All 10 contributions to the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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Wednesday 9th June 2021

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Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-II Second marshalled list for Grand Committee - (9 Jun 2021)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it was certainly worth waiting for the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, because we now know we are all batting on the same wicket. As we have heard, Amendment 18, tabled by my noble friend Lord Kennedy and me, in addition to amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Young and Lord Blencathra, introduces the issue of existing leaseholders and brings into question why the Government are not legislating to protect them. To us there seems to be no rhyme nor reason why they are not.

Although the provisions of the Bill are welcome and the Government are right to set future ground rents to zero, they are offering nothing for those tied into existing leaseholds. In 2019, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government estimated that one in five homes in England were leasehold dwellings. That equates to approximately 4.5 million properties, and the number will have grown since. Many of those households, tied into leasehold arrangements, are subjected to ground rent arrangements overwhelmingly balanced to benefit landlords—what the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, called legal racketeering. Some leaseholders are being charged extortionate amounts and others have seen their payments rise exponentially.

In fact, the Competition and Markets Authority is currently taking action against both Countryside and Taylor Wimpey, which are doubling some ground rents every 10 to 15 years. There is one factor that every household paying ground rent has in common: they receive little to no benefit from paying that sum. The Government should take action for those already stuck in leaseholds and paying extortionate ground rent charges. Amendment 18, tabled by my noble friend Lord Kennedy and me, seeks to address this by ensuring that the Government bring forward further legislation. Can the Minister confirm whether any further legislation is anticipated or planned on this theme and, if so, when?

The purpose of Amendment 9 is to raise the question of remedial costs for leaseholders. The crux of this matter is that the Government have failed to introduce legislation to deal with the fact that building owners are attempting to pass on the cost of remedial work to leaseholders. Despite promises from Government Ministers that leaseholders would not be forced to pay to fix fire safety problems that were not their fault, the issue is still ongoing. I have a nephew who is a leaseholder in a block of flats in Hackney. The freeholder, Southern Housing, has simply failed to engage with the Government. It has not applied for any grant aid to assist to fix the fire safety problems, leaving the leaseholders potentially to bear the cost. We are talking here about tens of thousands of pounds per household. Can the Minister confirm when legislation will be introduced to prevent leaseholders facing those extraordinary costs?

Amendment 10, meanwhile, raises the issue of service charges in shared ownership properties. The purpose of the amendment is to highlight the sky-high fees that many residents in those properties are being charged, often with little return. Will the Minister use this opportunity to explain what steps the Government will take to help those in shared ownership agreements who are facing extortionate service charges?

Amendment 11 raises the important point of informal arrangements, which can be used to bypass the central provisions of the Bill. I look forward to clarification from the Minister in this area, and on the questions raised by Amendments 22 and 23, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Young. I understand that the purpose of the amendments is to give time to prepare for all involved parties, but we should consider that the Bill’s proposals have been discussed for some time already. None the less, I trust the Minister will respond to the points made by the noble Lord.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, we have heard a great deal today about the difficulties facing some existing leaseholders, particularly in relation to ground rent—poignantly in the speech by my noble friend Lord Blencathra and, with some powerful examples, from the noble Baroness, Lady Grender.

We are very concerned about leases with high and increasing ground rents. We are aware that such onerous conditions affect not only the affordability of living costs for affected leaseholders but their ability to sell or even re-mortgage their properties. That is why we asked the Competition and Markets Authority to conduct an investigation into potential mis-selling and unfair terms in the leasehold sector. This included the issue of onerous ground rent. Following a detailed investigation, in February last year the CMA published its report, which estimated that the issue of doubling ground rent has affected more than 18,000 leaseholders. In March this year, it informed developers that they may be in breach of the law. Noble Lords will agree that this is very serious indeed, and the Government welcome the CMA’s continued efforts to bring justice to home owners affected by unfair practices.

Our commitment to existing leaseholders certainly does not end there. As I made clear at Second Reading, this is just the first of a two-part legislative reform programme that will improve the leasehold system. Further legislation later in this Parliament will address a range of issues facing existing leaseholders. In answer to the noble Lords, Lord Stunell and Lord Lennie, the aim is to have that next stage in the third Session.

On 7 January the Secretary of State announced a package of leasehold reforms covering enfranchisement valuation and 990-year leases. This is the first part of our response to the Law Commission’s reports on leasehold and commonhold. We will respond to the remaining recommendations in due course. We are absolutely committed to a comprehensive and ambitious programme of reform to create a fairer and more transparent leasehold market, but we need to make sure we get it right. That takes time, which is why we have started with this ground rent Bill, focused tightly on ground rents on new residential long leases.

I turn to the specific amendments before us today that deal with existing leaseholders. My noble friend Lord Blencathra has tabled Amendments 1 and 2. The whole House will have been left in no doubt as to his views of ground rents and the leasehold system following his barnstorming speech at Second Reading. His two amendments both aim to extend this Bill so as to reduce ground rent for existing leaseholders, and we can all understand his reasons for laying them.

I am grateful to colleagues from across the House for their close examination of the issues facing existing leaseholders. However, the decision to focus this legislation tightly on new leases was a very deliberate one. We are working to make the leasehold system fairer and more transparent for leaseholders, but we also need to ensure that we are fair to freeholders. Setting existing leases to a peppercorn raises complex issues and could have negative consequences that may extend beyond the leasehold sector. As just one example of these consequences, your Lordships will be aware that there are pension providers who hold existing investments dependent on ground rent income that were entered into some years ago. These are long-term financial commitments that service the needs of many of our elderly citizens.

I note again that we are in the throes of planning to bring forward further legislation on leasehold reform, and the changes to the valuation process will make a real difference for many existing leaseholders, especially those with fewer than 80 years remaining on their lease.

I come to the six amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham regarding the right to buy out ground rent in pre-commencement leases, Amendments 7, 8, 12, 17, 22 and 23. As noble Lords will know, there is already statutory provision for leaseholders of flats to reduce the ground rent they pay to a peppercorn on payment of a premium when they extend their lease, and leaseholders of houses can buy their freehold and so extinguish ground rent liability that way under existing legislation. The Government are aware that for some leaseholders this may be prohibitively expensive. This is why we have announced forthcoming changes to the valuation process that will cap how ground rent is treated, reducing the premium to be paid for leaseholders with onerous ground rents.

In addition, the Law Commission has recommended that leaseholders should be able to choose to pay to extinguish their ground rent without extending their lease, as my noble friend Lord Young mentioned. I can confirm that the reforms we will bring forward in future leasehold legislation will enable leaseholders, where they already have a long lease, to buy out the ground rent without the need to extend the term of the lease. We are considering the remainder of the Law Commission’s recommendations and will respond in due course.

I know that my noble friend Lord Blencathra has asked me to be a latter-day Caesar Augustus, but I point out that we have not addressed this in this legislation because reform of enfranchisement and historical ground rents is complex and interlinked. It is important to address these issues together in the forthcoming legislation. The cost of enfranchisement is directly related to ground rents and other components, such as the length of the lease. That is why we are looking to do that in a second tranche of reforms in the third Session of this Parliament. That is the plan.

These planned changes will directly address the issue underpinning the amendments from my noble friends Lord Blencathra and Lord Young. Future leasehold reforms will allow existing leaseholders to pay a more affordable premium and buy out their ground rent when they extend their lease or purchase their freehold. This will be less costly for leaseholders than under the current approach to enfranchisement valuation. I hope that noble Lords will agree that these changes mean that the amendments are not needed, as their effect is being achieved through work beyond the Bill.

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Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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I am very grateful to the Minister for his reply. I press him on what he said right at the end about the importance of getting the Bill through “as speedily as possible”. I accept that, but if it is important that Parliament processes this legislation speedily, is it not then incumbent on the Government to announce an early date for the implementation of the Bill?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, we want to move as speedily as possible but, as I stated in my reply, we do not want to set a deadline for things. We want to get this on the statute book very speedily in this Session; that is why it is so early in this Session. That is my answer.

Lord Blencathra Portrait Lord Blencathra (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. I feel rather guilty that I am responding when it really should be my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, who put forward an impeccable case today for the reforms he has suggested.

The one thing that has come through loud and clear to the Minister from all noble Lords is that the current system is totally unsustainable. My amendments are probably not appropriate; I believe the amendments of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham are. If they cannot be accepted into this Bill, it is desperately important that we get them in the full leasehold reform Bill which we expect next year. If my noble friend wishes to put down his amendments on Report, I will support him; he may not wish to push them to a vote, but perhaps the Government need to see on Report that we are serious about talking about the injustice of the current leasehold system.

My noble friend the Minister has said that this is a difficult area and that he is committed to giving leasehold reform “high priority”. If I may say so, the Law Commission is a worthy body, but its problem is that it is full of lawyers; they see leasehold reform as a matter of dotting some “i”s, crossing some “t”s and tweaking an 800 year-old system a bit here and there to make it work better. As politicians—and as politicians in the Commons would say—we find the whole system iniquitous. It is wrong. Perhaps it is those of us from a Scottish background who cannot believe that you buy a property and do not fully own it; it is an extraordinary, wrong system. When the Bill comes next year, we do not want leasehold reform tweaked; we want it stopped for all new contracts.

The wonderful innovation of commonhold failed because we gave developers and other money-grubbing people the choice of continuing with leasehold or commonhold. We thought they would implement common decency and common sense, but they operated a system which made the most money—well, we cannot criticise that; it is inevitable. When the new Bill comes, let there be no choice. Let it be clear that commonhold will be the only system acceptable for all new purchase contracts in future.

That still leaves the problem of current leaseholders. I am very certain that, with Amendment 5 from my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay, the amendments from my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham on a buy-out scheme must be the right direction to go in, because it affords justice to leaseholders who can get out of this wicked system and gives some compensation—too much in my opinion, but who am I to say?—to current freeholders who would demand the right not to be stripped of all their benefits.

On early implementation, I refer my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham to Amendment 26, where I suggest that the Bill should be implemented on Royal Assent. I appreciate that we may need to make exceptions for property for old folks’ homes—I am not sure what the current term is for an old folks’ home, but I believe that is to be exempted for a couple of years for us to figure out how to do it. The rest of this Bill should be implemented as soon as possible after Royal Assent.

With those words—and my apologies; my camera was off a lot of the time so that my machine did not run down, but I heard all the debate—I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part and, in conclusion, emphasise to my noble friend once again that the Government might get away with not sorting out leasehold and ground rents in this Bill, but they will not get away with it next year when the big Bill comes. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their time on this issue, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. I am happy to engage with noble Lords further on whether we can make the business exemption as clear as possible.

