, at end insert—

“‘relevant social landlord’ means—

(a) a non-profit registered provider of social housing,

(b) a body registered as a social landlord in the register maintained under section 1 of the Housing Act 1996,

(c) a body registered as a social landlord in the register kept under section 20(1) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010,

(d) a housing trust, within the meaning of the Housing Associations Act 1985, which is a charity, or

(e) where the dwelling-house is social housing within the meaning of Part 2 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, a profit-making registered provider of social housing.”

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 12 and 14 and inserts a definition of “relevant social landlord” into Ground 6 (possession because of redevelopment works).

Amendment 16, in schedule 1, page 74, line 1, at beginning insert “the”.—(Jacob Young.)

This small drafting amendment makes it clearer that the definition of “the local housing authority” in section 261 of the Housing Act 2004 applies for the purposes of the new Ground 6A in Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988.

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

I beg to move amendment 152, in schedule 1, page 74, leave out line 7.

This amendment would retain the existing 12-month period within which the landlord can initiate proceedings on this ground for possession.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 151, in schedule 1, page 74, line 8, at end insert—

“(c) at the end of the last unnumbered paragraph insert—

‘This ground applies only where the landlord is a private registered provider of social housing.’”

This amendment would limit the use of Ground 7 of Schedule 2 of the 1988 Act to social rented housing.

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

Paragraph 20 of schedule 1 amends ground 7 in schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988. Ground 7 requires a court to award possession if a tenancy has been passed to someone by will or intestacy after the death of the previous tenant. The landlord has 12 months in which to initiate proceedings using this ground, or 12 months from the point when the landlord learns of the tenant’s death, if the court agrees. The Government propose amending the ground to give landlords 24, rather than 12, months to initiate proceedings.

There are two issues here. The first is whether ground 7, even in its current form, is reasonable, and we are not convinced that it is any more. Why should a private tenant who is complying fully with all the terms and conditions in the tenancy agreement be put at risk of eviction purely because of the death of someone they live with? As the UK Commission on Bereavement has detailed, in the aftermath of a bereavement, renters face not only a significant and immediate loss of income in many cases, but additional costs; they have to prepare funerals and memorials for loved ones, and so on.

In those uniquely distressing circumstances, the threat of eviction should not hang over a tenant for up to a year, as it presently does. Nor should landlords, in our view, be able to use this ground for reasons that the Bill seeks to prohibit—for example, to avoid letting their property to a bereaved family who might find themselves reliant on universal credit, tax credits or housing benefit as a result of the family member’s death. The UK Commission on Bereavement found evidence of that in the sector. The situation is different when it comes to social rented housing, given that stock is much reduced and there is tight rationing; that might require a council or housing association to regain possession of an under-occupied property, but we do not think the same circumstances apply to the private rented sector. Amendment 151 would limit the use of ground 7 to social rented housing, thereby abolishing its use in the private rented sector.

The second issue relates to the change to ground 7 that the Government propose. Assuming that the Minister resists our amendment 151, as I fully expect him to, we still hope that the Government will reconsider extending the period in which a landlord can initiate proceedings on this ground from 12 to 24 months. We recognise that it can often take some time to investigate, and to find evidence confirming whether a person left behind in a property after a tenant’s death is a successor or inherits the tenancy. As a point of principle, however, we do not believe that private tenants who lived with someone who died should face the risk of eviction with just two months’ notice for up to two years after their loss. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that seeking to double the period in which a bereaved tenant has to live with such a risk hanging over their head strikes us as a particularly callous decision. If the Government are adamant that ground 7 needs to remain in force, they should at least retain the existing 12-month timescale for applying for possession on that ground. Amendment 152 would achieve that, and I hope that the Minister will give it serious consideration.

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

I rise to support amendment 152, and particularly its spirit. I could not agree more that if a tenant is in good standing, paying their rent and not breaching any other clauses of the contract, why should they be kicked out because the named person on the tenancy has died? There are also implications for HMOs if a joint tenant dies, or where the tenancy has been passed on via will or intestacy. Where it is passed on, that will almost always be to children or partners. Very often, a lease will be in the name of only one of the family members—maybe the breadwinning family member, who will have gone through all the financial checks.

