National Landlords Association

Encouraging renting


Leave a comment

Wales: The state of play and our call for planning reform.

Post-election Kafuffle

The Welsh Assembly elections last month culminated in a Labour minority Government being backed up by the one remaining Lib Dem AM and casual support from the increased Plaid Cymru contingent.

wales makeup 16

Full make-up of the Welsh Assembly – 2016 Election

 

In return for this propping up, Lib Dem Kirsty Williams secured herself a Cabinet position as Education Secretary while Plaid made a deal that sets up three liaison committees to “formalise joint working on future priorities.”

But what does this all mean for the PRS in Wales? Well hopefully very little. There has been no mention of the sector throughout the negotiations, and the “progressive agreement” reached between Labour and the Lib Dems doesn’t touch upon it either.

Labour never mentioned it in their manifesto pre-election so it would seem they are content with changes already made through the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016. However, as with the Housing & Planning Act in England, there is still plenty to be done through secondary legislation.

The devil is in the detail…

The whole raft of regulations that are set to be spawned from the Renting Homes (Wales) Act will include electrical safety checks, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, a streamlined abandonment procedure, and many more.

However, the most important question for landlords with properties in Wales will be how exactly the Government will define the “fit for human habitation” requirement – a standard that all rented properties will have to achieve and maintain before and during tenancies.

The NLA will be representing landlords to try to ensure that any regulations that come out of this Act are not over-burdensome on landlords in their pursuit to drive up standards. The main worry on this front is now that the minority Labour government is relying on informal support from Plaid, they could be pulled towards stronger regulations.

Plaid said in their manifesto:

“We will raise the legal requirements for the condition of privately rented homes, to ensure that all rented properties are of a decent standard.”

This could go beyond having a lack of hazards and, with their new influence over the Labour Government, they could force regulations to become more hard-line than they were originally intended to be. Let’s not forget, this is the party that loudly advocates for rent controls in Wales.

Our call for planning reform

On the proactive side of things, the NLA is looking for recent changes in Welsh planning regulations to be tweaked just a little to bring them in line with England, and reduce the damage they could do to the sector.

On 25th February 2016 two orders came into effect that created a new use class (C4) for Houses in Multiple Occupation (3-6 people), and granted permitted development rights when changing use from a small HMO to a dwelling house (C3).   As such, current rules impose a blanket requirement for planning permission in order to change use from a domestic house to a small HMO in Wales.

These changes place an unnecessary regulatory burden on the private rented sector (PRS) in areas that do not have problems with HMOs, enforcing a one-size-fits-all policy on local planning systems that deters investment in much needed low-cost housing. This could have knock-on effects that damage not only the labour market, but also councils’ ability to discharge their homelessness duties.

You can read our full briefing on the issue here.

The same policy was adopted in 2010 by the then Labour Government. However, soon after coming into power the Coalition Government, recognising the damaging effects this would have on low-cost housing across the country (and honouring the Conservative’s pre-election pledge to the NLA), granted permitted development rights for changes of use from C3 to C4 later that same year.

We have already written to the ministers, regarding our proposal, and look forward to receiving a constructive response.

 


2 Comments

NLA Donates to Tenant Tax Fund

NLA Chief Executive, Richard Lambert, discusses the NLA’s decision to donate £10,000 to the ‘Tenant Tax’ legal fund.

The last few days will be the nearest I will get to living the life of Jack Bauer from the TV series 24.

To say they have been eventful is an understatement and so I thought members should know a little more about the background of why, on Thursday, I announced that the National Landlords Association (NLA) has decided to donate £10,000 to support the Judicial Review (JR) against the Government’s controversial decision to restrict tax relief individual landlords’ finance costs.

More details here!

As hopefully you will know by now, the removal of finance costs relief – announced in last year’s Summer Budget – will be introduced in 2017 as part of the Finance Act and will restrict the rate of mortgage relief to the basic rate of income tax (20%) for all landlords regardless of their personal tax bracket. If you aren’t aware of the changes or if you want to refresh your memory, take a look at the campaign page on the NLA website here.

