National Landlords Association

Encouraging renting


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Diaries of a Trade Association Policy Team: Volume One

Big Ben and Parliament at dusk with passing car lights in foreground

From quiet bat-people to exciting adventures with the euro-sausage it’s all go in Westminster

Representing landlords may not always be the most glamorous job, but it sure does keep us busy. From travelling up and down the country meeting with local authorities, to lobbying Government officials and ministers across various departments, there is never a dull day.

And this week was no exception.

Implementing the Housing and Planning Act

The recently passed Housing & Planning Act includes a whole raft of measures aimed at the private rented sector (PRS) that need to be implemented by regulations.

The process of drafting those regulations started this week with the inaugural meeting of the Housing Standards Group at DCLG – of which we are a member. We received an update on the Government’s thinking, including a provisional timetable for regulations on electrical safety checks, a new abandonment procedure, banning orders, civil penalties and the extension of Rent Repayment Orders.

Essentially the Government is looking to introduce these measures in either April or October next year, after they have set up some working groups (in which we will be representing landlords) to hash out the details.

Council Tax Working Group

Another day and another meeting with Government officials! This time we attended a working group at DCLG chaired by Dame Angela Watkinson (MP) to look at ways that Local Authorities can be encouraged to make better use of the powers they have to identify potential problem landlords – without resorting to major interventions like selective licensing!

Universal Credit

We visited the DWP for one of our regular meetings with civil servants to discuss the roll-out of Universal Credit. Problems remain, including the lack of a means of sharing information with private landlords and the fact that private landlords will not be able to use the benefits system to recoup past arrears.

However, one positive point appears to be that the previously announced policy of removing the default eligibility for housing benefits of 18-21 year olds may not become a reality after all as it is still being ‘considered’ more than 12 months on.

Mayoral Priorities

With the election of Sadiq Khan as the new London Mayor, a new set of housing priorities and PRS policies are set to be implemented over the next 4 years.

To get ahead of the curve, and to make sure that landlords’ voices are heard at City Hall, we met up with the Greater London Assembly housing team to talk through these priorities. Up for debate were a range of plans including to tackle letting agent fees and “name and shame” rogue landlords.

In better news, at his first Mayor’s Questions Mr Khan ruled out campaigning for powers to introduce rent controls as well as campaigning for powers to impose a London-wide licensing scheme. Both changes are a contradiction to his manifesto pre-election, but you’ll find no complaints to the U-turns here.

Consultations and Evidence

Two new consultations were launched by the Government this week that could have a bearing on landlords. We’re researching the issues to ensure that the landlords’ perspective is put across to Government in an effective way.

First up is a review of energy assessor accreditation scheme operations, aimed at addressing concerns about both the quality and accuracy of energy certificates.

A second consultation was opened on quicker switching for consumers across all sectors, including mortgages. The Government is interested in how switching times could be reduced to a maximum of 7 days.

The Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry into household energy efficiency measures is currently ongoing and this week we submitted our written evidence. This will ensure that the committee considers the view of landlords in the private rented sector as it reviews the workings of the Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation. You can view our submitted evidence here.

The Local Angle

Not content with just talking to central government, we make sure we make our presence felt with local councils across the country. This week saw our Local Policy Officer travelling to Scarborough where, along with our local representative, he met with a number of councillors and council staff.

Scarborough, home to Winking Willys, is looking to introduce selective licensing in a rolling programme over five years into different areas.

However, they have not put thought into how the impact of displacement will affect the scheme (as seen in other seaside towns) and have not made any provision for mental health or alcohol issues. The big question of how to manage the issues the council has identified has not been answered, yet they are proposing one of the highest fees in the country at £750.

The Quiet Side

A lot of what we do is in meetings, in response to consultations and inquiries, and generally things which aren’t natural headline catchers.

However, we are constantly looking to ensure that the interests of landlords are being heard and considered across the country, including across all levels of Government.

If you are a member and have any questions, you can always contact us: policy@landlords.org.uk

muchadoaboutnothing


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Queen’s Speech: Much Ado About Nothing for the PRS?