The Government consulted carefully on the detail that has informed the Bill. During that consultation a small number of areas were identified where there was a justification for the charging of a rent or ground rent for a property. The Bill exempts business leases from the peppercorn rent requirement, and we have always been clear that this Bill is aimed at residential properties. Clause 2(1)(b) addresses the very small number of leases that fall between these; that is, mixed-use leases, where a single lease comprises both business and residential purposes.

For the avoidance of doubt, this does not relate to mixed-use developments, which may comprise a range of property types, including both business and residential, but each on a separate lease. In such cases, provided that no other exceptions apply, the residential premises in such a development would be subject to a peppercorn rent, and a rent may be charged for commercial properties.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, the exemption applies only where flat and commercial premises are on the same lease. The Bill is clear that home businesses and other ancillary leases are not included in the definition of “business lease”.

The types of premises that Clause 2(1)(b) is intended to address are likely to be small in number. They could include, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Young, a flat above a shop where the occupant of the flat is a shop worker living above the business where they are required to have the shop open at certain times. The noble Lord mentioned a publican living above a pub.

We have taken care to ensure that this exception does not provide a loophole whereby a ground rent is charged on a premises that is to all intents and purposes a residential one. To prevent such a loophole, there must be a close link between the business purpose and the need for the associated residential use. That is brought about by the requirement in Clause 2(1)(b) that the use as a dwelling

“significantly contributes to the business purposes”.

There is a further protection for both leaseholders and landlords in Clause 2(1)(c). This requires that, at or before the point the lease is granted, both the landlord and leaseholder provide written notices that they intend the premises covered by the lease in question to be used for the business purposes set out in the lease. The purpose of Clause 2(1)(c) is to make sure that there is no doubt for either party that the lease is intended to be used, and continues to be used, for business purposes.

The business lease exception is carefully drafted to enable a rent to be charged where it is justified, and to include sufficient protection against abuse of this exception. I restate to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that the Bill defines “dwelling” as including gardens or appurtenances, which should include parking spaces, but I will be happy to clarify that specific point before Report. I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Young, to withdraw his amendment.

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I start by addressing the point about age. It is great to hear from my noble friend Lord Naseby and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern on why we are considering people aged a mere 55 for this. I do not have to declare an interest as I have not quite made that age threshold yet. However, it is fair to say that that sector broadly starts providing retirement housing for those aged 55 and above. Some people in that age group choose to move to those properties. In fact, one can access lump sums from one’s pension from the age of 55 but I know that people at a greater age look at that and ask, “How can you even contemplate retirement at such a young age?”

As noble Lords know, it is our intention to protect leaseholders from unfair practices through the Bill by ensuring that future regulated leases are restricted to a peppercorn rent, unless exempted. While we would like the provisions of the Bill to come into effect as soon as possible, we have decided to give the retirement sector additional time to prepare for these changes, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Best.

The noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Lennie, have tabled Amendment 25 to remove the provision that provides that the Bill will not come into force in regard to retirement homes prior to 1 April 2023. I thank them for their consideration of this matter.

I will explain to your Lordships the reasoning for including a transitional period for retirement properties and why it is the right thing to do. The detail of the peppercorn ground rent was announced in 2019, following the Government’s consultation Implementing Reforms to the Leasehold System. At the time of the announcement, retirement properties were to be exempt from the restrictions on ground rent in the Bill. Having reviewed this in further detail, the Government decided in January 2021 to widen the protections granted under the Bill and to remove the retirement exemption.

All other parts of the development industry have had time since the Government’s announcement in 2019 to adapt and review their business models and will have had sufficient time by the commencement of the Bill to adapt. However, given that the retirement sector has had less time to prepare, we have carefully considered the impact on developers and weighed this against our ambition to protect leaseholders. It is our firm belief that given these circumstances, the retirement sector should be given additional time to make adequate preparations to transition to peppercorn rents, as was carefully argued by the noble Lord, Lord Best.

The noble Lord’s Amendment 4 would have the effect of extending the transition period for retirement properties that are under development, potentially for an additional two years, or even longer where sites are slower to build out and sell. I am grateful to noble Lords for looking closely at this, and to stakeholders in the retirement housing sector who have provided information on this issue. We have carefully considered this matter to ensure that we are striking the right balance, thereby giving the retirement sector time to transition and ensuring that protection for leaseholders comes as quickly as possible.

I am sure that noble Lords will agree that the transitional arrangements that we have set out in the Bill will make it fair for all parties, both developers and leaseholders, and that it is the right thing to do. I therefore ask that the noble Lord withdraws his amendment.

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Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this amendment returns the debate to the question of existing leaseholders and appears to allow existing leaseholders to pay a fee to exempt them from ground rent. As I said in the earlier group, ground rent arrangements are overwhelmingly balanced to benefit landlords and the system needs urgent reform for all involved.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, for explaining that this was based on the Scots departing from the previous feudal system, but I am concerned that his amendment, if applied literally, could lead to landlords charging extortionate termination fees. None the less, I appreciate that he sees the need for reforming the system and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I spoke earlier about the Competition and Markets Authority investigation into potential mis-selling and unfair terms in the leasehold sector. This included the issue of onerous ground rent. Our commitment to existing leaseholders does not end with the CMA investigation. As I have mentioned several times, this Bill is just the first of two-part legislation to reform and improve the leasehold system. As noble Lords will know by now, further legislation later in this Parliament will address a range of issues facing existing leaseholders.

My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern’s Amendment 5 would give an option of redemption on existing leases, allowing leaseholders to pay a capital sum to reduce their ground rent to a peppercorn. The broad aim of such an amendment to allow existing leaseholders to buy out their ground rent has been discussed previously, so I will avoid repeating the detail at length.

As noble Lords will recall, existing legislation already allows for the leaseholders of flats to reduce their ground rent to a peppercorn when they extend their lease, while leaseholders of houses can eliminate ground rent completely by buying the freehold of their property.

In January the Government responded in part to the Law Commission’s reports on leasehold and commonhold reform. This included a commitment to allow leaseholders who already have a long lease to buy out the ground rent, without the need to extend the term of their lease. We will respond to the remaining Law Commission recommendations in due course.

I hope that noble Lords will agree that the work currently being undertaken beyond the Bill means that this amendment is not needed. Noble Lords can rest assured that this Government have a desire to reform the leasehold system at the earliest opportunity and the ground rent Bill represents the first stage in a two-step legislative programme.

I point out—as was raised just now by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender—that there are pension fund investments and we need to take that into account. That is why the Government believe it is right not to take a big bang approach to the abolition of existing ground rents but to make it easier to enfranchise and to offer that in the most leaseholder-friendly way. That is why we have made a number of commitments where people will be able to buy out ground rents without the need to extend their lease, as well as making enfranchisement as easy as possible, along the lines of the recommendations of the Law Commission. That is the balance that we want to strike to ensuring that existing leaseholders will have the mechanism and the ability to remove ground rents. I therefore ask that my noble and learned friend withdraws the amendment.

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Baroness Grender Portrait Baroness Grender (LD)
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I should just like to ask the Minister to perhaps write to all Members involved in this debate to give a bit more detail about what proportion of pension funds are impacted, given that my understanding is that the pension funds are fully aware of the intention to abolish ground rents and extend that to existing leaseholders. I should still like to understand the balance of impact between the 4.5 million leaseholders and the pension funds, if that is to be deployed as a significant argument in this issue. I am very happy for the Minister to write to us later about this.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I shall try a second time, because obviously I did not manage it the first time. We have not made a commitment to abolish by fiat existing ground rents. We have committed to make it as easy as possible for leaseholders to enfranchise or to buy themselves out of the ground rent obligation. That of course then becomes a phased approach to the 4.5 million people who are paying ground rents. Of course, we are looking to the Competition and Markets Authority to deal with the issue of onerous ground rents. That is the policy position; the noble Baroness is implying something that we have not committed to.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to all who have taken part in this short debate. It is quite important to have in mind the possibility of a variable way to buy off the ground rent, and that such a way of fixing that by a Minister in a regulation is flexible and could be of use in that regard. In the meantime, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this amendment would ensure that landlords with existing leases explain why they are charging ground rent and that agents publicise the details of any such ground rent. Both of these points are pertinent and I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, tabled the amendment.

The first issue of ensuring that landlords explain why they are charging ground rent is so important precisely because there is often no reason to charge ground rent. Residents get no material benefit from paying these sizeable fees, yet the landlords often increase the charges exponentially. If the Minister is reluctant to accept the amendment, could he estimate how many landlords currently offer explanations for the ground rent they charge?

On the second issue of ensuring that estate agents publicise the details of any ground rent, I understand that Rightmove has recently changed its policy to encourage agents to do exactly this. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government have any plan of their own to follow this and encourage it further?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, to respond directly to the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, I appreciated the point about the importance of seeing where the CMA’s investigation ends up and the potential need to look at consumer protection should that not succeed. I do not want to pre-empt the investigation at this stage, but it is an important point, because one of the fundamental purposes of the Bill is to increase transparency and clarity for home owners. I listened carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and I thank them for putting forward these amendments, which look at the issue of transparency and seek to add to that agenda.

I shall start by addressing Amendment 6, which would put a requirement on landlords to write to their leaseholders setting out why they are charging rent and what it is being used for. As noble Lords know, and I have mentioned previously today, it is our intention that no rent can be charged beyond that of a peppercorn for regulated leases once the Bill comes into effect, admittedly for new leases, unless special rules applicable to shared ownership leases or leases replacing pre-commencement leases apply.

In the Bill, “rent” has been defined in a way that will preclude landlords sneaking prohibited rents into leases under another name. This will ensure that there is clear transparency in the lease as to what is charged as “rent”—which is to say, generally, a peppercorn—and what is charged in return for a “service”. It is also important for your Lordships to note that, where a leaseholder may be dissatisfied with service charges, there are statutory processes they can use to seek redress. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that while this amendment is a welcome attempt to increase transparency, the Bill as drafted delivers the important changes that we want to see in the system.

I turn to Amendment 13, which would require a landlord to inform leaseholders of their rights under housing law in England and Wales and in relation to the Bill before entering formal and/or informal renegotiations or extensions to an existing lease. I note the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that without such an amendment there may be a rush for landlords to incentivise leaseholders to extend their leases before the changes in this Bill come into force. The effect of this, in their view, would be to ensure that ground rent on these leases could continue to be collected, thus trapping more people in a situation of ground rent payments in the system we are trying to stop.

Unfortunately, as drafted, the amendment would not come into effect until after the Bill commences, and it would not have the desired impact that the noble Lords seek. However, I assure noble Lords that we are working closely with a wide range of stakeholders who are committed, as the Government are, to ensuring that leaseholders are aware of their rights and what routes of redress they can take. I also invite the noble Lords to join me in these efforts to ensure that these important messages reach as far as possible. Communication of these important points is key. I therefore ask the noble Lords not to press the amendments.

