The Blog

We are devastated at the loss of our Queen, who has been a constant throughout all our lives.  Our thoughts are with her family and indeed to everyone affected by her death.

For in a sense, she was a part of everyone’s life and everyone’s family.  Her loss will be felt deeply.

However, life goes on, so here are news stories from the past week.

The energy crisis

From the debate in Parliament yesterday, where Liz Truss, the new Prime Minister, promised a support package, it looks, thankfully, as if we will not be handing practically all of our income over to our energy suppliers.

And there is some hope that families may be able to eat as well as pay their rent and hearing costs, and that businesses across the country will not have to close down due to soaring unaffordable bills.

We will have to wait a while to find out more as little will be done during the coming 10 days of mourning.

All Change at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Liz Truss has announced that her new Housing Secretary will be Simon Clarke who will the youngest member in her cabinet at 37 years of age. He comes with modest experience for a roll of this calibre. He said

It’s a huge honour to be appointed Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Delivering on levelling up for communities in all parts of our country, unlocking the homes we need and supporting the economic growth that is so central to Liz Truss’ government is our mission – will give it my all.

This is a department that I know really well, and which I am so looking forward to returning to – the commitment and expertise of officials there on themes as diverse as homelessness, building safety and devolution is second to none.

Time will tell how well he understands the PRS and the concerns that the NRLA are lobbying for. Clarke is a qualified solicitor, you can read more here.  Also at the Department:

More resignations

Eddie Hughes, the minister mainly responsible for the Renters Reform Bill, has resigned apparently to spend more time with his family. He was the main contact with the NRLA when discussing rental reform and was an important architect of the current proposals for the Renters Reform Bill.

Read what Shelter and Westcountry Homelessness Charity have to say here.

We have since learned that Marcus Jones has also left his position.  So all change at the Department.  Which puts in question whether the rental reforms will proceed as planned.

Ben Beadle of NRLA speaks out in Parliament

Giving evidence before the Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities Committee in Parliament recently, Ben Beadle chief executive of NRLA has been urging MP’s to seriously reconsider the Renters Reform Bill in its current form. He said

This is a series of whack-a-mole policies disguised as a strategy. Government has taxed the pants off individual landlords – it’s more attractive to rent your property on Airbnb to a stag party than it is to a long-term sustainable tenancy.

Also saying

Landlords need the confidence that if there is a fault, they can rely on a judicial process that will be fair. Courts dragging their heels and not letting landlords get possession is a problem.

Shelter claimed that tenants on benefits were not getting a look in. Ben’s response was quite simply

If you’ve got 400 people queuing around the block, landlords will choose a tenant with less risk. We need to see improvements to the Universal Credit system which gives landlords confidence. If you’ve been bitten on the backside by Universal Credit not talking to you or not processing your claim for direct payments, you’re not going to use it.

He went on to further address the issues with student lets saying it would be the end of the student letting if the plan to introduce permanent periodic tenancies went ahead. He said that there needs to be a balance and selective licensing is not the way to go. He may have a very valid point there!

However, the whole of the White Paper is now in question since the wholesale changes at the Department.  We will have to see.

Rogue landlord database reform

In the meantime, an announcement yesterday on the rogue landlord database consultation is interesting and I set out the announcement in full:

As set out in the ‘a fairer private rented sector’ White Paper, published in June 2022, we will introduce a new Property Portal to make sure that tenants, landlords and local councils have the information they need.

The portal will provide a single ‘front door’ for landlords to understand their responsibilities, tenants will be able to access information about their landlord’s compliance, and local councils will have access to better data to crack down on criminal landlords.

We also intend to incorporate some of the functionality of the Database of Rogue Landlords, mandating the entry of all eligible unspent landlord offences and making them publicly visible.

I suspect, that whatever happens to the proposed section 21 and similar reforms, the Property Portal is likely to go ahead.

Is a rent freeze the answer?

There is growing concern about the proposal to freeze rent and evictions in Scotland. John Blackwood, Chief Executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords has warned of dire repercussions, saying:

Since rumours of this announcement broke this morning,  I have been inundated by landlords saying they will be removing their vacant properties from the rental market, and I don’t blame them. Who on earth is going to let a property in the knowledge that they will be unable to meet their own financial and maintenance obligations if their tenants don’t pay the rent or their outgoings increase?

Instead of helping tenants pay their bills, the Scottish Government has chosen to penalise people who have provided the homes politicians have failed to provide for decades. Once again the Scottish Government fails to grasp the reality of Scotland’s housing crisis and has chosen the easy option of attacking landlords for political reasons which will only further reduce the supply of housing, putting more people at risk.  This is not a solution, it will only cause more hardship.

In just a few weeks, we will see more stories of students and others who can’t find suitable accommodation.  We warned of this last year and nothing was done but no one should be in any doubt where the blame for that new crisis will lie.  It will be at the door of Bute House

My feeling is that this will not be replicated in England, despite calls including from some conservative MPs, but we shall have to wait and see.

However, as Ben said in his evidence to the committee discussed above, we do still have a serious supply problem in England, with reports of landlords quitting the PRS in droves due to high taxes, uncertainty about regulation reform and rising costs.

A rent and eviction freeze would only accelerate this.

Airbnb takes another hit

Oxford Labour council is considering charging for waste collections at whole house short lets registered as commercial businesses. This follows the move from other councils such as Scarborough and Hampshire. To move means that such properties would no longer qualify for free domestic waste collections. Houses will need to either have a commercial waste collection or have their domestic bins removed.

Oxford council also claims that it is difficult to take action on issues like antisocial behaviour when there is a constant change of different people using a property. They have called for the government to bring in regulations of short lets.

A spokeswoman has said

We first called for powers to regulate short lets in 2018 because we believe the uncontrolled loss of permanent homes in the city to holiday letting accommodation will only exacerbate Oxford’s housing crisis.

The government needs to act to ensure there’s a proper level playing field with the rest of the rental market and other highly regulated commercial businesses. Until then, we will continue to use our planning enforcement powers against unauthorised change of planning use class, and we are now removing this unfair advantage of free waste collection for whole house short lets that are registered as businesses. They will need to organise a commercial waste agreement contract just like other businesses in the city; it’s only fair as these properties avoid paying council tax.

You can read more on this article from LandlordToday.


Newsround will be back next week.

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