Review of Private Rental Sector

This month the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee (HCLGC) has written to the Government to express its disappointment with the Government’s response to its report on the Private Rental Sector (PRS).

In April the HCLGC published its report on the PRS and some of its findings can be summarised as follows:

  • Tenants need protection from retaliatory evictions, rent increases and harassment;
  • A specialist housing court should be created;
  • The Law Commission should undertake a review of the PRS;
  • The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) should be replaced with a more straightforward set of quality standards; and
  • A new fund should be created to assist Local Authorities with enforcement which has been far too low and inconsistent due to funding and resource shortages.

The Government’s response to this report was issued this month the contents of which can be summarised as follows:

  • Powers to prevent retaliatory evictions already exist following the introduction of the Deregulation Act 2015. The Government is also committed to updating the How to Rent Guide and other guidelines to ensure landlords and tenants are kept up to date on their rights and responsibilities;
  • The Government will consult with the judiciary on considering the case for a new specialist housing court;
  • The current legal framework underpinning the PRS aims to build a fair and robust PRS which protects tenants, supports landlords and empowers local authorities to deliver a healthy rental sector. The Law Commission will be approached to discuss what support they can provide;
  • The HHSRS approach is fundamentally sound and provides the right assurance for those professionals who use it day to day. However, it is also important for landlords and other property professionals to understand it and with that in mind separate guidance has been published. Finally, the Government will consider a review of the HHSRS which is now several years old; and
  • Local authorities will see an increase in funding if they retain financial penalties which can be an important source of funds. Following the introduction of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 local authorities have been given a range of additional powers to help them take robust action against rogue landlords.

Clive Betts MP, chair of the HCLGC very promptly wrote to the Government expressing his disappointment with the Government’s response. The letter claims that witness evidence supports the view that legislation within the PRS is outdated and bloated and that the HHSRS is too complex and lacks transparency for tenants and landlords. Further that the HCLGC is disappointed that the Government does not agree that the HHSRS needs a complete overhaul.

The letter also expresses disappointment with the Government’s dismissal of the recommendation that local authorities need more powers. Furthermore, that the Government’s approach to the PRS is going in the right direction however, it is not sufficient to address the considerable challenges faced by tenants. The letter ends with the hope that the Government will reconsider some of the HCLGC recommendations.

Comment

Some of the assertions of the HCLGC are not wholly supported by evidence, other than the opinions of some of those who appeared before them. The HHSRS is fairly complex but that is partly because property is complex and a simplistic approach to safety checks was an approach that it was intended to escape from. In addition, the need for more powers for local authorities equates badly with the wide range of legislation applicable to the sector already. It is more likely that there is a need for better funding and training for local authorities. That said, the call by the select committee for a review of the legislative picture to improve consistency and get rid of unnecessary duplication is a sensible one and it is unfortunate that the Government is not heeding this.

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