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Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the Motion moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, on Clause 6 exposes the extortionate legal racketeering that goes on in this sector. We are right to seek clarification. We cannot allow a situation to develop whereby landlords are pressuring tenants to agree informal extensions as a means to continue their ground rent arrangements. The fact remains that leaseholders need greater legislative protection. While the Bill will, I hope, set the foundations for that, there is much more that needs to be done. I hope that the Minister explains the intention behind Clause 6 and considers whether further provisions are necessary to prevent any exploitation.

Amendment 13 would require landlords to inform tenants of any ground rent extensions. This raises the question of whether lease extensions will be agreed before the changes in the Bill are implemented. Can the Minister estimate the legislative timetable for this Bill and when it might receive Royal Assent? Can he also confirm whether the ministry has received any reports of lease extensions being rushed through before these changes have been brought into force?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I have just spoken of this Government’s efforts, including working with our key stakeholders, to strengthen leaseholders’ awareness of their rights and what entering into a lease might mean for them. The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, have tabled a Motion to oppose Clause 6 standing part of the Bill. I acknowledge the concerns that have been raised, but I point out that we have made a conscious decision that the Bill should not create barriers to non-statutory leasehold agreements. Part of the reason is that more flexible processes outside the statutory route can, in some cases, be more cost-effective and quicker for both the leaseholder and freeholder, so we want to allow this option and choice to remain.

I reassure your Lordships that we do not want leaseholders to be taken advantage of in this situation, so we are working to ensure that better information, advice and support are offered to them, and we will consider where we can strengthen this where appropriate. By making the system more transparent and exposing inappropriate practices, as described by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, and others, we can protect leaseholders.

It is important that your Lordships note that the Government are considering the Law Commission’s recommendations on enfranchisement. They include recommendations on voluntary informal lease extensions. When the time comes, I will be more than happy to engage with noble Lords on this, as we have done on this Bill.

Our overall approach to increasing awareness and making things fairer and more affordable will help protect more leaseholders, whichever route they choose. I therefore ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the Motion.

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [HL]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee stage
Monday 14th June 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Grand Committee
Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-III Provisional third marshalled list for Grand Committee - (11 Jun 2021)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, Amendments 14 and 15 refer to the penalties contained in the Bill, whereas Amendment 16, as we have heard, refers to the banning orders regime. I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, has introduced these, so that the Committee can consider whether these current penalties are appropriate and whether the banning orders should be extended.

First, on the issue of financial penalties, as we have heard, the amendments would increase the minimum financial penalty from £500 to £5,000, and increase the maximum penalty from £5,000 to £30,000. Given the sums of money which are involved in leasehold arrangements and the costs associated with ground rent, the current penalties seem lower than would be expected. If the Minister is not able to accept the noble Baroness’s amendment, I hope he will explain and justify how the Government arrived at those figures.

On the banning order regime, the noble Baroness brings forward the question of whether the provisions of the Housing and Planning Act should be strengthened. The amendment proposes the banning of landlords from collecting ground rents if they receive multiple penalties. On the same issue, I would be grateful if the Minister could explain whether consideration has been given to banning landlords from renting properties at all when they receive financial multiple penalties. Tenants must be protected from rogue landlords who break legislation over and over again. I hope that the Government will detail what steps they are taking to hold these repeat offenders to account.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I also join the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, in recognising that today marks the fourth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which was the largest loss of life seen in a residential fire since the Second World War. My thoughts are with the survivors and the bereaved.

I thank noble Lords present and those participating virtually for all their time and effort in scrutinising the Bill so far. We have had very good discussions in this Committee and through our engagement meetings. I am grateful for the commitment from all noble Lords to improve the Bill and to reform leasehold more generally.

I have listened to the concerns raised by noble Lords that the penalties set out in the Bill are not high enough and that there should be more significant consequences for those who breach the provisions of the Bill multiple times. It is vital that the Bill contains enforcement measures that offer a strong deterrent to any freeholders and their managing agents who try to get around its provisions, and in so doing protects leaseholders. Amendments 14 and 15 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, would raise the penalties that can be imposed per breach from a minimum of £500 and a maximum of £5,000 to a minimum of £5,000 and a maximum of £30,000 pounds —and my noble friend Lord Naseby would seek to quintuple it to a maximum of £25,000 pounds.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, penalties in the Bill have been set with reference to the typical ground rent collected currently by landlords. I believe that the penalties have been set at an appropriate level to act as an effective deterrent without resulting in a disproportionate enforcement regime. I point out that £500 is a minimum only and that freeholders could easily be liable for multiple fines for the same building; a flat containing 40 leases could leave a freeholder exposed to a maximum fine of £200,000, which is a significant penalty. I ask noble Lords to also note that, through the Bill, we are introducing a minimum penalty amount. I believe this is the first time that this has happened in leasehold law—we have not seen this in other leasehold legislation. This will act as a strong deterrent to any landlord who considers breaching the provisions of the Bill. In addition, the penalty applies per lease, so freeholders of multiple properties could receive higher penalties if they breach the legislation multiple times.

In addition to any financial penalties, enforcement authorities and the tribunal can order the freeholder or their agent to refund any prohibited rent within 28 days, including interest. As I said, the enforcement regime in the Bill is the first time that a penalty regime has been applied to ground rent. This landmark change will ensure a strong deterrent in the protection of leaseholders.

Amendment 16 from the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, seeks to allow a housing authority in England to apply a banning order under the Housing and Planning Act 2016 against landlords who receive three or more maximum penalties from an enforcement authority under the Bill. Banning orders under the Housing and Planning Act 2016 are intended for the most serious rogue private sector landlords and are not intended for leasehold housing. I note again that the penalties in the Bill apply per lease, so enforcement authorities can impose multiple penalties on freeholders who commit multiple breaches. Enforcement authorities and the tribunal can also order a refund of any prohibited rent.

The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, asked what incentives there are for local authorities to carry out enforcement penalties set at this level. They retain proceeds and, as I have pointed out, multiple breaches incur multiple penalties. There is also a point of principle here: that local authorities should not consider the potential financial windfall when deciding to take enforcement action; they should seek to set fines relating to the breach, and therefore they should be proportionate.

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Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate. Everybody has spoken with a sense of understanding and concern, remembering that today is four years since the Grenfell tragedy. It should be a matter of particular regret in the kind of debate that we are having that, four years on, so few of the deep issues that have been revealed subsequent to that fire have yet been fully dealt with or accounted for. It is a matter of regret to me that the building safety Bill is still somewhat on the distant horizon, and that we have not yet solved at all the question of who will pay for the costs of this tragedy, since it affects households right across the country.

Noble Lords would expect me to focus particularly on Amendment 20 in the rest of my remarks. Before I do, I will comment briefly on Amendment 19 from the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Lennie, which calls for a review. I will skip the number of days and focus on the four issues that they have said need urgent reform and which every speaker in this debate and anybody who has considered the issue would agree on: lease forfeiture, transfer fees, redress schemes and enfranchisement. The Bill does not deal with those four issues. It is time that the Government face up to that and present to Parliament—preferably in the form of legislation, but if not a published report—precisely what their view is on those issues.

The move of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, to clarify where Crown exemptions come into play for leaseholders raises an issue that he has brought to your Lordships on a number of occasions. I would be very interested indeed to hear whether the Minister is brave enough to accept his challenge to write to the Duchy of Cornwall and get it to answer the noble Lord’s letter. Your Lordships certainly deserve to hear from the Duchy precisely how it intends to proceed. If the legislation needs change and reform to take account of that, we need to hear the Minister say that he is ready to do that and to make sure that Crown exemptions are used with appropriate discretion and not in any way at all to put residential leaseholders of Crown land in a more disadvantageous place than those holding leases where the freeholder is a private body.

On Amendment 20, my noble friend Lady Pinnock set out, as she has done many times before to your Lordships, the grievous burdens placed on leaseholders across the country as a consequence of the remediation made necessary following property inspections post Grenfell. Before I go on, I remind noble Lords that I served as a Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government, as it then was, with responsibilities for building regulations between 2010 and 2012.

The Grenfell inquiry has been hearing evidence of failures at many levels: building owners, building managers, designers, materials suppliers, on-site contractors, inspection teams and enforcement bodies. No one has escaped damning evidence of their failures. What there has not been is any evidence at all of failure by residents or leaseholders. On the contrary, it was the residents of Grenfell Tower who repeatedly warned of the dangers that other people chose to ignore. That led to the terrible tragedy, the deaths and the unmeasurable impact on so many lives of families in and around Grenfell Tower who survived that night.

It also led to the discovery that this was not an isolated case of many unfortunate things coming together in a sequence of horrible coincidences to make a one-off dangerous, combustible building. We now know that more than 400 other residential blocks have been found to have similar dangerous cladding, and the enforced inspection of those blocks has brought to light many other fire safety defects, costing billions of pounds in total. Many of those blocks are occupied by blameless leaseholders who find that they now live in a dangerous and unsaleable home and are being presented with enormous bills for remediation under the terms of their leases.

The Minister will say that this is not the place to insert a proper compensation scheme—nor does Amendment 20 do that—but he needs literally to take stock. That is what Amendment 20 tabled by my noble friend Lady Pinnock does. It asks for a taking stock of the impact of this Bill on leaseholders who live in those defective properties.

Time after time your Lordships have pressed the Government to come forward with a proper scheme of compensation for leaseholders all over the country who have been unwittingly caught up in the Grenfell scandal. Every time your Lordships have pressed Ministers—this Minister in particular—we are told, “Not here and not now”. Meanwhile, as my noble friend Lady Pinnock spelt out, leaseholders are being sent five-figure bills with 28 days to settle or face the forfeiture of their lease. They cannot raise finance on their now-worthless properties, and the Government still have not issued the vital information on how they can even access the loan scheme the Government announced months ago.

Will the Minister tell your Lordships today when those missing loan scheme criteria will be published and what the distribution system of those loans will be? Please can he assure us that it will not be administered via an outsourcing company such as that in Virginia, USA, which earlier this year was the nemesis of the green homes grant fiasco? Let this piece of work be started soon, carried out efficiently and delivered to the benefit of leaseholders as quickly as possible.

Secondly, will he urgently bring forward a proper compensation scheme and lift the threat of forfeiture and bankruptcy from innocent leaseholders trapped in these blocks? Will he, as an earnest of good intent, accept my noble friend Lady Pinnock’s amendment today so as, at the very least, to commit to take stock of the impact that a ground rent ban could have on those affected leaseholders and tenants?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I turn to Amendments 19 and 20 from the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Lennie, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Grender.