There was a decidedly mixed reception to the Queen’s Speech in the NLA office, a parliamentary ceremony that dates back to the 16th century, just before the birth of William Shakespeare.

Some breathed a high sigh of relief given ‘Measure for Measure’ the amount of legislative / political pounding the PRS has taken in recent months.   Some wondered if it was Much Ado About Nothing, whilst some wondered why it was being held at all, and that it was The Comedy of Errors – as after the referendum the agenda could well be thrown out the window by a new Prime Minister, possibly The London Prodigal.

Nothing new

All’s Well That Ends Well however, as no new major pieces of legislation affecting the PRS were included in the speech.  The full list of Bills can be found here https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/524040/Queen_s_Speech_2016_background_notes_.pdf

Perhaps the speech will most be remembered for the lack of polite small talk between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.   The Two Noble Kinsman strode side by side, but it was a case of Loves Labours Lost – and certainly not Romeo and Juliet – as Mr Corbyn (Capulet) didn’t say a word to Mr Cameron (Montague).

Back to business…

Government focus, certainly in DCLG, appears to be on bringing forward the secondary legislation, and drawing up the guidance constantly referred to in the Rogue Landlords aspects of the recent Housing and Planning Act.   This will include the database of criminal landlords and banning orders for repeat offenders. The NLA is meeting with DCLG officials next week to discuss these elements.

What to look out for

The NLA are however keeping an eye on two pieces of new legislation:

Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill – this includes references to compulsory purchase orders and neighbourhood planning conditions.

The Draft Law of Property Bill – appears to be the Government (belatedly) responding to the recommendations in the Law Commission’s 5 year old report entitled “Making land work: easements, covenants and profits á prendre (2011) to simplify the law around land ownership.”

In conclusion

…it’s a case of As You Like It for landlords, with a definite air of Much Ado about Nothing.

The NLA (or should that be Francis Bacon) will keep you posted.


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Can you help home a Family of Refugees?

Citizens UK is urging landlords in the United Kingdom to consider the possibility of letting their properties to refugee families.

Conflicts in the Middle-East, particularly the Syrian Civil War, have contributed to a large-scale humanitarian crisis, and anyone who has paid attention to the news over the past year will be well aware of the influx of asylum seekers fleeing their war-torn countries for better lives in Europe.

The scale of the crisis is well documented. It is estimated that half of Syria’s pre-war population, more than eleven million people, have been killed or forced to leave their homes.

In response, Citizens UK has convened the National Refugee Welcome Board to raise resources to support the Government, local authorities and specialist providers to house refugees.

The British Government has committed to resettling up to 20,000 Syrian refugees in the UK over the next five years. The first have already arrived but there are many more to come that will need quality housing and assistance. The National Refugee Welcome Board hopes to resettle 50 people (around 12 families) in each local authority.

Can you help?

Not all landlords will be in a position to help, but for those that are willing and able, more information, including on how to register, can be found at:

http://www.refugees-welcome.org.uk/calling-landlords/


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Make him an offer he can’t refuse…

for_sale_boards_close

Unless you have the ‘charisma’ of Don Corleone, you may find a gazumper beats you to it!

Rumours abound that next week’s Queen’s Speech will contain measures to ease the sale of property in England and outlaw gazumping.

Gazumping –  i.e. to make an offer to purchase a property that is higher than someone whose offer has already been accepted by the vendor, thus acquiring the property  – is a problem for many, particularly in hot markets where competition is fierce. Consequently it is welcome news that the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) is soon to consult on proposals to simplify the buying and selling of residential property.

However, if the rumours are to be believed the ‘simplification’ is to be focussed on making the process binding at a much earlier stage with the possibility of making vendors responsible for carrying out many of the required checks early in the marketing process.

The problem is that, although simplification and acceleration of the process is to be warmly welcomed, this sounds a little too reminiscent of the HIPS (Home Information Packs) debacle.

For those who don’t recall, or have deliberately blocked the experience from their minds, HIPs were introduced in 2007 and scrapped in May 2010 shortly after the election of the Coalition.

