Let’s all move to … Wales

This is another one of our irregular posts on our theme of happenings in Wales; this time with an apology because it’s all rather later than I had hoped and SO much is going on in Cardiff that they must be in a state of permanent combustion.  Following on from the Welsh Government’s magnificent White Paper in May, they published Proposals for a Better Private Rented Sector in Wales and then a new code of guidance on homelessness and allocations (all 257 pages worth), a Housing Bill is in preparation (2013) and there are all sorts of rumours afoot that they are preparing a subsequent Renting Homes Bill (to implement an updated and possibly different version of the Law Commission’s great work, which has gone largely unnoticed by the Westminster Parliament) to follow up their White Paper (para 4.107 et seq).  If you were going to respond to any of this, I’m afraid it’s all a bit too late – blame the amount of teaching I’ve got this academic year.

So, what’s going on in Wales?

PRS

In essence, licensing, a proposal which New Labour toyed with and which derives to an extent from the watered down version presented in the Rugg and Rhodes review (don’t ask me what I thought of that, grr); except that Wales is doing what might be termed licensing +.  The plan is to put together a comprehensive online database of private sector landlords and management agents, and there will be a penalty if they fail to register and commit a criminal offence.  The “+” element is that landlord have to pass a “suitability” test.  A person will only be licensed if they complete an accredited training course and encouraged to take CPD courses.  Management and letting agents are part of the scheme although penalties for breaking the law are greater.

Homelessness and allocations

It would be impossible to do justice to the 257 page code of guidance here.  [It is to be remembered that the Localism Act changes don't apply to Wales (another reason for moving there?) although there is apparently going to be a similar provision regarding use of the PRS as a discharge of duty.  There are also plans to get rid of intentionality.]  But I really like it (I might not if I was a housing officer in a Welsh local authority) because it expands on areas where the English code signally failed to offer a lead.  For example, on the unacceptable behaviour criterion for exclusion from an allocation  (which is a ridiculously worded provision in my view), the code struggles to explain what this means and then goes on to nail the point that “… barriers to social housing should be minimised” providing a series of pointers to providers as to how to do so in this context (para 3.29).  The emphasis regarding homelessness  is also good – for example, the code seeks to explain (ch 10) how local authorities can manage and maintain housing rights while giving greater priority to the prevention of homelessness.

Co-Operatives

I gather that the Welsh housing minister, Huw Lewis, is also a member of the co-operative party.  The White paper signalled a desire to increase the use of co-ops in housing through limited equity “mutual” ownership models as well as the more standard rented co-ops.  They were “considering the need for a new form of co-operative tenancy” (White Paper, para 4.56) (although I can’t help thinking that they should beware of Mexfield’s problems – note, oddly, the Welsh Government have legislative powers in relation to “housing” law, and there is a question of their remit in relation to land law).  It will be interesting to see if these proposals make it into the 2013 Bill.

Tenancy reform

Following on the White Paper, I gather there have been some moves towards tenancy reform although my suspicion is that this is unlikely to be in the 2013 housing Bill.  Consumer Focus Wales produced some research on tenant understandings of the private rented sector, which demonstrated (unsurprisingly) a high degree of lack of knowledge and appreciation of tenancy agreements together with disclosure of what I think of as the usual problems with the sector, viz “the standard of properties that they were living in, describing a lack of cleanliness, poor quality fixtures and fittings”.  What was particularly interesting about that research was that many landlords and letting agents who were interviewed by the researchers tended to support the reforming zeal of the government.

Approach to Regulatory/Legislative Reform

Whilst there are a lot of substantive changes being mooted and discussed, it is as well to reflect for a moment on the approach taken by the Welsh Assembly to reform.  It is one of co-production – that is, proposals are mooted and developed together with and feeding from key stakeholders, as well as taking on board the results of their empirical research findings from marginal/ised groups.  I suspect that, had Shapps taken that approach rather than an old-fashioned top-down approach, we might have had a rather different “affordable tenancy regime” that has been so importantly criticised by the Public Accounts Committee in their report published today.