Under Amendment 19 the Government would be required to carry out a financial assessment of the Bill within 30 days of Clause 3 coming into force. The Government would also be required to consider whether further legislation would be necessary to address any financial consequences related to the Bill

“for tenants in long leases of dwellings, including but not limited to in relation to … lease forfeiture … transfer fees … redress schemes”

and

“enfranchisement.”

The effect of Amendment 20 would be to require the Secretary of State to complete a financial assessment of the impact of the Bill on leaseholders, specifically with regards to building remediation costs.

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Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, we also strongly support Amendment 21. It rightly asks whether the Government can improve the definition of “rent”. Unfortunately—we heard much of this from the noble Baroness, Lady Grender—there is a litany of housing legislation that is in desperate need of modernisation. I hope the Minister will use today’s debate to explain what further legislation is planned to bring the provisions up to date.

On the specific issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, can the Minister confirm what engagement the Government have had with NGOs and representatives of tenants on the issue thus far? Can he confirm whether the Government have any plans, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, to update the definitions available in the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 and the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this amendment from my noble friend Lord Young seeks to capture within the definition of rent other charges, such as fixed service charges, if they are reserved as rent in leases. It also seeks to exclude from the definition of rent variable charges or insurance if they are reserved or form part of the rent. The comments on a proposal regarding the definition of rent received from my noble friend Lord Young and other noble Lords continue to be carefully considered. I am very grateful to all those who have given it such close examination and look forward to hearing the further deliberations from the Law Society.

This is an important point to discuss today, as the treatment of what is meant by a ground rent and a rent lies at the heart of what the Government wish to convey through the Bill. It sets the tone for leasehold reform legislation to follow. On the specific meaning of rent, I am not unsympathetic to my noble friend Lord Young’s intention in his amendment. Since the very outset, this Government have been alert to defining what is meant by a ground rent in such a way as to discourage avoidance activity by sectors of the property market which make a habit of such activity. I believe we are all agreed that preventing such activity is of the utmost importance.

To give noble Lords some more of the context behind our reasoning for this definition, we started from a similar position to many of the Committee when approaching this issue by seeking to define closely what is meant by a ground rent. It is a logical approach; tightly drawn definitions are often meat and drink to a strong legislating body such as this House. However, I ask your Lordships to reflect on the seeming ease with which some parts of the leasehold sector have found ways around generation after generation of leasehold legislation, drafted with the greatest care and scrutinised in both this House and the other place, as my noble friend Lord Young knows well.

After very extensive consideration, we have concluded that we would need to take a different approach to the definition of rent for the leasehold sector. We therefore purposely defined rent widely to prevent landlords avoiding the restrictions in the Bill by including spurious periodic changes under any other name. As stated at Second Reading, the Bill intentionally uses a wide definition so that it includes anything in the nature of rent, whatever it is called. For example, we are mindful of not wanting to allow for a new garden rent or parking space rent replacing ground rent after the Bill is passed. That is why the meaning of rent in the Bill is drafted in such broad terms.

Any change faced by leaseholders that looks and sounds like a rent, whatever it is called, will therefore be open to challenge through trading standards and the First-tier Tribunal. Freeholders, landlords and even managing agents acting on behalf of a landlord will be able to refund this rental charge, whatever it is called, and may face a penalty fine. This imposes a potential liability on managing agents and ensures that they will scrutinise future contracts with great care.

We agree that it is not necessary for a lease to reserve charges, such as service charges and insurance, as rent. Under the Bill’s definition of rent, landlords will need to consider whether to itemise other charges separately in the lease. I point out that fixed service charges are a valid way for freeholders to charge for services where leaseholders and freeholders enter into a lease agreement. We are aware of criticism of the misuse of fixed service charges on occasion; these charges are generally in payment for a tangible service and differ from ground rent. Under the Bill, landlords will need to consider whether to itemise these in the lease agreement, and to be clear what the charge is and what a leaseholder receives in return.

I thank my noble friend Lord Young for raising the points made previously by my noble friend Lord Hammond of Runnymede. He raised two specific points, one on the definition of a ground rent for long leases over 21 years where a rack market rent is charged. I welcomed my noble friend Lord Hammond’s thoughts on this and am happy to undertake today that my officials and I will continue to engage with him and others as we look further into this matter. My noble friend Lord Hammond also raised a point on intermediate leases where there is a head lease or multiple properties. I point out that there are a number of potential options to address the complexities in this scenario. Once again, I am grateful to him for raising this issue and will continue to explore the matter further before Report.

Above all, I welcome the efforts of my noble friend Lord Young to achieve our shared objective of a clear definition of rent. However, I fear that my noble friend’s amendment would add complexity and provide opportunities for landlords to find workarounds to a Bill otherwise closed off by the simple definition it currently contains. I am interested to see what the Law Society comes up with and to see the revised drafting.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, we have engaged with a number of NGOs and stakeholders in preparation for the Bill and I am happy to provide details of that in writing. While I appreciate the intention behind my noble friend’s amendment and I am happy to continue discussions with him, I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have taken part, as this is a modest Back-Bench amendment which has generated three Front-Bench responses. The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, reminded us that there is a lot of money riding on the definition of ground rent; there are huge financial instruments at stake. We do not want a shaky foundation for that market.

I listened to the Minister’s reply. I will say only that he has so far failed to convince the Law Society or the lawyers I referred to, who do not believe that the broad definition adopted by his department is the right way to proceed. I am not sure that I was reassured by the Minister saying that, if there was any doubt, tenants could go to tribunals. The whole point of the amendment is to try to avoid doubt and grey areas and reduce the need for litigation.

At the beginning of his response, my noble friend said that his department continues to carefully consider the issue of the definition and that he was not unsympathetic to what I was trying to do. I am grateful for those responses. On the basis that discussions will continue between the noble Lord, Lord Hammond, and the department, the Law Society and the department, and indeed, those solicitors who have expressed serious doubts about the current definition, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

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The certainty of a date is, therefore, critical. That is why I was more than happy to put my name to the amendment, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for it to come into effect as quickly as possible. It is funny that the noble Lord, Lord Young, and I took down exactly the same quote: we must make progress “as speedily as possible”. To do that, a clearly defined date is necessary, and not just for the leaseholders. The people in the marketplace neither trust nor believe that this is imminent and will happen. For that reason, I strongly support both amendments, particularly the one in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, these amendments seek to set a fixed date or timescale for the commencement of the provisions of the Bill. I sympathise with that and thank noble Lords for raising this issue. The Government also wish to bring an end to the unjustified charging of ground rents as soon as it is feasible. Clause 25 provides that the Bill’s substantive provisions will come into force on a day appointed by the Secretary of State by regulations. Noble Lords can rest assured that we do not intend to have an unnecessary delay in implementation.

Although I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Blencathra for his enthusiasm to see the Government’s legislation come into force, commencing all the Bill’s clauses immediately on Royal Assent is simply not workable. This would leave no time for the laying of regulations and other important matters relating to the implementation process. While most of the delegated powers in the Bill are intended for later use should the need arise—such as to close a loophole—some will be beneficial when the rest of the clauses are commenced and will need to be prepared prior to this. For example, regulations under Clause 2, specifying the form and content of notices to be exchanged by landlords and leaseholders in respect of a business lease, will aid transparency and understanding of the obligations of both parties under this legislation—an outcome which I am sure noble Lords would welcome. I am sure that noble Lords will want the Government to get such regulations right. I am also sure that the noble Lord will appreciate that, with the unpredictability of the parliamentary timetable, I cannot give a guarantee that the Act can come into force on the day it is passed.

Amendment 24, in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Lennie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, recognises that time is needed before the Act can come into force. Again, I appreciate the sentiment of wanting to see the Act brought into force as quickly as it can be. However, it is not appropriate at this point to set a hard deadline for commencement, as proposed in the amendment. The Government are mindful of the necessity of ensuring careful implementation of this new legislation and to allow for a planned transition to a leasehold sector without financial ground rents. As noble Lords would expect, we will work closely with the sector, enforcement bodies and others to ensure that the Bill is implemented as smoothly and speedily as possible. I again assure noble Lords that the Government are fully committed to bringing the Bill’s provisions into force without delay.

My eagle-eyed noble friend Lord Young has spotted that the Bill applies to England and Wales and that, as currently drafted, there could be different commencement dates. Conversations with the Welsh Government continue to ensure that we meet the needs of leaseholders in England and Wales and address any commencement concerns.

I state again that I have listened carefully to noble Lords’ concerns and will look at whether we can be more specific about commencement dates as we move to Report. I look forward to further discussions with noble Lords on this issue. Once again, the intention is to get the second stage of leasehold reform through in this Parliament, ideally in the third Session. However, I cannot make any hard and fast commitment to that, so I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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I thought I had a request from the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, to speak after the Minister. Does she now not want to do so?

Baroness Grender Portrait Baroness Grender (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will take the opportunity, since I have created so much confusion. I thank the Minister for saying that he will go back and see whether it is at least possible to specify some kind of commencement date. I would very much like to say to him that I think all sides of this House will happily work with him and his department and take recommendations if it is at all possible to specify a date in order to counter the market scepticism that I described to him. If it is at all possible to put a date by the end of this process, we would be very grateful for that move.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course, as a Minister I would like to have stronger lines at this stage but it is important to recognise that we need to lay the regulations and ensure that the enforcement of this works, and there are communications challenges. However, taking that all into account, I am sure that we can reach a situation where we provide much greater clarity and we can be more specific around commencement dates. We can work towards that as the Bill moves through this House and on to the next stage.

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [HL]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Report stage
Tuesday 20th July 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-R-I Marshalled list for Report - (15 Jul 2021)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That the Report be now received.

Clause 1: Regulated leases

Amendment 1

Moved by
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, after second “a” insert “single”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment excludes leases of multiple dwellings from the definition of “regulated lease”.
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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank all noble Lords who have participated so far in the debates on the Bill and who have met me to discuss the policy and principles behind it. These discussions have led directly to the first set of amendments under consideration today. The government amendments in this group provide greater clarity in two key areas—rack rents and intermediate long leases—addressing issues that emerged both at Second Reading and in Committee.

First, government Amendment 1 inserts the word “single” into Clause 1 to put beyond any doubt or ambiguity the fact that the Bill is intended to apply only to a lease of an individual dwelling. My noble friend Lord Hammond has noted, both in this Chamber and in various meetings, that, as drafted, the Bill could perhaps be interpreted as also applying to cases where a lease is made up of multiple dwellings, held collectively.

Where a lease is for multiple dwellings, such as a where a business has a lease for all or part of a building, the intention of the policy is that there should be no restriction on such leaseholders arranging their finances with the superior landlord in a manner that suits the commercial needs of both parties. This amendment clarifies that the Bill is intended not to capture such leases but to protect individual leaseholders.