To quote then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles:

“The expensive and unnecessary home information pack has increased the cost and hassle of selling homes and is stifling a fragile housing market”.  

“That is why I am taking emergency action to suspend the Hip, bringing down the cost of selling a home and removing unnecessary regulation from the home buying process”.

Of course lessons will have been learned, and there is no reason to believe that the same mistakes will be made this time around – but we will be watching the development of this policy with interest…..


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Homelessness – Landlords are not the enemy

homeless

The NLA’s own Steve Kirkwood discusses the latest in the homelessness debate

Oft-cited statistics about the cause of homelessness seek to pin the blame on landlords.

With the possibility of new legislation to tackle homelessness being announced in this month’s Queen Speech, meaningful reforms need to be made that engage landlords rather than making them a scapegoat.

Where are we now?

Figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government show that 29 per cent of people accepted as homeless in England cite the main cause as the loss of an assured shorthold tenancy.

However, this headline percentage that gets trotted out at regular intervals to bemoan the ability of landlords to regain possession of their property for legitimate reasons is an oversimplification of a more complex situation.

In total numbers, the ending of a tenancy was the cause for homelessness for 15,420 people in 2014. In 2004, this number was 16,820. It reached a low of 4,580 in 2009 but has steadily been on the rise since. Plausibly, this is down to LHA rates not keeping up with market rents, among other factors.

In those ten years the number of households in the private rented sector (PRS) has more than doubled from under 2million in 2004 to over 4million in 2014. In that time, the number of owner-occupier households has slightly declined and those in the social housing sector have remained relatively stable.

The PRS has grown steadily and picked up the slack from the other housing sectors. The lack of new social housing stock has led to local authorities discharging their homelessness duties through use of private landlords, but the squeeze on housing benefits and the rise in rent arrears is leading to landlords becoming unwilling to take part in the process.

The NLA is supporting calls by Crisis, the Centre for Social Justice, and others for the Government to enact meaningful reforms in order to tackle homelessness.

Extend Council Duties

A report launched this week by the charity Crisis recommends:

  • Extending the definition of threatened with homelessness from 28 days to 56 days
  • Amending legislation so councils accept Section 21 notices as valid evidence that a person is threatened with homelessness

These changes would allow councils to respond to the threat of homelessness at a much earlier point, allowing for a greater chance of success in mediating with private landlords, assisting with rent arrears and debt management.

Importantly, forcing councils to accept a Section 21 notice as evidence of impending homelessness would stop the current practice of councils encouraging tenants to remain in the property until the bailiffs turn up to evict.

This advice leads to tenants accruing further rent arrears, making them more susceptible to becoming homeless while forcing landlords through a lengthy and costly court process that undermines their confidence in letting their property to vulnerable tenants.

The NLA has been pushing for Ministers to change this but despite a letter from the Housing Minister to all councils in England, the practice is still continuing. Legislative action is what is needed to fix this now, and we support Crisis in this call.

Confidence is Key

In order to utilise the PRS to tackle homelessness, landlords need confidence in the system. Being dragged through a lengthy and uncertain court battle to try and regain possession of a property, or receive rent owed, undermines this confidence.

We’ve previously talked about access schemes that alleviate some of the risks that landlords face in renting to vulnerable households, but there are other changes that can be made to off-set risks and increase confidence.

Universal Credit

Last week, the Resolution Foundation published a report on Universal Credit. The role out of UC across the country is having disastrous effects for landlords in terms of rent arrears. Despite continued pressure, the Government is still reluctant to extend the sharing of information with landlords and ease the transition to direct payment.

The report agrees with the NLA that this current process is not sensible, and change is desperately needed to cut down on rent arrears face by many landlords.

That being said, as long as UC rates continue to restrict access to just the very bottom of the market , and fail to at least reflect market rents, only a minority of landlords will be willing or able to engage with vulnerable groups.

Section 8

The Centre for Social Justice recently published a report on the housing sector in the UK. One of the main recommendations, which the NLA supports, is the wholesale reform of Section 8.

