Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by Citizens Advice Milton Keynes (HPB 104)

I am approaching you concerning the Housing and Planning Bill which is now in the committee stage in the Commons. There are welcome measures in the Housing & Planning Bill.  But areas of concern to us are:

● Clauses 13 and 22 : banning orders and database of rogue landlords and letting agents ● Clauses 35, 37 and 42 : rent repayment orders ● Clauses 49 to 55 inclusive: abandonment

We would like to see the following amendments:

Banning orders

The current proposals mean that landlords who force their tenants to live in substandard accommodation, but commit no other offence, will not be banned. We believe that offences under the Housing Act 2004 should be included in the category of ‘banning order offences’.

Proposed amendment

Clause 13, page 8, line 39, after "by the Secretary of State" insert "including all Housing Act 2004 offences."

We believe that the database of rogue landlords should be made public, just as the list of employers who flout National Minimum Wage legislation is.

Proposed amendment

Clause 22 , page 12, line 3, after "(3) The Secretary of State must ensure that local housing authorities are able to edit the database for the purpose carrying [sic] out their functions under those sections and update the database under section 28."

insert :

"(4) The Secretary of State will make the database available to the public."

Rent Repayment Orders (RRO)

Provision to introduce RROs is a positive step. However, it is unclear why, in a civil law provision, the much higher criminal law test of proof, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is to be met when determining whether a landlord has let housing in breach of a banning order. This risks undermining the positive intention of the measure and may make it more difficult for tenants or local authorities to successfully apply for RROs on the basis of the breaching of a banning order.

Proposed amendment

Clause 35 , page 16, line 17, replace "beyond reasonable doubt" with "on the balance of probabilities"

Clause 37 , page 17, line 3, replace "beyond reasonable doubt" with "on the balance of probabilities"

We think it is unreasonable to expect tenants, with no legal expertise and little resource to be expected to take cases to FTT. To not provide support to tenants taking cases to the FTT is to significantly reduce the likelihood of this right ever being realised by individual tenants. We also believe that there should be no fee for a tenant to apply to the FTT for a RRO.

Proposed amendment

Clause 43 , page 19, line 17, replace "may" with "must"

Reasonable notice - abandonment

As is confirmed in Government’s response to the ‘Tackling rogue landlords and improving the private rental sector’ discussion paper, there is no evidence to suggest a need for this new provision. There are existing lawful processes which could be used to end a tenancy more quickly than the abandonment proposals.

The requirement that (former) tenants use the expensive and time-consuming process of going through courts to regain access, at a time when they are homeless, is too onerous. The lack of opportunity for a court to consider eviction cases may make it more difficult for people applying to their local authority as homeless to challenge an intentional homelessness decision, as the facts of what actually happened/what actions the tenants took may be disputed.

Our data show that illegal eviction in the privately rented sector has increased by 44 per cent in a year, which might suggest that there is a greater issue with landlords behaving unlawfully than with tenants abandoning their properties. Our concern is that this provision would encourage landlords to take action against tenants without following court process and would legitimise poor practice.

Proposed amendment

Part three , page 22, line 1, delete clauses 49 to 55 inclusive.

December 2015

Prepared 3rd December 2015