Noble Lords will have heard me say many times that this is narrowly focused legislation. Ending this legitimate practice is not, and never has been, the intention of this Government. By amending this clause so that it refers to a long lease of a “single” dwelling, we ensure that this legislation does not inadvertently put an end to this business model. The addition of this word provides welcome clarity on this matter, and I hope that the amendment will attract support from across the House.

Government Amendments 2 and 38 concern the exemption from the provisions of the Bill in cases where a leaseholder has taken up a long residential lease without the customary payment of a premium and instead pays a full rent for the term of the lease. As I am sure your Lordships are aware by now, the purpose of the Bill is to protect the large majority of leaseholders who pay a substantial premium on the granting of a lease, often with a mortgage, from further rental charges. Our guiding ambition here has been to put an end to the otherwise continuing unfairness of such leasehold arrangements.

It has been brought to my attention by noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lord Hammond, that a small number of long residential leases are let where no premium is paid for the granting of the lease and where, instead, a market rent is paid by the leaseholder. I thank once again my noble friend Lord Hammond for drawing our attention to this issue with the drafting of the Bill. It is perhaps no surprise that a former Chancellor should have such attention to detail, and we are grateful to him.

Although such arrangements would still be possible for a lease of 21 years or less, we understand that there are occasions when such arrangements may take place with leases over 21 years—a commonly understood definition of a long lease. I reiterate that it is not the intention for the Bill to apply to long rental leases such as these, so, for the purposes of clarity, the Government have tabled these amendments. They provide that regulated leases will be only those leases granted in exchange for a premium; as a consequence, we have also defined a “premium” in government Amendment 38 as

“any consideration in money or money’s worth for the grant of a lease, other than rent”.

I trust that this allays the concerns of the House on the matter of market rents for long leases.

Amendment 3, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, would remove new leases where there is a “deemed surrender and regrant” from the provisions of the Bill. I am grateful for his explanation that his amendment is to address concern that landlords may be reluctant to change a lease, even where requested to by a leaseholder, if this would result in a deemed surrender and regrant because this would mean that the peppercorn limit would apply.

The noble and learned Lord has explained that the two common circumstances where a leaseholder may request that a lease is varied are a change to the demise —for example, to include additional land or property—or to change the term. I will address the concerns about the change to the demise first. We agree that such variations would usually take place in a way that results in a deemed surrender and regrant and that the Bill would discourage that because the resulting new lease would need to be for a peppercorn ground rent.

However, the same outcome can also be achieved with the agreement of the leaseholder by the grant of an additional separate lease, meaning that the ground rent can remain on the unaltered existing lease. This might also be done by altering the lease and extending the lease for a single day. This would then be caught by Clause 6, thereby allowing the ground rent for the existing term to be retained. As we have discussed previously, any extension would be at a peppercorn rate. We believe that this is an achievable workaround that means that variations for the leaseholder’s benefit can be introduced without detriment to the landlord’s existing rights.

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Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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My Lords, the amendments in this first group, like most that have been tabled on Report, are technical amendments that do not alter the central provisions of the Bill but none the less aim to improve its application. Amendments 1, 2 and 38, each tabled by the Minister, deal with the definition of “regulated leases”. Specifically, they exclude leases of multiple dwellings, with Amendment 2 adding that a regulated lease is considered such only

“if it is granted for a premium”.

Can the Minister confirm whether there have been any impact assessments or informal consultations on the application of these changes?

Amendment 5, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, probes the relationship between the Bill and “large and complex buildings”. He gave a large and complex explanation of his amendment. In there somewhere, I think he said that the commonhold might present a solution to the complex problem raised, but it is probably a little more difficult than that. These Benches fully support the removal of ground rent for all leaseholders, but I hope the Minister can confirm what support and engagement are ongoing with this impacted group.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, has probed the provision on “deemed surrender and regrant”. I look forward to further clarification from the Minister on this as well—to tidy up the somewhat contradictory nature of the legislation in Clause 1(4) and Clause 6, as the noble and learned Lord explained.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank noble Lords for their ongoing engagement and for the substantive points raised. I want to pick up on the issue raised by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, of orphan freehold syndrome, in particular with regard to complex leases. I point out that leaseholders can collectively exercise the right to manage; they can appoint a managing agent to discharge the stewardship function that the noble Earl outlined.

The noble Lord, Lord Lennie, asked whether we carried out an impact assessment for the two technical changes, which really preserve what is happening today and were not meant to be captured by the provisions of this narrow Bill. We have not carried out any impact assessments. We are looking to continue a practice that we see as being sensible, on occasion. It was never meant to be captured as part of this Bill, so it is not something that requires a full impact assessment as such.

Once again, I commend Amendments 1, 2 and 38 in my name. These changes address important points raised by noble Lords in previous debates on the Bill. I thank noble Lords for recognising that they do so. I think they will agree that they improve the legislation—indeed, as a direct result of the scrutiny in this House—and that it will not have effects beyond those intended. I have listened carefully to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, on his two amendments; I remain of the view that Amendment 5 is inconsistent with the intent of the Bill and that the case for Amendment 39 needs further consideration.

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Baroness Greengross Portrait Baroness Greengross (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the definition of rent in the Bill is not intended to include other fees and charges, such as event fees and indexed service and management charges, which the Law Commission has concluded play a key role in supporting consumer choice in the UK retirement community sector? Do the Government still intend to implement the Law Commission’s recommendations in this area?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I can confirm that the definition of rent does not include the items that the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, mentioned. I cannot state, at this stage, exactly how we will take forward the legislation for the next stage beyond the measures that we have already announced, which are to make enfranchisement easier, to adopt full-throated commonhold—we have already created a commonhold council—and to look at issues around the right to manage, but I am sure that we will be able to give the noble Baroness a response in due course, and that will play a part in the next stage of reform.

Amendment 1 agreed.
Moved by
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, at end insert—
“(aa) it is granted for a premium,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that a lease will only be a regulated lease if it is granted for a premium. “Premium” is defined in Lord Greenhalgh’s first amendment to Clause 22, page 13, line 28.
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Moved by
4: Clause 2, page 2, leave out line 21 and insert “relevant authority”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, with Lord Greenhalgh’s second amendment to Clause 22, page 13, line 28, allows the Welsh Ministers to make regulations under Clause 2(6)(b) in relation to premises in Wales.
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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, all the amendments in this group relate specifically to Wales. This legislation applies to Wales as well as England, and it is our intention that it works in the best way possible for leaseholders in both England and Wales. We have been working with colleagues in the Welsh Government to understand how the Bill might impact leaseholders in Wales. I take this opportunity to thank Ministers and officials within the Welsh Government for their constructive engagement on the legislation.

Amendments 14 to 24, 45 and 46 make a common-sense change to the legislation that I hope all noble Lords will agree is appropriate. They would see breaches in Wales taken to the relevant residential property tribunal—the leasehold valuation tribunal—instead of the First-tier Tribunal. These are pragmatic amendments, and I hope that they will have support of noble Lords from across the House.

The other amendments in this group confer powers on Welsh Ministers that would, as the legislation is currently drafted, be exercised by the Secretary of State. We have carefully considered which of these powers it would be appropriate to confer and which should be restricted. For instance, we share the concerns that my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham raised at Second Reading about the potential for different commencement dates in England and Wales. This would cause unnecessary confusion for both leaseholders and developers working in both jurisdictions. However, there are areas where we believe that powers should be given to Welsh Ministers to allow them to align these reforms with the housing policy that they are pursuing for Wales.

First, Amendment 4, read with Amendment 40, would give Welsh Ministers the power to update definitions of excepted leases in relation to community housing. This would give the Welsh Government more flexibility and allow them to ensure that this legislation is fit for the purpose of Welsh community housing schemes, including work related to co-operative housing. These amendments recognise the importance of the devolution settlement and are intended to facilitate the Welsh Government in exercising their powers in relation to housing policy.

Secondly, Amendments 11 and 12, read with Amendment 40, would allow Welsh Ministers to increase the size of the penalty in line with changes in the value of money. This would allow them to ensure consistency of approach with other penalties in their competence. For example, they could increase the penalties for breaching the provisions of this Bill in line with increases to other housing-related penalties set by the Welsh Government, even if the UK Government decided not to increase the penalty in England. Conversely, the Welsh Government could decide not to increase penalties even where they were raised in England. However, it is important to note again that any increase, whether in England or in Wales, would only be in line with inflation. It is therefore unlikely that we would see a large gap open up between the levels of penalties in the two jurisdictions.

Amendment 13 would enable the Welsh Government to produce their own guidance for enforcement authorities to achieve the best fit with the Welsh context. This recognises that the Welsh Government’s understanding of the different local authority structures in Wales would ensure the effective implementation of this legislation there. The Welsh Government would also ensure that the guidance is translated into Welsh. We will, of course, work closely with the Welsh Government to ensure consistency across all guidance on enforcement.

I mention at this point that we no longer intend to move Amendments 31 to 34, 36 and 37, related to conferring the powers for Welsh Ministers to make consequential amendments in relation to the Bill. As noble Lords will know, consequential amendments are essential in ensuring consistency across legislation. While we have made every effort to identify where existing legislation needs to be updated in drafting the Bill, we need to ensure that further changes can be made when needed.

Not moving these amendments today does not mean that we are no longer seeking to provide Welsh Ministers with the appropriate powers. However, following discussions late last week with the Welsh Government, we both agree that further engagement is required to ensure that we achieve the right result in setting out how Welsh Ministers and the Secretary of State should exercise their respective powers under Clause 20. To that end, we intend to continue our constructive discussions over the summer and reach an agreeable position to bring forward any appropriate amendments at a later stage. The Welsh Government want to ensure alignment of this legislation, including within the context of their ongoing codification of Welsh law. Our continued joint working should ensure that this can be achieved.

Amendment 35, the final amendment in this group, provides that the default procedure for regulations made under the Bill by Welsh Ministers is the negative procedure.

Taken together, the amendments in this group will ensure that the Bill works in the Welsh context. They recognise the interconnected nature of property law and housing policy and give reasonable powers to Welsh Ministers to adapt this legislation to ensure the best fit for Wales. The amendments that we have not moved will continue to be discussed and do not have a significant impact on the operation of the Bill as currently drafted. I beg to move.

Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome these technical amendments to recognise the role of the Welsh Government in these matters. While I will not go through each in turn, I would appreciate clarification on a few broad points.

First, the Government stated that provisions are not within the legislative competence of the Senedd Cymru. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government received any advice to the contrary, and whether this was anything to do with the decision to withdraw the amendments that were originally scheduled? Secondly, why were the amendments not included in the initial draft of the Bill? Thirdly and finally, can the Minister detail how the Government have engaged with both the Welsh Government and the wider Senedd during the passage of the Bill?