We want the process to be made fairer and more efficient, starting the extension of online application. As the CSJ report recommends, it should be brought into line with the Section 21 process so that where there is a clear breach of contract on the part of the tenant, for which the landlord can provide documentary evidence, a decision can be made without the landlord being dragged through a long and costly court case.

Such a change would not only lower the risk for landlords letting to previously homeless people, or those in receipt of benefits, but would also provide landlords with the confidence to offer longer tenancies (where possible).

Reforms are needed in the PRS to improve it – but in order to ensure that tenants receive a better service; these reforms should engage landlords and not unnecessarily punish them.


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Where does the time go?

Boiler

If you’ve got gas, you best get it checked

If I have to get my gas appliances checked annually, how many inspections will I need over a 12 year period?

12 Surely, one every year.

Maybe, but its quite likely to be 13.

Look at it this way, if you’re conscientious about making sure that you always carry out the inspection before last year’s report expires you probably end up booking it in a little early. Arranging times which are convenient for your tenants and when your preferred engineer is available can mean that you end inspecting gas installations up to a full month before you legally have to.

Assuming you do this every year, this year’s December renewal date becomes November next year, then October, September ….  and so on until before you know it you’ve sacrificed an entire year just by being conscientious.

Alternatively, you might always try to arrange inspections on (or as close to as possible) the renewal date – solving the problem.

The difficulty tends to arise if you have multiple properties with varying inspection dates – increasing cost and reducing efficiency – or worse still the possibility that a tenant does not allow access and you find yourself in breach of the gas safety regulations.

Hardly ideal either way.

Which is why the NLA has been working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to identify possible changes to the regulations which might make it easier for landlords to comply – and reduce the costs of ensuring gas appliances are regularly inspected.

To this end we would like to see an ‘MOT style’ system introduced which would allow landlords to arrange for inspections at any time in the 2 months leading up to deadline, without sacrificing the renewal date. This is very similar to how car MOT tests currently operate and seems to work well.

i.e. if your MOT is due 15th May, but it is tested (and passes) on the preceding 29th of April, the new certificate retains the 15th May expiry date and there is no foreshortening of the inspection period.

To better understand the sector’s experiences of working with the gas safety regulations and to better support the argument for change we are helping the HSE to survey landlords opinions.

Please take a few minutes to fill in this short on-line survey to help better decision makers: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/NLAHSE

It should only take a few minutes and will inform the HSE and ministers about what landlords need to work effectively and keep costs down.


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Does the SNP still have a mandate to reform the PRS?

The Scottish National Party is today (6 May 2016) celebrating an ‘historic’ victory in the Scottish parliamentary elections.

However, despite being the clear winners on the night, it has failed to maintain its overall majority in the Parliament.

With all the votes counted:

  • SNP have 63 seats
  • Conservatives; 31
  • Labour; 24
  • Green; 6
  • Lib Dems 5

This means that the SNP has lost 6 seats, Labour has lost 13 while the Conservative Party has gained 16 seats to become the official opposition.

The SNP will now have to decide whether to govern as a minority administration or enter coalition with a smaller party.  Whichever route they choose it is clear that they have failed to win over a large enough chunk of the vote to claim an absolute mandate.

Although unlikely to impact the Scottish Government’s ability to proceed, it must lead us to question the popularity of SNP policy during the last parliament and legitimacy of enacting some of the legislation passed immediately prior to the Election.

The Private Housing (Tenancies ) (Scotland) Act, passed just before the campaign, is set to completely replace the private rented tenancies operated in Scotland, removing the ‘no-fault’ possession procedure and introduce powers to limit rents. Given the party which introduced the measures to Parliament and shepherded its progress lost a not insignificant number of seats in parliament to a party which opposes such interventions a rethink may be a wise move.

Of course this is just one issue amongst many and may not have swung too many votes, but we can say with some certainty that landlords did not intend to reward the last Scottish Government with another chance.

yourprediction (1)

As the illustration above shows a Scottish Parliament elected by landlords, or at least those landlords who take part in NLA polling would have looked quite different – and very mixed, with no dominant party – but the Conservatives in the driving seat with 56 seats to the SNPs 43.

 

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