Clause 27 - Offences

Part of Renters (Reform) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:00 am ar 28 Tachwedd 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 10:00, 28 Tachwedd 2023

I will speak to new clause 57. I will state up front that we welcome the Government amendments to clause 27 and in this area to toughen the sanctions on landlords who display the types of behaviour the Minister has just set out. As I indicated last week when we debated amendments 163 and 164 and the financial penalties that local authorities could levy for breaches and offences under clauses 9 and 10, we believe that rent repayment orders should be a more significant feature of the Bill as a means to aid enforcement of the new tenancy system; to ensure compliance with the requirements to be a member of the ombudsman and maintain an active landlord database entry; and to fairly compensate tenants for losses incurred due to a failure on the part of landlords to comply with the duties and obligations provided for in the Bill.

As the Committee will know, rent repayment orders were introduced by the Housing Act 2004, and were hugely expanded via section 40 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016. They allow the occupier of a property—usually a tenant—and local authorities to apply to the first-tier tribunal for an order that a landlord or his or her agent should repay rent of up to a maximum of 12 months—although the Minister has just made it clear that, in certain circumstances, the Government propose to lengthen that period to 24 months. Rent repayment orders are an accessible, informal and relatively straightforward means by which tenants can obtain redress in the form of financial compensation without having to rely on another body in instances where a landlord or his or her agent has committed, beyond reasonable doubt, an offence that relates to the occupation or letting of a property.

As Simon Mullings, the co-chair of the Housing Law Practitioners Association, argued in the evidence he gave to the Committee on 16 November:

“Rent repayment orders create, as I have said before to officials in DLUHC, an army of motivated enforcers, because you have tenants who are motivated to enforce housing standards to do with houses in multiple occupancy, conditions and all sorts of things.”––[Official Report, Renters (Reform) Public Bill Committee, 16 November 2023; c. 114, Q146.]

We know that rent repayment orders are already being utilised on a scale the dwarfs the use of other enforcement tools. In London, for example, the available data suggests that more properties were subject to a rent repayment order in the years 2020, 2021 and 2022 than civil penalties and criminal convictions relating to licensing in the same period.

The Bill as originally drafted allowed for rent repayment orders to be made only where a landlord had committed an offence under clause 27(9) relating to continuing or repeat breaches after a penalty had been imposed. As the Minister has made clear, Government new clause 19 adds a series of offences under clause 48 concerning the provision of false or misleading information to the private rented sector database and continuing or repeat breaches. We welcome that.