I am sure the Minister will agree that the principle of devolution has become a cornerstone of our modern democracy; that is exactly why I welcome these amendments. I look forward to clarification on the questions that I have put to the Minister.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I will have to write to the noble Lord on exactly what occurred. I know that this issue raised its head only very late last week. I am happy to outline that and put a copy in the Library in response to those questions.

We want to ensure that this legislation works for both England and Wales. This group of amendments achieves this by giving certain powers to Welsh Ministers that would otherwise be exercised by the Secretary of State. We have worked closely with the Welsh Government on this issue and I hope that these amendments will have your Lordships’ support.

Amendment 4 agreed.
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Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak primarily to Amendment 26 in my name, which would ensure that the Government bring forward legislation to end ground rent for existing leaseholders. I also add my thanks to the Minister for making himself and his officials available and for seeking to explore whether there is any chance of a solution to this. There was not, although he described this problem as “a top priority for the Government”. That is something that the noble Lord, Lord Young, heard when, in the other House, he was trying to deal with the question of hereditary Peers in this place. He was persuaded not to move an amendment by the then Government and was promised that legislation would be forthcoming. That was 20 years ago.

Millions of people are trapped in these contracts and the Government must end the feudal system for them as well as for new leaseholders. That is the whole purpose of this amendment—to make life equal for all leaseholders. Almost 5 million properties in England are leasehold dwellings—around one in five of all homes —and the House will be aware that many of them, if not all, are seeing their ground rent increase at incredible rates. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, memorably described this in Committee as a legal racket. That is what it is: it leaves a loophole available which sees rents increasing without any explanation, for no service whatever to leaseholders. It is creating immense misery and financial difficulties and there is no reason for the Government to maintain the system when they have already acknowledged how outdated ground rent is.

That is why the amendment would ensure that the Government bring forward early legislation within 30 days to end the practice once and for all. The amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, identifies the same issue and tries to deal with it, but I am afraid I do not believe it goes far enough. Ground rent must be ended for leaseholders, including those in existing arrangements, and for that reason I will be testing the opinion of the House on Amendment 26 at the appropriate time.

I confirm the support of these Benches for Amendment 9 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and I also welcome other amendments he has tabled to probe aspects of these provisions. Amendment 9 raises the crucial point that leaseholders must always be informed of arrangements, and I hope the Minister will accept that point. With that, however, I will leave it to the Minister to respond.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, several issues have been raised in relation to existing leaseholders in previous debates and engagements, and I thank noble Lords for their close examination and engagement with the Government on these issues. However, as I have stated previously, this Bill is deliberately focused tightly on only new residential long leases.

As noble Lords will know well by now, the Government are approaching their leasehold reform programme in two stages. First, the ground rent Bill before us today is intended to look ahead and transform the economic relationship between leaseholders, freeholders and developers. A comprehensive leasehold reform Bill will follow during the course of this Parliament to end unfair practices in the leasehold market, ensure that consumers are protected from abuse and poor service, and reinvigorate commonhold.

Noble Lords are understandably keen to know precisely when this second and more comprehensive leasehold reform Bill will be introduced. They will of course understand that scheduling of legislation is a complex process, and that consideration must be given to the Government’s wider legislative agenda. It is therefore simply not possible to make such concrete commitments at this stage. However, your Lordships should rest assured that the Government have no intention of going slowly when it comes to leasehold reform, which is one of the Secretary of State’s top priorities.

Amendments 6, 7, 8, 26, and 30 ultimately seek to widen the scope of the Bill so that it applies to existing leaseholders. Amendment 6, moved by my noble and learned friend, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, would allow existing leaseholders to pay a capital sum to reduce their ground rent to a peppercorn. As I have laid out in previous debates on the Bill, while we are sympathetic to the aims of this amendment, the Government do not believe that it is necessary. Existing legislation already allows leaseholders of flats to reduce their ground rent to a peppercorn on extending their lease through the statutory route. Meanwhile, leaseholders of houses can buy the freehold of their property and so eliminate ground rent altogether.

In January of this year, the Government committed to allowing existing leaseholders to buy out their ground rent without the need to extend the term of their lease: for example, where their lease is already long. For the purposes of calculating the premium payable for this, the ground rent will be capped at 0.1% of the property value, making it significantly cheaper for leaseholders with onerous ground rents. We will also introduce an online calculator to simplify the process of enfranchisement and ensure standardisation and fairness. We believe that these measures will achieve broadly the same effect as my noble and learned friend’s amendment, so I cannot accept it today.

Amendment 7, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, would restrict ground rent for existing leaseholders who enter into non-statutory lease extensions to 0.1% of the value of the landlord’s interest in the dwelling. It is important to state for the record that the peppercorn requirement will apply to the newly extended portion of the lease once an extension has been granted under the voluntary route. In addition, for the period of the lease that reflects the term that remained on the original lease, the ground rent cannot be higher than in that lease. There will be no opportunity for a landlord to use the point of lease extension to increase ground rent.

I have discussed Amendment 8 with the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and we are of course all of the view that we do not wish to see exploitation of this legislation. However, it cannot be right that we take away the option of a non-statutory lease extension which would enable the leaseholder to pay a lower premium in return for continuing to pay some ground rent on the remaining term of their lease, with limitations as set out in the Bill. Where a leaseholder wishes to follow this route, Clause 6 allows for a monetary ground rent to continue to be paid on the remaining part of a lease—that is, the “pre-commencement lease”. This can be common where the leaseholder wishes to agree this approach with their landlord in return for a reduced premium payment.

The “voluntary” or non-statutory process is a more flexible route to lease extension and can in some cases actually be more cost effective and quicker for both the leaseholder and the freeholder. Naturally, therefore, as I am sure we would all agree, we do not want to remove that option from the Bill. I can reassure the House that as part of taking forward the Law Commission’s recommendations on leasehold enfranchisement we will be considering the matter of non-statutory extensions further, and when the time comes we will again seek input from noble Lords on this important issue.

Amendment 9 is also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grender. Attempting to amend the Bill as proposed in the amendment will not guarantee the outcome that the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, wishes to see, and the Government continue to consider this issue a matter of implementation detail rather than something to change on the face of the Bill. Amendment 9 would require all landlords to inform leaseholders of the changes introduced by the Bill before entering a formal or informal renegotiation or extension of an existing lease. Where a landlord failed to do so, they would face a penalty of between £500 and £30,000. However, the drafting of this amendment means that it would cover only the period from Royal Assent to the commencement date.

I appreciate that consumer rights and awareness is of particular concern to the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and I would be very keen to work with them and others on the issue of implementation. We have concerns that, while we recognise the need to ensure that leaseholders are aware of their rights and are not rushed into a lease extension before this Bill can take effect, we also need to ensure that any penalties are fair, justified and as far as possible are not incurred accidentally. Were the fines set out in the amendment to apply immediately upon Royal Assent, there is limited time to ensure that landlords are aware of the requirements and could end up receiving a fine for extending a lease in line with a request from a leaseholder.

We agree with the principle of this amendment, and I have discussed with the noble Baroness that we would like to work with her on the implementation of the Bill. This will include, for example, provision of comprehensive information to conveyancers, landlord representatives and leaseholder groups to ensure awareness of the new ground rent limits.

I have had constructive conversations with the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, about how we might get the word out about these upcoming changes. Several solutions were proposed and I was particularly taken by the noble Lord’s suggestion about engagement with the legal profession to ensure that it can best advise its leaseholder clients. I have asked my officials to consider how we might take forward these proposals. This is important not just so that leaseholders are aware of their rights but so that landlords know what is required of them and do not inadvertently receive a large fine. However, we do not believe that financial penalties should apply as proposed by the noble Lord’s amendment, and I hope that he will not move it.

Amendment 30, again in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, would put a requirement on landlords to write to their leaseholders to justify the payments by reference to the expenses to be met from the ground rent, or else to confirm that the ground rent is not used to pay any expenses. We agree that transparency is vital in the leasehold sector. However, we do not believe that this is the appropriate way to ensure that existing leaseholders are better informed about ground rents. As noble Lords know, ground rents are charges paid with no clear service in return. Most leaseholders will be aware of this and it is unclear what benefit they would get from receiving a letter from their freeholder or managing agent to that effect.

However, we are working to prepare the sector and leaseholders alike, assessing where better advice and support can be provided through ongoing regular engagement with the sector and our delivery partners. However, I acknowledge the broader concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, in their Amendments 7, 8, 9 and 30 about pre-commencement leases and the consumer awareness challenges in the run-up to this legislation coming into force. It is a noble intention, and we are agreed that leaseholders should have the right information to hand when making important decisions about whether to extend or vary their lease.

I am grateful to noble Lords for raising their concerns about the implementation of this Bill. I understand that it is noble Lords’ desire, as it is mine, to improve the Bill and see it delivered as smoothly as possible. That is why my officials are working carefully to craft an implementation plan that takes account of these concerns, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, to do what we can to ensure that leaseholders are aware that this change in the law is coming and that they are equipped with the information they need to make the decision that is right for them.

This is a good opportunity to inform your Lordships that I can today commit to the House that the commencement date for this legislation will be within six months of Royal Assent, an issue which my noble friend Lord Young raised on numerous occasions. This issue was raised multiple times at previous stages and, while writing the date into the Bill would be inappropriate for reasons that I hope noble Lords will understand, I am pleased to make that commitment today.

More broadly on consumer awareness, the Government are pleased to hear the recent update published by the CMA on 23 June, whereby settlements secured with a leading housing developer and an investor in the leasehold sector have committed them to changes that will benefit thousands of leaseholders by refunding homeowners who saw their ground rents double, and allow leaseholders to buy the freehold of their properties at a discount. One of those companies has also committed to extending the timeframe that prospective buyers are given to exchange contracts after reserving a property, and to providing people with more up-front information about the annual costs of buying a home.

I am sure that noble Lords will also be pleased to hear that that includes ensuring that all marketing materials provided to consumers before the signing of a reservation agreement clearly and prominently state a greater level of information of benefit to the leaseholder—for example, the tenure of the property, the ground rent payable and any circumstances that may potentially lead to an increase in service charges. These landmark commitments will ensure greater transparency for leaseholders, thereby helping future buyers to make informed decisions without feeling pressured by time constraints. The CMA has made excellent progress, and that is just the start. We support the ongoing investigation and believe it will send a clear signal to others in this sector to follow this lead or face legal action.

Finally, Amendment 26, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, would require the Government to produce draft legislation within 30 days to reduce ground rents to a peppercorn in existing long residential leases. I have listened carefully and appreciate the noble Lord’s sense of urgency in wanting to address issues faced by existing leaseholders. I can reassure the House that the Government are working at pace to bring these reforms forward. However, I must once again state that arbitrary deadlines are not useful in this context. It is, frankly, not possible to publish a Bill to the timescale proposed by that amendment. The reforms we are planning are a once-in-a-generation shake-up of the leasehold system, with the effects being felt for years to come.

