IN PARLIAMENT: TENANT FEES BILL / SEXUAL EXPLOITATION OF LODGERS / REOFFENDING RATES AMONG YOUNG PRISONERS

Public Bill Committee: Tenant Fees Bill: Examination of Witnesses (7 Jun 2018)

Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood

I want to revisit the issue of confidence and how protection can be given to tenants to come forward. When the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee conducted pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, we had evidence of the very low expectations of tenants. The quality of accommodation in certain parts of the sector is poor. They are often very vulnerable people and they are proactively told, “This is as good as you can expect and this is what the standard is,” which is combined with the vulnerability inherent in the landlord-tenant relationship and people’s fear of losing their homes.

That was reinforced when we went out with Newham council to do enforcement visits under its selective licensing scheme, and we met tenants who were living in properties that were clearly not fit for purpose and in breach of regulations, but they were told that was fine.

The Bill mentions the need for effective communication with tenants about their rights. We know that the retaliatory eviction legislation is not working and not functioning. How do we get to a framework of protection for tenants that ensures people are sufficiently aware of their rights and also confident enough to come forward and report breaches so that the agents and landlords responsible for those breaches can be put out of business?

The Bill mentions the need for effective communication with tenants about their rights. We know that the retaliatory eviction legislation is not working and not functioning. How do we get to a framework of protection for tenants that ensures people are sufficiently aware of their rights and also confident enough to come forward and report breaches so that the agents and landlords responsible for those breaches can be put out of business?

 

Alex McKeown (joint lead officer for property and lettings for the Chartered Trading Standards Institute and an enforcement officer for Westminster council trading standards):

That is quite a difficult one. The tenants are always going to be scared of being thrown out because so many letting agents do not care about illegal evictions. Again, the housing teams are under so much pressure that they cannot take action when there is an illegal eviction and someone is locked out of their house and loses everything. I go back to having fines against directors as a deterrent and then the criminal sanctions further down the line. Money is always a deterrent to people. They prefer not to pay. They would prefer to have a company criminal record than pay out £30,000. As my colleague says, criminal prosecutions are expensive. It is down to resources, again. What we have often found with the criminal prosecutions is that even with some of the safety aspects, the fine will be £2,000, so we might as well go for the civil penalty—but it is difficult protecting those vulnerable tenants.

Helen Hayes

We heard evidence this morning of the situation that many tenants find themselves in, having committed by way of a reservation to let a particular property, where they are unaware of many of the terms of the tenancy, including perhaps some of these contractual obligations, until it is far too late for them to back out of it, because money has already exchanged hands, they are already committed and they face consequences from pulling out at that stage. What does the Minister have to say to tenants in those circumstances?

Rishi Sunak Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I would say to tenants in those circumstances that it is absolutely not a good idea to enter into an agreement without seeing the actual document that you are signing and committing yourself to. It is obviously good practice, as will be mentioned in the guidance that is to be published, that all potential people renting should seek to have a proper shorthold tenancy contract. That would be good practice that most people would aim for. There would be an obligation on them to take some responsibility for that, rather than entering into a situation where they are unaware of their obligations.

Helen Hayes

I think the Minister misunderstands the nature of the culture in much of the letting agency industry, where tenants are frequently told, “This is the only property available to you. It is the best offer at this time—you absolutely must. There is a queue of other potential tenants.” In practice, they do not have the type of choices at their disposal that the Minister seems to believe they do.

Rishi Sunak:

I am confident that with the awareness that will be spread as a result of this Bill—we have heard a lot about the simplicity of this Bill, which will make it more effective for potential tenants to enforce and know about their rights—the circumstances in which that happens will be reduced. In case letting agents themselves are putting on the pressure, as the hon. Lady will know from being on the Select Committee, the Government are currently consulting on enforcing standards for the letting agency industry, a code of practice and potential licencing of that particular industry. Those are the kinds of tactics and behaviour that that consultation will look at.

SEXUAL EXPLOITATION OF LODGERS

Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood

To ask the Secretary of State for Home Department, what assessment his Department has made of the risk of sexual exploitation that lodgers and those renting private rooms are exposed to.

Victoria Atkins Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The Government is aware of the reports and concerns surrounding the practice of ‘sex for rent.’ Offering accommodation in return for sex or sexual favours is illegal and those who do so can face up to seven years in prison.

Protecting those who are vulnerable from exploitation is one of the Government’s key priorities and we are working with the police and CPS to ensure that those profiting from exploitation are dealt with criminally.

The law on sexual assault is clear and unequivocal. We expect every report of sexual violence to be treated seriously from the time it is reported, every victim to be treated with dignity, and every investigation and prosecution to be conducted thoroughly and professionally. Written Answers – Home Office: Sexual Offences: Private Rented Housing (5 Jun 2018)

REOFFENDING RATES AMONG YOUNG PRISONERS

Ellie Reeves Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

Worryingly, among young offenders, those aged 10 to 14 have the highest reoffending rate—a rate of 42.7%. Overall reoffending rates among the youth prison population are up between three and four percentage points since 2005. What steps is the Minister going to take to reduce reoffending among young offenders?

Phillip Lee Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

In the past 10 years, the number of young people we have been locking up has decreased from more than 3,000 to under 1,000. As a consequence, we have been left with young people who are quite difficult to manage, which is why we are introducing secure schools to improve the recidivism rates to which the hon. Lady refers. Oral Answers to Questions – Justice: Youth Justice System (5 Jun 2018) Source: TheyWorkForYou

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