A landlord will almost invariably know that they are renting out to a group of people, but for legal and financial reasons, one name will be on that tenancy. It does not seem right that those other people would, over such a long period, possibly face eviction. My preference is for the period to last two or three months after the landlord finds out about the death, but 12 months seems a reasonable compromise that us sceptics could live with, because that is the law at the moment. I have not heard any reasons—I look forward to hearing some from the Minister—why the period needs to be extended, or why the Government think hanging the sword of Damocles over a grieving family is positive. This is bearing in mind that any other grounds can be used if the tenants are not in good standing or not behaving well.

In the social sector, there will be a duty to house a family, maybe in alternative accommodation, if they have a housing need. That duty does not exist in the private sector, so the danger is that all we are doing is putting the burden on local authorities. That family will go very quickly to the local authority, and they will be accommodated in emergency or temporary accommodation. Putting that additional burden on the local authority does not seem reasonable. It is also difficult for the authority, because effectively there is now a two-year period of potential eviction and homelessness for that family. That does not seem a good situation for either the local authority or the family. Can the Minister give some rationale for the proposal? I am particularly interested in why he thinks the period should exist at all.

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

I thank the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich for tabling amendments 151 and 152, which seek to restrict the use of ground 7. I also thank the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown, for his comments. Ground 7 permits a landlord to evict when a tenancy has passed on by will or intestacy, following the death of an assured tenant. Landlords will not usually be able to evict bereaved spouses or partners from their only home on that ground. Eligible bereaved spouses or partners are, by law, entitled to succeed the tenancy, as long as the named tenant did not themselves succeed. When succession occurs, the ground cannot be used.

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

My understanding is that the Minister is referring to a legal partner or spouse, unless he can reassure me that he is not. Many people might not be legally married or be in a civil partnership. That puts them at risk, does it not?

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

I understand the hon. Member’s concerns. I will write to him to clarify that point.

Amendment 152, tabled by the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, would reduce the time in which landlords can initiate proceedings back down to 12 months. We have been told by a number of social housing providers that it can often take longer to establish whether succession has occurred. Indeed, the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown, mentioned that as well. That can hinder providers’ ability to regain possession from someone who is not entitled to social housing, and therefore prevent the property from being occupied by someone who is.

It is right that private tenants cannot name anyone they want to succeed their tenancy, as that would leave the landlord with no control over who lives in their property. Therefore, it is vital that ground 7 remains available to both private and social landlords. The ground will not be used frequently, and provides the right balances in those instances when it is used. I therefore hope that the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich will withdraw his amendment.

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

I take on board what the Minister says about the rationale for the 24-month period for social rented landlords. The situation he mentioned would not arise if he accepted amendment 151 and confined the use of the ground to the social rented sector. I will not press the amendment to a vote, but I am not convinced by the Minister’s argument for why ground 7 should continue to be used in this way. I do not think it would bind the landlord unnecessarily if we said that someone who lives with a person whose name is on the tenancy, but is not their legal partner—the Minister did not refute the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown—should not be at risk of eviction simply because the person on the tenancy died. I worry about the implications of the threat of eviction hanging over their head for 24 months. However, as we may return to the issue at a later stage, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment 180, in schedule 1, page 74, line 20, leave out “After Ground 8” and insert “Before Ground 9”.

This amendment would move new Ground 8A from the list of mandatory grounds for possession (in Part I of Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988) to the list of discretionary grounds for possession (in Part II of Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988).

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 153, in schedule 1, page 74, line 20, leave out paragraph 22.

This amendment would remove the new ground for possession for repeated rent arrears.

Amendment 154, in schedule 1, page 74, line 22, leave out “three” and insert “one”.

This amendment would limit the period to demonstrate repeated serious rent arrears to one year.

Amendment 155 in schedule 1, page 74, line 25, leave out “a day” and insert “two weeks”.

This amendment would extend the period during which at least two months’ rent was unpaid from a day to two weeks.

Amendment 156 in schedule 1, page 74, line 28, leave out “a day” and insert “two weeks”.

This amendment would extend the period during which at least two months’ rent was unpaid from a day to two weeks.

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

The amendments, which stand in my name and the names of my hon. Friends, concern the proposed new mandatory ground 8A that is inserted into the 1988 Act by paragraph 22 of schedule 1. For the purposes of debating this new mandatory possession ground, it is important that the Committee understands precisely what is proposed. The new ground would require a court to award possession if, over a period of three years, a tenant fails to pay at least two months of rent for a day or more on three separate occasions or, in instances where rent is required by the tenancy agreement in instalments of less than a month, at least eight weeks’ rent goes unpaid for a day or more, again, on at least three separate occasions.