Reflections on English Housing Law and Policy

As my old mucker Simon said a few years ago, devolution offers a laboratory of social and legal change.  Indeed it does – housing law and policy has dramatically shifted in the devolved regions.  Scotland initially led the way, Wales and Northern Ireland are following.  Each has unique features.  But what they appear to present are progressive amendments to the laws they inherited.  This must reflect on the steadfast refusal of the Westminster Parliament even to consider housing law reform, to have a housing policy rooted in the discursive logic of “no red tape”, and (as my new students pointed out) contradictory approaches across different government departments.  In other words, whilst one can wonder at the developments in the devolved regions, it must surely make the Westminster policy-makers and civil servants reflect on English law and policy, and possibly its impoverishment by contrast?

Posted in Allocation, FLW article, Homeless, Housing law - All, Regulation and planning and tagged . RSS feed for this post and comments.

8 Comments

  1. Richard Percival
    Posted 12/10/2012 at 10:06 pm | link to comment

    The Welsh Government have indeed announced that they will indeed be implementing Renting Homes, in a second housing bill later in this assembly. They’ve asked us (Law Commission) to help with some updating and consideration of devolution issues, which we are doing.

    I find Wales a real breath of fresh air in policy terms across a range of policy areas (and have just come back from their estimable – if not exactly right-on – annual Legal Wales conference in Llandudno). I think Baroness Hale said we now have a federal system with federal style constitutional adjudication.

  2. Posted 15/10/2012 at 10:38 am | link to comment

    You are of course correct that the bill to create a cooperative form of tenancy is in part to sidestep the issues around Mexfield. There was a ten minute bill at Westminster last year and attempts are ongoing to have it laid before Parliament again, even if others think that a different approach towards Mexfield would be more effective.

  3. jack
    Posted 16/10/2012 at 5:54 pm | link to comment

    Anyone know why the article says ‘land law’ may be outside Wales’ remit?
    thanks

    • Posted 16/10/2012 at 7:13 pm | link to comment

      It is a question of how far the devolved powers of the Welsh Assembly extend – described as encompassing ‘housing’. The question being if this extends beyond regulatory and statutory housing issues to fundamentals of ownership/kinds of title.

  4. Anon
    Posted 23/10/2012 at 12:13 pm | link to comment

    “Each has unique features. But what they appear to present are progressive amendments to the laws they inherited.”

    Scotland may have taken housing laws further, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better. The Scottish implementation of licensing has been a huge failure from whichever angle you care to look. Let’s just hope Wales can do it better.

    • Cait
      Posted 31/10/2012 at 1:06 pm | link to comment

      On the other hand, Scottish tenancy rights are better than England and Wales (and this predates devolution as they had a different legal system anyway) and their homelessness provisions have been substantially better since devolution. (I’m rusty but I believe that everyone gets limited emergency accommodation regardless of priority need, and that they were long planning on getting rid of intentionality … maybe have done that now?)

      As someone in Northern England – when it comes to housing law, I want to secede from England and join Scotland.

      • Posted 31/10/2012 at 9:17 pm | link to comment

        I think that Scottish LAs were to be given a power to ignore intentionality (s.4, Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003), which hasn’t yet been brought into force. Priority need was to be done away with by the end of this year (s.2). At last count, some authorities were struggling with that.

  5. Mark P
    Posted 07/03/2013 at 11:39 am | link to comment

    As a result of responses to the White Paper, the Housing Minister has indicated that he is now considering not pursuing a few of the initial proposals, as part of the Welsh Government’s wholesale reform of Part 7.

    Indications are that the proposed duty to secure interim temporary accommodation for any applicant who does not have a “safe place to stay” (irrespective of priority need status) are to be dropped (this always seemed a somewhat curious extension of rights, in so far as the initial brief was that any reforms must be financially neutral). The Minister has also indicated he is considering allowing LAs to terminate the main housing duty via the securing of an ordinary (i.e. six month) assured shorthold tenancy.

    The main thrust of the proposals remain (including a strengthened duty on LAs to take reasonable steps to prevent homelessness for all households threatened with homelessness within 56 days, and alteration to the priority need categories in relation to ex-offenders and verified rough sleepers).

    A bill is due to be published in autumn 2013, with the homelessness reforms to take effect from April 2015.

2 Trackbacks

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