The measure has been widely criticised and a crowd funded Judicial Review was launched by Chris Cooper and Steve Bolton, two hard-working property business owners who invested in property as a prudent way of securing a modest pension (Chris) and to provide an alternative income (Steve).  Both are NLA members.

You can find more details here.

In the days and weeks following the Chancellor’s Summer Budget, the NLA assessed the various possibilities and lobbying strategies open to us.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 12.38.09

We looked at a number of different approaches and spoke to many members, politicians, campaigners, government departments and legal advisers.   We also took advice in relation to the possibility of embarking on a direct judicial review of the policy.  In doing so we came to the conclusion that a judicial review was very unlikely to lead to a positive outcome.

Whilst the policy is certainly unfair, and in our view unjust in the context of existing tax provision, we were unable to identify an argument likely to lead a judge to decide the policy is unlawful. (There is an explanation of what constitutes a judicial review, and their limitations on the judiciary website here: www.judiciary.gov.uk/you-and-the-judiciary/judicial-review/)

We reluctantly decided the chances of success did not justify the likely outlay of tens of thousands of pounds (possibly escalating into the hundreds of thousands) or asking members to donate with no reasonable chance of return or success.  You can see our initial statement here.

When the judicial review campaign was launched, we referred those members interested to the crowdfunding page and concentrated on our direct lobbying efforts.  A significant number of NLA members agreed with our position but decided to donate individually as well.

So what changed our minds?  There were several contributing factors, but two primary reasons clinched it.

Firstly both Steve and Chris indicated to us a few weeks ago that this was a critical time in the fundraising effort.   They predict that they need to raise another £250,000 to fund the hearing, if their application is accepted.  They told us about a conference they were holding at Earls Court for donors and invited us to attend.  We reluctantly declined the invitation to attend because the event clashed with a prearranged Conference For all our local and regional representatives in Bristol.  We agreed that a statement of the efforts the NLA had made to lobby against the changes would be read out on our behalf.

IMG_0117

Secondly, this has been the year of the unexpected.  If anyone predicted this time last year that Jeremy Corbyn would be Leader of the Labour Party, Donald Trump the Republican Nominee for President, and Leicester City Premier League champions, they would be very rich indeed

.1124847_20524973

To be clear, the NLA has yet to see an argument which would convince us to change our mind about the Judicial Review’s chances of success, but we have to recognise that there is always the possibility that we may be wrong.  For all the humble pie I would have to eat, I for one would be quite happy to be proved wrong on that judgment.

So as a goodwill gesture to the campaign, in recognition of our shared aim of fighting on behalf of landlords, we decided to make a one off donation.  When the conference opened yesterday morning, the campaign had raised £83,000.  The NLA is the largest landlord representative organisation in the country, and we have never wanted to be seen in any way to stand in the way of the legal challenge, irrespective of our views.

Given the circumstances, I agreed with the Chairman that I should change my travel plans to speak in person at the conference, and then make a delayed appearance at our own event.  We thank Chris and Steve for not only fitting us into the schedule, but giving us the first speaking slot available at 10am.

If any of the attendees were bleary eyed after a long journey to London for a 9.30 start, they were certainly awake by the time I had finished my speech. The stunned delight of the campaign organisers when we tipped them off beforehand and the burst of applause from the audience (many of whom were NLA members) I think justified our decision. You can see my full speech here.

Whilst it wasn’t quite Jack Bauer to the rescue, we hope that our £10,000 will ensure that they get their day in court.

The NLA is committed to continued lobbying to achieve a political solution to the problem presented by this disastrous government policy and we still hope to achieve a positive outcome for the hundreds of thousands of landlords whose businesses are currently in jeopardy.

 


Leave a comment

4G Freeview Interference – how will landlords be affected?

This is a guest blog from at800

What is 4G Freeview Interference?

New fourth generation mobile services, known as 4G, are being switched on across the UK. This is great news for mobile users, as 4G provides people with much faster data speeds and access to the internet on smartphones and tablets.

However, there is a small chance that some 4G mobile signals can cause interference to Freeview, which is received via an aerial. 4G signals sit next to the frequencies used by Freeview, so they can overload the receivers in TVs and set-top boxes causing interference.

Signs of interference include loss of channels or sound, pictures going blocky, freezing or the TV screen going blank or showing a ‘No Signal’ message.