There is an existing ground 8 that covers serious rent arrears. That existing ground requires the court to award possession where a tenant is at least two months in arrears at the time that a notice is served and at the point of the court hearing, with an exemption provided for benefit entitlements that have not been paid. That exemption is expanded to explicitly cover universal credit payments by paragraph 21 of schedule 1.

The Government’s argument for introducing a new mandatory ground 8A is, in essence, that tenants can game the existing ground 8 by paying a nominal amount under the arrears threshold. We believe that that argument is flawed for three reasons. First, robust mechanisms are already in place to deal with the small minority of problem tenants who attempt to game ground 8, and courts use them. Tenants attempting to undermine ground 8 by persistently paying a nominal amount under the arrears threshold risk eviction through outright order under discretionary ground 10 or 11. It is well known and understood by anyone familiar with the operation of the county court system that judges take a dim view of attempts to game ground 8, and they will use the available alternative grounds to deal with them. As Liz Davies KC argued last week, when it comes to this problem, we should

“trust the wisdom of the courts”.––[Official Report, Renters (Reform) Public Bill Committee, 16 November 2023; c. 108, Q137.]

Secondly, the argument that new mandatory ground 8A is required to address the risk of gaming in respect of the existing ground 8 is rendered frankly nonsensical by the fact that new ground 8A can be gamed in much the same way. In his evidence, Simon Mullings explained how that would happen. As he argued:

“If you get into two months or more’s arrears on a first occasion and then on a second occasion, you would think perhaps you should bring your arrears down to less than two months at that point. Well, not really; not if you want to game the system. You keep your arrears at two months or more so you do not trigger the third occasion. Then, when your landlord brings you to court, that is the moment at which you then pay off the arrears and try to game avoiding a possession order. So it is perfectly possible to game 8A anyway.”––[Official Report, Renters (Reform) Public Bill Committee, 16 November 2023; c. 107, Q135.]

Moreover, the design of the proposed new ground, as both Sue James and Liz Davies KC suggested in the evidence sessions last week, will actively encourage people who have fallen into arrears for a third time in three years not to attempt to pay off the money they owe, because they will inevitably lose their home in any event.

Thirdly—for me, this is the most important rebuttal of the Government’s argument in support of new ground 8A—all the evidence suggests that the number of people seeking to game ground 8 is vanishingly small, if not non-existent. As the co-chair of the Housing Law Practitioners Association, Simon Mullings, stated to the Committee in the evidence he gave when addressing the issue of gaming:

“I have only seen one example in 25 years of that occurring.”––[Official Report, Renters (Reform) Public Bill Committee, 16 November 2023; c. 107, Q135.]

He went on to explain that, in that case, the tenant then became subject to a suspended possession order under ground 11, reinforcing the first of my reasons: the courts’ existing ability to deal with the problem adequately.

Given how threadbare the case for new mandatory ground 8A is, one is forced to conclude—the Minister will know that I have not bandied this charge around casually—that the Government have chosen to incorporate it in the Bill purely at the behest of those voices in the landlord lobby who have been forced to accept, but are by no means happy about, the wider reforms contained in this legislation. We are extremely concerned about the implications of leaving new ground 8A in the Bill.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Ceidwadwyr, Walsall North 4:00, 21 Tachwedd 2023

I am interested in the argument that the hon. Gentleman is making, although I am slightly confused by some elements of it. Given the fact that he suggested that the likelihood of its occurrence were vanishingly small, why does he think that any landlord would lobby the Government to include something that, based on the statistics he has quoted, they have never had experience of? I can only say that in my experience, anecdotally—I do not have anything that I can reference for it—a number of people have adopted this approach previously, and it is frustrating for both the courts and landlords. However, I follow the argument that the hon. Gentleman is making; it is very interesting.

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

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has decided to contribute, because he has a huge amount of experience in this area. I hope that I was as clear as possible when making the case that ground 8A can be gamed; that there are already mechanisms to deal with it under existing ground 8; and that the numbers are likely to be incredibly small. I suggest that the reason the Government included it is that tenants will collectively feel the force of the new mandatory grounds for possession, and many of them will leave their tenancy under threat of it being served, rather than it being practically served. It is a deterrent to challenging and asserting one’s rights, and, as I will explain, we do not think it is necessary. We are extremely concerned about how the ground might operate and the fact that it could lead to a great many vulnerable tenants being evicted. It is a punitive and draconian measure that will cause great hardship. It is not necessary—this is the important point, in answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question—to tackle genuine instances of persistent arrears or the occasional instance when a problem tenant seeks to deliberately avoid ground 8A action.

