The Queen’s Speech was delivered earlier today. As is usually the way, the speech itself didn’t have much to say about anything. What matters – and what contains the details – is the Briefing Pack produced after each speech. It’s available here. It looks like housing law is going to have another interesting year.
There are two major Bills planned for the next Parliamentary session.
The first is the Social Housing Regulation Bill (pg.65). The Regulator of Social Housing (England only – in Wales the Welsh Ministers do the regulation) will be given new intervention and inspection powers, with a more-proactive approach to regulation (short – 48 hours – notice inspections; unlimited fines). Interestingly – there is a clear statement that housing associations will be brought within the scope of Freedom of Information Act 2000. Now that could be a real game changer and is likely to raise some very difficult issues. After all, whether (and to what extent) housing associations are – or should be treated as – public authorities is a huge issue and one that, since R (Weaver) v L&Q  EWCA Civ 58 has been crying out for legislative consideration. It’s an issue that just won’t go away (see also the important discussion in Information Commissioner v (1) Poplar HARCA (2) People’s Information Centre  UKUT 182 (AAC)).
The second, and probably more important, is the long-promised Renters Reform Bill. The end of s.21, Housing Act 1988 is – finally – on the cards. But there will also be “new and stronger” grounds for possession where there are repeated rent arrears and shorter notice periods for ASB claims. I am not wholly clear why it is a good idea to make evictions for rent arrears easier at the time of a cost of living crisis, but I am sure the government will be able to explain that in due course.
There is a promise to make the Decent Homes Standard a legally enforceable standard for PRS tenancies. I’m not sure about this. Decent Homes was a social housing programme and is at least a decade old (see here). I’m not sure what this is going to add to ss.9A and 11, LTA 1985. Now, one way it might work is if there is a national register of rented properties and all properties must be registered before they can be rented (so the Local Authority has to certify that it meets the Decent Homes Standard) and, lo and behold – we have a promise of a national “property portal”. I wonder… I wonder… I wonder…
Finally, we have a promise of a private sector ombudsman to try and resolve cases without court involvement. I suspect this will cause some division in the housing law world and it will be important to see what the government actually wants this ombudsman to do. Perhaps it might be funded by all the properties in the new national portal paying a registration fee.
In short, there is more to like here than dislike, but much turns on the detail.
What’s particularly interesting is what is not coming in this Parliament. The obvious omission is anything more on leasehold reform. There is *a lot* still to come. We’re waiting for the revitalised Commonhold scheme. We’ve been promised a ban on leasehold houses. We’re told that people who pay estate rentcharges (sometimes called – incorrectly – freehold service charges) will get rights akin to those applicable to residential leaseholders and service charges. There are supposed to be the Law Com reforms on both enfranchisement and RTM legislation. This is a big package of work and it does not appear to be coming in this Parliament.
Linked to that, during the passage of the Building Safety Act (still not published!) the government indicated it might look at making amendments to that Act during this Parliament (in essence, to correct some of the problems that arose as a result of the last minute changes made in the House of Lords). In the absence of a leasehold reform Bill that will be tricky. The legal nerds amongst us (which includes me) will be looking at the Long Title of the Renters Reform Bill to see if it would be permissible to stick small leasehold fixes in that Bill.