The current housing minister, who holds the current record for the number of times a housing minister’s name can be mentioned in a press release, has announced forthcoming legislation, in response to the Rugg report. More details here [link to PDF]. The announced headlines are as follows, then we’ll take a look at the substance.
Funding for a new housing hotline offering free help and advice for private tenants should things go wrong.
An online word-of-mouth directory of landlords similar to tripadviser or mumsnet. Consumer Focus is currently undertaking work to establish better ways for tenants to provide and access information about landlords’ track records.
A requirement for written tenancy agreements that will strengthen the hand of tenants should they face a dispute and ensure all tenants and landlords are clear of their rights and responsibilities.
Boosting the number of tenants protected under the most commonly used tenancy agreement. An increase of the short-term rental threshold to £100,000 a year will mean that many shared households, most often those of students or seasonal workers, will have their rights strengthened and protected by legislation should they face a dispute.
A National Register for Landlords to help tenants make basic checks on their prospective landlords. Councils will be able to identify local landlords more easily, making enforcement of letting rules easier, and registered landlords will gain access to the latest advice and information on what their role entails and how best to fulfil their responsibilities
Better regulation of letting and managing agents, which will help tackle the rogue agents who can drag the reputation of the Private Rented Sector down. Full legislation will drive out the worst practices such as wrongful eviction, raise standards and provide greater protection for both tenants and landlords in cases of dispute.
Work is also currently underway with councils across England to encourage best practice in taking a more business-friendly approach to working with the best landlords and agents in their area. Creating Local Letting Agencies, where councils and good landlords work together to help local people find better-quality homes in the private rented sector will help to effectively side-line the cowboys across the country.
So, clear substance is:
- the raising of the AST annual rent limit to £100,000 (which is well overdue)
- a requirement for a written tenancy agreement (although how would this be enforceable?)
- regulation of letting agents (although what this actually means will have to be seen)
- Surprisingly, a compulsory national register of landlords (except leasehold, holiday lets and resident landlords) even with suggestions for enforcement.
The pure wind/smoke/mirrors are:
- A mumsnet for tenants to swap tips on landlords. Why on earth is the Government proposing to do this? Governments don’t do this kind of thing well. And who ends up liable for the libel?
- Funding for a new housing hotline to provide advice to tenants. We already have several versions of this, all more or less underfunded. If this is to be a national advice line, prospectively covering the entire rented sector (approaching 40% of households), then that is serious money. And the training of the advisors? Look, if they are going to hand out the money to actually provide such a service, I’m going to be rebranding myself as a trainer for tenant advisors. But we all know that isn’t going to happen. Instead, at best, a horde of basically trained call centre fodder will be let loose on some of the most complicated public facing law this jurisdiction can offer.
- Local Letting Agencies, where private landlords and local authorities work together in happy harmony. Uh huh.
So, some potentially good bits, even surprisingly so, but also some airy nonsense. Now let us see whether this makes the statute books.