Pity the minister re-shuffled in July. While you or I spent our summer holiday reading for pleasure, they resign themselves to packing a stack of briefing papers next to the must-read political biography and the highly recommended literary novel that they told the Sunday heavyweights were on their summer booklists.
The new Minister for Housing and Planning Brandon Lewis doesn’t appear to have been tempted to slip a couple of thrillers surreptitiously into his suitcase. When NLA Chairman, Carolyn Uphill and I met him yesterday, he was well on top of the subject – interested, engaged and keen to stress to us the positive role he saw the private rented sector playing in the provision of housing.
This was very much an introductory meeting. We wanted to ensure Mr Lewis could put faces and names to the NLA when it came up in future, and that he had a sense of who we represent and what we are trying to achieve. Equally, we wanted to get a feel for how Mr Lewis was approaching the issues and to put some thoughts into his mind for the future.
We hoped that we would get some pointers on the Government’s attitude towards Sarah Teather’s private member’s bill on retaliatory eviction. However, the Minister was carefully non-committal, saying that the Government was “not yet ready” to declare its position on the Bill. Questioning whether there was the evidence that retaliatory eviction was as widespread as is often perceived, Carolyn Uphill stressed the importance the NLA and landlords in general attached to the no-fault possession procedure, and expressed our concerns over any call to reduce the flexibility section 21 gave to the market without good reason and sound evidence.
We’ve been waiting through the summer for the launch of several initiatives which emerged from the Government’s response to last year’s Select Committee report, and he confirmed that we should see these shortly. One of these will be a model tenancy agreement. The Government’s aim was not to trump all existing tenancy agreements, but rather to change tenants’ understanding of how tenancies work, and raise awareness that longer tenancies are possible, and that they can ask for them. This gave us the opportunity to outline the NLA’s recent campaigns which have highlighted the business benefits of long-term relationships between landlord and tenant.
More generally, we wanted to stress our concerns over the way local authorities are using the power to introduce discretionary licensing schemes. Over the past year or so, we’ve seen more and more councils propose selective or additional licensing schemes, and some worrying trends have emerged:
- The growing number of proposals for blanket borough-wide licensing
- Poorly drafted consultations, based on flimsy evidence, which do not demonstrate how the case for licensing meets the specific criteria of problems caused by low demand or anti-social behaviour
- The imposition of additional property or management requirements as conditions of licences
- The absence of an independent check on whether local authorities have made their case and properly justified their licensing proposals, which means that there is no scrutiny of or check on how the powers are used – or in many cases, abused.
Brandon Lewis was very sympathetic to these points and said that he was “very aware of blanket licensing as an issue, especially in London”. We pointed out that in reality licensing is a burden on the law-abiding, as they are the ones who accept the obligation, and pressed the case for accreditation as a method to filter out the responsible landlords from those who do not comply with the law or standards, who should be subject to more rigorous enforcement.
All in all, it was a very useful conversation. And I’m afraid we are going to add to his reading pile: we promised a couple of recent issues of UK Landlord for his red box.