I have outlined some of the changes, including on enfranchisement, transparency, a commitment on commencement and the ongoing work of the Competition and Markets Authority. I hope that the information I have given satisfies noble Lords that we take the issues facing existing leaseholders very seriously and that we are working at pace to deliver the improvements that all noble Lords here today want to see. As they will no doubt appreciate, this ambitious reform programme is complex and has many interdependencies. Therefore, while being mindful of the need for progress, it is important to take the time required to get it right. It is for these reasons that the Government cannot accept these amendments and I urge that they be withdrawn or not moved.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con)
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My Lords, I am greatly obliged to the Minister for his answers and, so far as I am concerned, the commitment to bring the legislation into effect is an important one that we were given some time ago. So far as my amendment is concerned, I am keen that the new proposals come forward quickly but their nature is such that it would be impossible to formulate them in a clear timescale of the kind suggested. However, that is for others say. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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15:46

Division 4

Ayes: 243

Noes: 238

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Moved by
10: Clause 9, page 7, line 10, leave out “£5,000” and insert “£30,000”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment increases the maximum penalty that an enforcement authority may impose.
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, in constructing a penalty regime for any landlords who breach the provisions of this legislation, we wanted to set the penalty at a level that was proportionate but acted as a deterrent. As the average ground rent is around £250 per year, we felt that £500 would be a reasonable and proportionate minimum penalty. Once again, I remind noble Lords that this would be paid in addition to repaying the prohibited rent with any interest due, and that £500 is a minimum penalty amount. Breaches across multiple leases could also be penalised, resulting in heavy fines.

However, both at Second Reading and in Committee, noble Lords felt that the balance between proportionality and deterrence was not quite right. The noble Baronesses, Lady Grender and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, were among those who made very strong arguments that the proposed regime was set at too low a level to act as a serious enough deterrent to freeholders, particularly larger freeholders with high annual turnover. In addition, while local authorities should not design their enforcement strategy to function as a revenue stream, we have been clear that we believe that any penalty recovered through the enforcement process should cover the cost of that enforcement.

I have listened carefully to the arguments made in Committee in favour of higher financial penalties and considered the impact that changing these amounts would have. We have concluded that the maximum should be raised to £30,000 which, as some noble Lords may know, is in line with this Government’s Tenant Fees Act 2019. However, we intend to keep the minimum penalty at £500, in recognition that this is proportionate where, for example, a small freeholder charges a non-peppercorn rent.

For those noble Lords who think we are a soft touch, I note that this is the first example of a minimum penalty in leasehold law. This amendment will significantly strengthen the enforcement regime and further deter freeholders from attempting to breach this legislation. I beg to move.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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My Lords, I enthusiastically welcome this amendment from the Government. I am very pleased that the Minister has seen the strength of the arguments put forward by noble Lords from all around the House on this issue. It is not just that the original figure would not have been a significant deterrent for those determined to carry on with bad practice. Worse than that, it was not going to be sufficient to fund or permit trading standards to carry out their enforcement duties. The enforcing body around the country is short of funds and staff, and a new burden placed on it to enforce this provision without the means to do so was a recipe for failure. I am delighted that the Minister has seen the compelling strength of the view that my noble friend Lady Grender and others advanced passionately and congratulate him on persuading his colleagues around government of the need to move forward on this as he has.

Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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My Lords, the sole amendment in this group increases the maximum penalty to £30,000 per lease, in line with other housing legislation—namely, the Tenant Fees Act. I am pleased that the Minister has brought forward this change following concerns raised in Committee, but I trust that the sum of £30,000 has not been decided purely based on precedent —not just because there is not a direct precedent to compare it to. The use of £30,000 penalties in this legislation will apply to freeholders, many of which are incredibly wealthy businesses. Does the Minister believe that £30,000 will be sufficient deterrent in such cases? As I said, I am concerned that this figure has been chosen because of the so-called precedent. Can the Minister dissuade us of that notion by confirming that an impact assessment has been carried out and, if so, tell us when it will be published?

We welcome an increase in the maximum penalty, but I am not entirely confident that it will be sufficient deterrent. I look forward to the Minister’s assurances.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I point out that the maximum penalty would apply per lease and, for highly complex buildings, that soon multiplies to a substantial amount of money, so we believe that we have got the balance right in meeting the need for deterrence while recognising that some freeholders are not in the class of those that own considerable amounts of property. The amendment should be broadly welcomed and will strengthen the enforcement regime as a result, responding directly to the points made at various stages of the Bill. I believe it significantly strengthens the legislation.

Amendment 10 agreed.
Moved by
11: Clause 9, page 7, line 37, leave out subsection (9) and insert—
“(9) The relevant authority may by regulations amend this section so as to change the minimum amount or the maximum amount.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, with Lord Greenhalgh’s second amendment to Clause 22, page 13, line 28, enables the Welsh Ministers (instead of the Secretary of State) to make regulations changing the amount of the minimum and maximum penalties for breaches of Clause 3 in relation to leases of premises in Wales.
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Moved by
13: Clause 12, page 9, line 3, after “Act” insert “in relation to a lease of premises in England;
(b) the Welsh Ministers about the exercise of its functions under this Act in relation to a lease of premises in Wales.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires enforcement authorities to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State in relation to enforcement action in England and by the Welsh Ministers in relation to enforcement action in Wales.
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Moved by
14: Clause 13, page 9, line 24, leave out “First-tier Tribunal” and insert “appropriate tribunal”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, with Lord Greenhalgh’s amendment to Clause 17, page 11, line 17, requires applications for the recovery of prohibited rent paid under a lease of premises in Wales to be made to a leasehold valuation tribunal (instead of the First-tier Tribunal).
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Moved by
17: Clause 14, page 10, line 4, leave out “First-tier Tribunal” and insert “appropriate tribunal”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and Lord Greenhalgh’s amendment to Clause 14, page 10, line 5 are consequential on Lord Greenhalgh’s amendments to Clause 13, and enable a leasehold valuation tribunal to order interest to be paid on amounts of prohibited rent that it orders to be repaid to the tenant under that Clause.
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Moved by
19: Clause 15, page 10, line 19, leave out “First-tier Tribunal” and insert “appropriate tribunal”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, with Lord Greenhalgh’s amendment to Clause 17, page 11, line 17, requires applications as to the effect of Clause 7 on the terms of a lease of premises in Wales to be made to a leasehold valuation tribunal (instead of the First-tier Tribunal).
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Moved by
23: Clause 16, page 11, line 12, leave out “First-tier Tribunal” and insert “appropriate tribunal”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on Lord Greenhalgh’s amendments to Clause 13.
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Moved by
24: Clause 17, page 11, line 17, at beginning insert—
“(1) For the purposes of sections 13 to 16 and the Schedule, the “appropriate tribunal” is— (a) in relation to a lease of premises in England, the First- tier Tribunal;(b) in relation to a lease of premises in Wales, a leasehold valuation tribunal.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment defines the “appropriate tribunal” for the purposes of Lord Greenhalgh’s amendments to Clauses 13 to 16 and the Schedule.
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Moved by
25: Clause 17, page 11, line 19, at beginning insert “except in relation to section 16(1)(b),”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment corrects the drafting of Clause 17(b) to reflect the fact that the right to apply to a tribunal for a declaration as to the effect of the Bill on the terms of a lease does not extend to a tenant’s guarantor.
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak very briefly on government Amendment 25, which is a minor technical change to correct a small drafting error.

Clause 17 defines “tenant” for the purposes of Clauses 10, 13 and 16. Clause 16(1)(b) enables an enforcement authority to assist a tenant in an application as to the effect of Clause 7—that is, in regard to the effect of a term reserving a prohibited rent on the terms of a regulated lease. This amendment rectifies a discrepancy in the Bill, in that the assistance provided under Clause 16 would not extend to the tenant’s guarantor, as a guarantor does not have the right to apply for a direction as to the effect of Clause 7. This amendment ensures that there is no discrepancy between the clauses of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, obviously we welcome this amendment to the drafting error in the original Bill. Can the Minister explain briefly what the consequences would have been if it had not been identified? I mean briefly; I do not want a whole essay on the subject. Is there a risk that similar errors could be identified in other legislation which relates to guarantors?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lord for testing my knowledge of the consequences of a small technical amendment. I am just glad that we picked it up; I will have to write to the noble Lord on what the consequences would have been had we not done so. This happens from time to time. I am fairly new to the House but, when we find these errors, there are plenty of opportunities to correct them before the Bill receives Royal Assent.

Amendment 25 agreed.
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16:11

Division 5

Ayes: 219

Noes: 243

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Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 28 and 29, in my name, and welcome Amendment 27, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell.

Amendment 28 is intended to raise four issues, which I have focused on at previous stages of the Bill: lease forfeiture, transfer fees, redress schemes and enfranchisement. This amendment is intended to probe, and, while I will not introduce each issue again, I hope that the Minister can provide clarification in the following areas. On lease forfeiture, can the Minister confirm that legislation will be forthcoming to prevent possession being taken over small debts? On transfer fees, has the Minister made an estimate of how many freeholders are placing charges on the sale of properties? On redress schemes, will the Minister consider a trial for the most serious of leasehold abuses? Finally, on enfranchisement, what assessment have the Government made of the obstacles currently in place?

The intention of Amendment 29 is to raise the need for the Government to champion commonhold arrangements. The House will be aware that the Mayor of London is committed to furthering commonhold, and his manifesto pledged to trial the arrangements in London. Can the Minister confirm what support will be offered to the mayor as part of these pilots? Will he make a statement on the Government’s policy on commonhold?

Finally, I turn to Amendment 27, which calls for a review of the relationship between the Bill and those facing bills for “fire remediation work”. Unfortunately, the Government have again ignored those people during the drafting of this legislation. This Government’s continued mismanagement of the remediation work is one of their most shameful aspects. I hope that the Minister will use this opportunity to finally change track and at last deal with the issues of remediation costs being charged to leaseholders for building safety faults. Rather than another betrayal of their promises to leaseholders, we need legal protections to ensure that millions of pounds of building safety remediation costs are not passed on to innocent home owners and tenants.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this group of amendments calls for a variety of impact assessments to be produced. It is, of course, very important that we understand the impact that this legislation will have. That is why we have already produced an impact assessment, which I would encourage all noble Lords to read.

Amendments 27 and 28 would both require impact assessments relating to how this legislation would impact on issues facing existing leaseholders. As throughout the passage of the Bill, I understand noble Lords’ desire to assist existing leaseholders. Noble Lords will be well aware by this point that this is just the first of a two-part legislative programme, with further leasehold reform due later in this Parliament.