How will landlords be affected?

Interference may present a problem for landlords who are responsible for properties with communal aerials.

While the vast majority of homes across the UK won’t be affected, viewers are being sent postcards advising them to contact at800 and tell their landlords should they experience Freeview interference.

As a result, it is possible that landlords may begin to receive reports of problems or complaints from their tenants.

What help is available?

Set-up under government direction, at800 offers support to those that rely on Freeview for their TV so that people can keep enjoying their favourite programmes.

If you are responsible for properties with communal aerials, and are aware of your tenants’ having problems with new interference to Freeview, you should contact at800 and register the details of the property or properties you manage.

at800 will provide a free communal filter – to you or your aerial contractor – which should be fitted to the communal aerial system and will enable viewers in all of the properties it serves to continue receiving and watching Freeview as normal.

Cable and satellite TV, like Sky or Virgin, won’t be affected. However, if tenants do have cable and satellite TV and also watch Freeview, free filters and advice can again be provided.

Landlords should contact at800 on:

For more information, please visit www.at800.tv


4 Comments

New Law Proposed to Stop Councils Forcing Tenants to Wait for Bailiffs

hammer

The proportion of all repossession claims that have to be resolved by bailiffs in the last 12 months has shot up to 40%, compared to just 25% in the same period 5 years ago according to recent Government stats.

Possession claims will only progress to bailiffs after a tenant has received an eviction notice and failed to vacate a property by the date specified.

Recently, local councils have come under fire (from us) for turning away tenants’ housing applications unless an order for possession has first been granted by a court. Instead, local councils have advised tenants who have been served eviction notices to stay in their properties until the bailiffs knock on their door.

Results from the NLA’s quarterly Tenant Panel show that half (49%) of tenants who have been served a section 21 eviction notice reported that they had been told to ignore it by their local council or advice agency such as Shelter or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) in favour of waiting for a court order to vacate the property.

In March, Housing Minister Brandon Lewis wrote to all local councils in England to address the issue and to clarify the homelessness guidance that should be issued, following NLA pressure.

Unfortunately, councils have ignored him and we continue to have members get in touch with us because their local authority is advising tenants to wait it out until the bailiffs appear.

The NLA has consistently warned that putting vulnerable households in this position is detrimental to both landlords and tenants alike. Tenants often accrue further rent arrears and other associated costs that make them more susceptible to homelessness, while landlords could fall behind on mortgage payments as they are dragged through a lengthy and costly court process.

As a result, landlords are becoming more reluctant to let out their property to vulnerable households (such as homeless ones) as their confidence in their ability to regain possession without substantial financial damage is diminished.

Despite previous assurances that the Government would consider a legislative solution to this problem, the recent Queen’s Speech showed us that it was not on their agenda for the next year.

 

A little Bill goes a long way

Due to lack of Governmental action, we felt it best to take matters into our own hands.

Last week was the ballot for Private Members Bills, giving 20 lucky MPs a shot at having a piece of legislation being brought to the floor of the Commons.

While Parliament is in recess this week those lucky few MPs have no doubt been inundated with requests from trade associations, charities and pressure groups while they make up their mind on which Bill to submit.

We’ve put together a short, sharp Bill that would solve this repossession problem once and for all. Simply, it will amend Section 175 of the Housing Act 1996 to:

  • Double the definition of threatened with homelessness from 28 to 56 days, and
  • Force local authorities to accept a valid Section 21 notice as evidence that an applicant is threatened with homelessness.

These two minor changes taken together would ensure that councils will have to step in almost as soon as an eviction notice is given, providing the tenant with sufficient support and saving the landlord from a costly, lengthy and wholly unnecessary dragged out court process.

We have presented this Bill to MPs we think may be interested, but even if we are unsuccessful on this occasion we shall be pressing on this issue until it’s resolved.

 

NLA Property Repossession

If you are looking to legally evict your tenant(s) and get your property back as quickly and as simply as possible, then contact our NLA Property Repossession team, who can help alleviate the pressure on you, and avoid elevated costs. Find out more here.


Leave a comment

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


1 Comment

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.


1 Comment

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/