These are not tenants who might simply refuse to pay their rent. By implication, those tenants will still be dealt with under the serious rent arrears ground 8. To be evicted under ground 8A, a tenant will need to have fallen into arrears and then worked them off twice in a period of three years. Many will have paid the two periods of arrears off in full, and between them could have been fully up to date with their rent. The new ground will cover many tenants who, for whatever reason, are waiting to receive a lump sum in order to clear their arrears—people who are self-employed or struggling with late payments and those in similar circumstances. To be clear, these are people who are trying to do the right thing and doing precisely what we would expect them to do—namely, trying to put the situation right. As Darren Baxter from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation put it in the evidence he provided to the Committee,

“it is punishing people for doing the right thing.”––[Official Report, Renters (Reform) Public Bill Committee, 14 November 2023; c. 15, Q13.]

We agree with the chief executive of Citizens Advice, Dame Clare Moriarty, who argued last week that the measure targets a group of people, many of whom “are probably in crisis”. We are talking about people who are almost certainly struggling to keep afloat, people in insecure employment, or people whose lives and finances may have suffered multiple adverse shocks.

There is also a real concern that the measure will encompass particularly vulnerable groups of tenants. For example, the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance-led National Housing and Domestic Abuse Policy and Practice Group—that is a mouthful, Mr Gray—has suggested that the new ground presents a significant risk to victims of domestic abuse, who are more likely to accumulate rent arrears due to economic abuse and the economic impact of feeling domestic abuse.

The common denominator will be that the tenants are likely to be doing everything they possibly can to retain their tenancy and their home. As Dame Clare Moriarty rightly put it last week:

“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.”––[Official Report, Renters (Reform) Public Bill Committee, 14 November 2023; c. 15, Q13.]

The idea that we are instead talking about a bunch of people familiar enough with ground 8A of schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988 to sit down and work out how they can game it is frankly insulting. So troubled are we by the proposed new mandatory ground 8A that, unlike with any of the other new possession grounds that the Bill seeks to introduce, we believe it should be removed from the legislation altogether. By leaving out paragraph 22, amendment 153 would achieve that, and we intend to press it to a vote.

If, as we fully expect, the Government resist the removal of new mandatory ground 8A from the Bill, we will press the Government to consider at least making it a discretionary rather than a mandatory ground. Then at least the court would have to consider whether the tenant had inadvertently fallen into arrears three times over the specified period and whether they could reasonably be expected to make up the arrears and pay their rent on time and in full going forward—an outcome that would obviously be advantageous for the landlord, who would not lose income during the void period. If the court believed that the tenant could not do so or was likely to fail to pay their rent again in the future, they could still make an outright possession order under a discretionary ground. As Liz Davies KC argued in her evidence last week, a discretionary 8A ground would not be

“a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the tenant, by any means.”––[Official Report, Renters (Reform) Public Bill Committee, 16 November 2023; c. 106, Q135.]

Amendment 180 would have the effect of moving ground 8A from part 1 of schedule 2 to the 1988 Act to part 2, thus rendering it discretionary. We urge the Minister to give that serious consideration. The county courts, as we have heard, are extremely good at looking at rent arrears histories and judging whether an outright possession order is warranted.

Lastly, if the Government will not countenance removing new ground 8A entirely or making it discretionary rather than mandatory, we urge the Minister to at least tighten it in ways that will make it far less punitive. Amendments 154 to 156 seek to achieve that by reducing the period in which repeated serious rent arrears must take place from the proposed three years to one, and by extending the period during which at least two months of rent arrears were unpaid from a single day to two weeks. Those three amendments, if accepted, would at least ensure that ground 8A is utilised only in instances where a tenant is almost continuously falling into arrears for extended periods of time. As I have said, we feel very strongly about this group of amendments. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to each.

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

I rise to support the amendments. I think this clause is particularly pernicious. I do not know whether other Members do this, but I have a tendency in the evening, when my staff have all gone home, to sit at the telephone lines, see who rings in and pick up the calls. I probably should not do that, but I like to get a feeling for who is ringing. They are usually the people who are in crisis. I do not do it every evening, so if constituents try and ring, they will not always get me, but on a Friday afternoon or evening, I will pick up the phone. Invariably, one of those people will be in crisis.

