Getting Guidance wrong and the perils of not updating legislation

MHCLG recently (April 2019) put out a guidance document called “Landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities in the private rented sector“. Under a heading “Guidance for tenants renting in the private sector: rights, responsibilities and advice”, on page 12 are the following on potential penalties for harassment by a landlord, and for illegal eviction by a landlord.

Guidance errors

Eh? Fines of £400 for harassment and for illegal eviction? This is not right. The fines are unlimited. Moreover, the maximum sentence is two years (on indictment), not six months.

The same error is repeated in the MHLCG “Rogue Landlord Enforcement. Guidance for Local Authorities“, also of April 2019, on page 19 and Appendix A.

Where, one might wonder, did these incorrect fines come from?

And then, I’ve been told of an illegal eviction prosecution in Stoke in which the Magistrates wrongly held that they were limited to a £400 fine by legislation.

It turns out the version of the Protection From Eviction Act 1977 that is on legislation.gov.uk is very out of date. Section 1(4) reads:

A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding £400 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to both.

Just how out of date is this? Well, s.1(4) was amended by Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 to read:

  A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—

(a)     on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding the prescribed sum or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both;

(b)     on conviction on indictment, to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to both.

(My emphasis)

Even more worryingly, the ‘legislation.gov.uk’ page announces “Protection from Eviction Act 1977 is up to date with all changes known to be in force on or before 16 May 2019.”

We’ve referred before to the scandal that up to date legislation is all too often not available for free to the public (for instance, Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 remains unamended some two months after the entry into force of Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 on 20 March 2019). If people are to be subject to a law, they should be at the least able to find out what the law is. (Mind you, on the illegal eviction fine, they would then have to find section 85 of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and appreciate that it applied to fines under s.1(4) PFEA, and then find The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Fines on Summary Conviction) Regulations 2015. But the point stands.)

This shows why it is important – while it may be more of an error than a failure to update in a timely manner, it has still resulted in at least one injustice and Govt guidance being wrong.

Legislation.gov.uk should be adequately funded and staffed to ensure it is up to date and maintained.

My thanks to Dave Hickling and ATRO for drawing this to my attention.

About Giles Peaker

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts, and still is Nearly Legal on Google +.
Posted in Assured Shorthold tenancy, Housing law - All, Unlawful eviction and harassment.

5 Comments

    • oops..should have read all the way to the end of the article before commenting please delete or ignore my earlier remark

  1. Pingback: Tessa Shepperson Newsround #99

  2. Section 1(4) of the Protection From Eviction Act 1977 on legislation.gov.uk has now been updated.

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