Clause 32 - The database

Renters (Reform) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:15 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) 10:15, 28 Tachwedd 2023

I beg to move amendment 175, in clause 32, page 40, line 18, at end insert—

“(ba) details, which may include copies, of all notices seeking possession served by the residential landlord in respect of each dwelling of which he is the landlord, and”.

This amendment would require the database to record details of notices of possession served by a landlord in respect of each dwelling of which they are the landlord.

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:

Clause stand part.

Clause 33 stand part.

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

In the debate on our amendment 173 to clause 23, I remarked on the concern among Opposition members of the Committee that, in contrast to chapter 2 of part 2 concerning the ombudsman, chapter 3 of part 2 concerning the private rented sector database is not nearly prescriptive enough.

To be clear, when it comes to establishing a private rented sector database and developing the new digital property portal service that it will support, we do not wish to tie the Government’s hands too tightly. We believe it is right that much of the detail is put in regulation at a later date: how the database will be operated and overseen; how entries are verified, corrected and removed; what the registration fees are and how they will be collected; and how information on the database is shared with third parties. However, we also believe that certain requirements of the functioning of the portal should be placed on the face of the Bill.

In our view, such requirements should include one for landlords to submit key information on their history and for that information to be publicly available so that tenants may make informed decisions when entering into a tenancy agreement and hold their landlord to account. Key information might include details of past enforcement action taken against a landlord or an agent representing them; any rent repayment, banning or management orders made against them; rent levels for the property over time in the form of past section 13 notices; and details of notices of possession served to previous tenants.

Amendment 175 would add to the Bill a requirement for

“the database to record details of notices of possession”

—as one example—

“served by a landlord in respect of each” of their dwellings let. As I said, we feel strongly that the Bill should be amended to guarantee a minimum set of expectations for the database and the new digital property portal service; the amendment would go some way to ensuring that is the case. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s thoughts on it.

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

Clause 32 provides for the establishment and operation of the portal, as we have been discussing. With access to a comprehensive and standardised dataset on private rented sectors across England, local authorities will be best equipped to develop and implement their enforcement strategies. By requiring landlords to undertake a registration process, as provided by clause 34—which I will turn to in due course—the portal will help them to meet standards within the private rented sector by making them aware of their legal requirements.

With legislative backing and clear duties on users, a portal with entries for private landlords and dwellings will support a much richer understanding of the private rented sector and assist the Government in developing targeted policy. As such, the portal will be key to the successful implementation and enforcement of the wider reforms legislated for in the Bill.

Clause 33 sets out who can be the portal operator; a role required to create and maintain a working database of private landlords and their properties. The operator can appointed by the Secretary of State or a person arranged by the Secretary of State. The Government envisage the portal will be centrally co-ordinated by a single operator. Our legislation allows for the portal to be operated by the Department or to arrange for an alternative, such as a public body, to take on that responsibility.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his Amendment 175. This would require landlords to record their use of possession grounds, under section 8 of the Housing Act 1988, on the property portal. To ensure the portal maintains the flexibility to meet the future needs of the sector, it is necessary that we use regulations to prescribe the information it collects, rather than including these in the Bill.

We intend for the portal to be a source of basic information about properties and their health and safety compliance. This legislation also allows for the ability to record tenancy-related issues, such as details of possession notices. We will consider the matter of recorded possession notices on the portal ahead of passing regulations, and carefully consider the balance of benefits and burden on landlords and local authorities when deciding what information to record. We will continue to work with stakeholders to assess the merits of information requirements, ahead of introducing any regulations. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

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

That is a helpful response. I took from it that the Government are considering including a history of past possession notices granted to a landlord. That is very welcome.

We tabled this amendment because it gets to the heart of how the new portal will operate. It could be a source of very basic information about a property, and whether it is strictly compliant with health and safety standards. We would hope the Government—the noises the Minister has made indicate they might—will take a more expansive view of how the property portal might work. Namely, that it will give tenants, as consumers, real power, because of the transparency and the amount of information recorded, to be able to know whether the tenancy agreement they are prospectively entering into is good for them, and whether the landlord is a good-faith landlord—as we know the majority are—or potentially an unscrupulous landlord. I welcome the indications the Minister has given, and look forward to debating—whether between us, or with other Ministers—the regulations in due course. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.