It will be the tradesperson who has again not been paid for the job that he has been working on for the past month, or perhaps the payment has been delayed—we know that there are huge problems with people paying small businesses. Or it will be the person who has been trying to scrimp and save, and has not yet gone to universal credit or any of the support agencies, despite probably being eligible, out of pride or a belief that they could get out of it. They have borrowed money from friends and family, and over a period of time repeatedly dipped down, but they always managed to get themselves back up, usually on their own terms, but this time it has just been a bit too much.

The problem is that, by the time that those people have rung my office, it is too late, because they will have dipped up and down a number of times over the past year—or three years, potentially—and the reason for their holding off getting help is because, every time before, they have managed to build back up. However, now, for the third time, we will move to a non-discretionary, mandatory ground. They will phone up their local citizen’s advice bureau or their MP’s office, or go round to the council, but we will be able to say only one thing: “I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do because it’s a mandatory ground.”

I think that that is particularly pernicious and nasty, because these are people who we know are good for it in the long term. They will often be people who can raise the money eventually but have cash-flow problems, perhaps through no fault of their own. As I said, a lot of tradespeople will suffer some of these problems. They are having to pay out money for supplies to continue their work; the money does not come in in some months, and two months’ arrears can quite easily build up.

That feeling—that they might have to spend the rent to be able to buy the materials to build the building that they can get the money for—is a choice that they have to make all the time. While that is of course not encouraged, it surely is better that we encourage them to make good in the end and build themselves up, so that that does not happen repeatedly, rather than push them out. Of course, an eviction makes them more likely to spiral into further difficulties, which is why making this a mandatory measure is so unpleasant. The reality is that a payment plan, in many situations—or a deferred order in most situations—would suffice, and the courts can implement that at the moment.

The idea that we need this as a mandatory ground is also dangerous, as we have heard, because, what would my advice or an advice centre’s advice be, on that third occasion? “Well, you’re going to get the eviction notice anyway. Prioritise the other debts that you need to pay off, or making sure that your family have food on the table, rather than considering the rent a priority.” That is not good for the landlord either. Having to reclaim money through the courts from those groups of people in a speedy manner is nigh on impossible, and eviction is not what most landlords want. They want a payment and to be able to ensure that that support is there.

It would be much better either to not have this clause or to have a discretionary ground that requires engagement with debt advice and advisers. There is also much that can be done through court processes, as we saw during covid. As I have mentioned, for section 21s and other forms of evictions, the landlord—when permitted—had to demonstrate that they had taken covid into account and had sought to advise the tenant of the support offered under the covid regime. Aspects like that need to be incorporated here. Again, it does not always need to be on the face of the Bill, but there need to be reassurances that it is incorporated in a binding way, to be able to process these elements. The Minister needs to relent on this.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Llafur, Westminster North 4:15, 21 Tachwedd 2023

Once again, the Government are falling into the trap of creating a system that will create problems for itself, because they refuse to accept the sheer complexity of real people’s lives. Making these grounds mandatory will prevent the courts from doing what they are so good at, which is considering the circumstances that prevail in individual cases. Not only will that inevitably lead to many families and individuals who are struggling with difficult circumstances losing their homes, but it will have a direct impact on local authorities, because this is yet another driver of homelessness and other pressures on local councils. This does not do away with the problem; it moves the problem somewhere else.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

Does my hon. Friend agree that it causes another problem for those families, because hard-pressed councils might find them intentionally homeless? Generally, if someone is evicted for rent arrears, they are found intentionally homeless. Although reference has to be made to particular circumstances, I imagine that a court order with that result would lead to no landlord taking them on and to the council not helping them. There are then families floating around the system, with social services ultimately taking children into care.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Llafur, Westminster North

I agree with my hon. Friend about all this. In fact, tragically, my office is dealing at the moment with a family where the children have been taken into care as a consequence. These things can indeed happen; we have touched on that occasionally in the passage of this Bill, but I just wish that the Government had not rather short-sightedly removed things like debt advice from the scope of legal aid provision. If we had been able to intervene in many of these cases, we could have prevented these problems from ending up as a crisis. The solution to that is outside this Bill.

I concede that there are undoubtedly some people who persistently fail to pay their rent. That is absolutely the case, and it drives landlords mad—rightly so. I think the rumours of it create a much larger problem than actually exists, but there are people who do it, and it is essential that there are powers for the court to deal with that. The people who are doing that will frequently disappear before the case ever gets to court anyway, and will try their luck not paying their rent with another landlord. We need powers to deal with that, but so many of the people who end up in this situation do so because of a set of very, very difficult circumstances that have thrown them into chaos.

Here are just some of the cases that my office and I have dealt with over the course of a few months. There is the small shopkeeper and private tenant who was burgled; he lost his stock and his income, and it took him a while to sort out the insurance claim, during which time he got into very serious arrears. There is the young father on a zero-hours contract who found himself, several times during the year, expecting to have an income but finding that he was not called into work for two or three weeks at a time. Each time, it caused a set of problems.

The Minister may say that that is what social security and housing benefit are supposed to be for. I do not know whether the Minister has ever tried to claim universal credit or housing benefit on a variable income, with all the documentation that has to be prepared. It is an absolute living hell.

One of the safeguards in the Bill is supposed to be that the ground will not affect people who have a benefit entitlement that has been delayed, which, as we know, reflects a structural problem with universal credit. However, many of the difficult cases involve the entitlement to benefit being disputed in the first place, and that is a whole different ball game.

I had a case not that long ago in which a mother and her three children were days away from an eviction, not because they were deemed not to be entitled to benefit, but simply because after a relationship breakdown the benefit claim had for some reason not been transferred, despite repeated efforts. Over three years, that led to huge arrears. Each time, it was settled, but then the same structural problem occurred yet again, which left the family vulnerable. We were able to sort it out, but the case would not have fallen under the safeguards that the Minister will no doubt claim apply in this case.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the groups of people for whom it is most difficult to get housing benefit or universal credit correct is self-employed minicab drivers, because of the difficulties in assessing the costs involved in being self-employed? They regularly get a decision on their benefit claim only to have it change and have money taken back, while they remain on exactly the same income.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Llafur, Westminster North

I absolutely agree. It is an issue for the self-employed; the very small businesses operating at the margin; the people who, because of the structure of our labour market, dip in and out of employment and have highly variable earnings; and the people who are on zero-hour contracts. It is exactly those people who end up in difficulties. It would be lovely if the system had the competency and level of provision to help those people, but all too often it does not. Many young people and vulnerable people—for instance, after a relationship breakdown or a bereavement—do not know where to go for advice. They try to help themselves and fail to do so.

Ground 8A is both disproportionate to the scale of the problem and unnecessary, because there are powers in the system to deal with rent arrears anyway. It will inevitably lead to further evictions, which will be concentrated among those people who have the biggest problems, who will end up making claims for homelessness support from local authorities.

The Minister does not need to go down this route. As my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich said, if the Government do not want to go all the way to removing the reformed ground 8A, which would be the simplest way, there are layers of protection that could be built into the system. The Minister should trust the courts: that is what they are for. They are good at this, they are experienced at this, and they know how to tell a charlatan from somebody with genuine and complex problems. The measure will place an unnecessary burden on the most vulnerable people, and I genuinely believe that the Minister will have cause to regret its implementation.

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

I think we can all agree that it is better for a tenancy to continue where possible, and we encourage landlords and tenants to work together when rent arrears arise. However, sometimes a tenancy cannot be sustained, and in such instances it is right that landlords have certainty. Ground 8A is intended to support landlords when a tenant is repeatedly falling into serious arrears. It will also prevent tenants from repeatedly paying down a small amount of arrears to frustrate possession proceedings brought on ground 8.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Llafur, Westminster North

As this point was raised with the Minister, can he share with the Committee the statistics that demonstrate the scale of that problem?

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

I shall endeavour to write to the hon. Lady with such evidence, if there is any.

The Government have set a high bar for the ground. Tenants must fall into serious arrears three times within a rolling period of three years, which is already a significant financial burden for landlords to bear, particularly at a time of rising costs in the sector. Amendments 153 to 156 and 180 seek to narrow the ground. They propose that each instance of arrears must last two weeks, rather than one day, and must fall within a one-year period. That is simply too high a financial cost to ask landlords to bear. It would severely limit the availability of the ground.

The ground must also remain mandatory. As the Committee has heard, there is already a discretionary ground, ground 11, for persistent delays in rent payments, but that does not offer certainty to landlords. Ground 8A is intended to give certainty to all parties: a defined threshold that can lead to eviction. We therefore think that the ground strikes the right balance. I ask that the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich withdraw the amendment.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Mr Mohindra.)

Adjourned till Thursday 23 November at half-past Eleven o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

RRB33 Lola Sanakulova

RRB34 Centrepoint and St Basils

RRB35 Nationwide Foundation

RRB36 London Renters Union

RRB37 Charlotte Jones