We have considered the impact of the Bill on existing leaseholders, and this is informing the process of policy development, ahead of future legislation. This is within the broader context of the important work being done by the Competition and Markets Authority to address unfair terms and mis-selling. As discussed previously, we are committed to measures to help existing leaseholders through significant changes to the enfranchisement valuation calculation, making it cheaper for many leaseholders to extend their lease, buy their freehold or buy out their ground rents.

Noble Lords can rest assured that my officials have been listening very carefully to all of the points that have been raised during the debates on the Bill. However, producing detailed impact assessments is likely only to distract from the important work that is being done on leasehold reform.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, again raised historic fire and building safety remediation costs. I was struck by the very high bill of around £204,000 per leaseholder that was quoted. This may be a building in Manchester, but I would be very keen to know further details and to understand the approach that has been taken. Very often, when I have inquired and understood the situation, I have found that the most proportionate response is not necessarily considered by the building owner—but I would be very interested to look into that case in more detail.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, I say that we are very aware of the polluter pays Bill and the work that is being led by Steve Day of RAQ. We are looking at it very carefully to see whether it could further enhance the proposed Building Safety Bill. Of course, we have already looked at strengthening redress by extending the statutory limitation period in the Defective Premises Act 1972 from six to 15 years, applied retrospectively. This could provide further support to ensure that it is the polluter who pays. We are looking at that very carefully, as I said.

Also in response to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, on the Building Safety Bill, I say that the first £1 billion of this has of course been in play and spent. In fact, the fund is very much overcommitted. Further details around the further £3.5 billion will be published in September, but works are not being delayed because of that. I am happy to provide assurance that the further expenditure will therefore be outlined at that stage.

--- Later in debate ---
16:51

Division 6

Ayes: 245

Noes: 256

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
35: Clause 21, page 13, line 2, after “Parliament,” insert “if the regulations are made by the Secretary of State, or
(b) Senedd Cymru, if the regulations are made by the Welsh Ministers,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that the default procedure for regulations made under the Bill by the Welsh Ministers is the negative procedure.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
38: Clause 22, page 13, line 28, at end insert—
““premium” means any consideration in money or money’s worth for the grant of a lease, other than rent;”Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for Lord Greenhalgh’s second amendment to Clause 1, page 1, line 5.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
40: Clause 22, page 13, line 28, at end insert—
““relevant authority” means—(a) in relation to a lease of premises in England, the Secretary of State;(b) in relation to a lease of premises in Wales, the Welsh Ministers;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment defines “relevant authority” for the purpose of Lord Greenhalgh’s amendments to Clause 2, page 2, line 21 and Clause 9, page 7, lines 37 and 39.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
41: Clause 22, page 13, line 29, at end insert—
“(2A) A sum expressed to be payable in respect of rates, council tax, services, repairs, maintenance, insurance or other ancillary matters is not rent for the purposes of this Act merely because it is reserved as rent in the lease.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that service charges and similar payments are not to be treated as rent only because they are reserved as rent in the lease.
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, before coming to the detail of this amendment, I want to stress the importance of the broad definition of “rent” as it appears in the Bill. Your Lordships are aware of the Government’s position. We believe it is vital for the effectiveness of the Bill that the definition of ground rent is drawn up in such a way as to head off the potential for avoidance measures by the small proportion of landlords who are intent on abusing the leasehold sector for their own financial gain. Any attempts to change this approach would do little more than provide a fixed obstacle around which a nimble landlord may divert with relative ease, certainty and confidence.

Alternative versions for the definition of a rent that stray away from this approach have been considered but they all reached the same conclusion and were found to be lacking. It is precisely because of the broad definition of rent in the Bill that any landlords and their investors seeking to charge what is in essence a ground rent by any other name will need to think very carefully if they believe the definition provided in the Bill offers an easy workaround—it does not. That is to say, if a landlord were to attempt to charge a ground rent by any other name and that charge provided no meaningful benefit or service to the leaseholder, that charge may be considered within the nature of a rent for the purposes of the Bill, and a tribunal or enforcement authority could consider the case for enforcement against that landlord.

I believe that Amendment 41 will provide further clarity regarding the meaning of a “rent” for the purposes of the Bill. Noble Lords will recall that there was a good deal of debate over that definition in the Bill in Committee. My noble friend Lord Young made reference to the Law Society and raised his concerns that the wide definition of rent contained in the Bill could give rise to unnecessary litigation as the lawfulness of certain charges being able to continue as being “reserved as rent” was not wholly clear.

I have listened carefully to the arguments made by my noble friend and others and am not unsympathetic to the views expressed that tighter wording of what is considered a rent would provide even greater clarity for both leaseholders and landlords. The amendment therefore provides that valid charges, even if they are “reserved as rent” in a lease, are not intended to be captured by the provisions in the Bill just because they are “reserved as rent” within a lease.

It is not our intention for valid charges, such as the charging of insurance or service charges, to be adversely affected by the Bill. Neither is it the purpose of the Bill to address the practice of reserving as a rent charges that are not in fact rent. The amendment simply clarifies that, just because a charge is reserved as a rent, it does not automatically follow that it is a prohibited rent for the purposes of the Bill.

I reassure noble Lords that the amendment does not give a green light for landlords seeking to avoid the measures of the Bill to merely reserve any charge as a “rent”. As I have described, the definition of a rent is drawn deliberately as widely as possible and will capture any charge that is in fact in the nature of a rent, whatever it is called. I beg to move.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I always welcome efforts by Ministers to clarify the law, although I sometimes struggle to understand exactly how the law has been clarified. It has been suggested that this is, if you like, a step of relaxation or at least inclusion that will permit landlords to get away with—I think that is the technical term—bad practice. I am sure the Minister will reassure me that that is absolutely not the case and, far from opening a door, it is trying to make sure that the door is firmly shut.

I fear that the technicalities of this will be worked out in the law courts over time, whatever provision the Minister puts in the Bill or takes out of it. I wish him luck and I hope he has succeeded in what he hopes to succeed in. I guess we shall find out, when we do the evaluation in a year or two, how accurate that is.

Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Minister will be glad to hear that this amendment is another technical change that we on these Benches fully support. However, has the department identified whether the same drafting issue is present in any earlier legislation?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we could not have had more different responses to the government’s amendment. I would like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that this is indeed a clarification around enabling landlords to continue to pass legitimate valid charges. It will not promote the practice of continuing ground rents by another name, and I made that point very clearly in outlining this in my speech. I am sorry it was quite technical; obviously, people with legal eyes helped me to formulate the syntax but I give that assurance. But the noble Lord is right: only time will tell how the legislation will work in practice.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, I have never heard anything quite so overwhelmingly positive about an amendment that I have moved—perhaps we are reaching a new era in understanding. I am not aware of this being relevant in any other part of our approach to the reform agenda that we are putting forward. However, leaseholder legislation covers many decades. Despite having studied some land law in the 1980s, I am not in a position to give a very detailed legal answer on that point.

Amendment 41 agreed.
--- Later in debate ---
Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I welcome the amendment of my noble friend Lord Berkeley, which returns the House’s attention to the application of ground rents charged by the Crown, such as the Duchy of Cornwall. It is a bad day to be away from the Scilly Isles, but there you go. My noble friend is probing the issue again, after clearly incomplete answers in Committee. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Since the Minister was also unable to provide answers to my questions during Committee, I hope he will be able to do so on this occasion. They are these. First, can he confirm how many Crown properties this relates to? Secondly, do the Government intend to engage the residents of these homes?

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I now turn to Amendments 42 and 43, brought to your Lordships’ House by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I understand that it is his wish for the Duchy of Cornwall to be considered as private land and not Crown land under this Bill. Irrespective of the definition, both Crown land and private land are captured by the Bill. This Bill will therefore apply to the Crown Estate, of which the Bill stipulates the Duchy of Cornwall is part. As I am sure noble Lords are all aware, the Duchy of Cornwall is a private estate which has a Crown exemption. However, the purpose of this Bill is not to decide how these estates are defined; rather it is to get a better deal for future leaseholders to prevent them being exploited by ground rent in the leasehold market.

The Duke of Cornwall’s estates will be treated as any other private landlord under the provisions of this Bill and will no longer be able to collect ground rent in future leases. I will clarify again that this Bill is narrowly focused on ground rents and not all leasehold matters. That is why, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, we have not yet written to the Duchy of Cornwall about the issues around enfranchisement and other matters, but we will be doing so as part of the second stage of the legislation. I will obviously keep noble Lords informed if we get a response, but the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, seems rather sceptical of that. Nevertheless, we have made that commitment and will write at that stage.

The Government have committed to an ambitious, large-scale reform programme, and we will deal with all these other issues not related to ground rents in the near future. I am very sorry that, on two occasions now, I have not been able to give a precise response to the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, but I will make sure that we get the information to him at the earliest opportunity, in writing, and lay a copy in the Library—I believe that is precisely what you have to do in these circumstances.

The Government will consider the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, regarding the Crown Estate exemptions from the parliamentary undertaking on enfranchisement rights for leaseholders in the next stage of the leasehold reform programme. I can also reassure the noble Lord that the Government will consider his concern in tandem with the Law Commission’s recommendations on the issue of enfranchisement rights for leaseholders. On that basis, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am very grateful for the Minister’s response and I will read it with great interest. He has tried to answer most of my questions, even if he has not yet got my noble friend’s numbers. We will look forward to seeing them in the Library. It is very important that what he has said may well set a precedent for the next Bill. That is why we will need to read what he has said with great interest. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I speak only briefly to say that the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, has raised an important issue that was debated in Committee, to some extent, when I heard voices calling in both directions. The overwhelming requirement of this legislation is that it leaves certainty in the market about the position of leaseholders. However partial or slow it may be, or however much you might criticise it overall, the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, has advanced a very strong case that this should apply to all leasehold contracts from a set date and not with a phased introduction.

I would be interested to know if there is a reason for this staggered introduction and, if so, what it is. A number of major landlords run very large businesses on the leaseholding of retirement homes, not all of which have always proceeded entirely ethically. There have been some well-evidenced scandals, one of which I played a part in unravelling when I was at the other end of this building. I hope the Minister has not been too influenced on this provision by any pressure he may have received from landlords about some complexity, difficulty or whatever with an earlier introduction. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s justification for the subsection that the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, is proposing to delete.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in considering Amendment 44 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, it is important to once again lay out the rationale for the transition period for the retirement sector. In October 2018, the Government launched a consultation on reforms to the leasehold system, which attracted over 1,200 responses. In our response to the consultation, published in June 2019, we announced that we would

“proceed with the proposal to exempt retirement properties”

from the peppercorn ground rents policy. This decision was made on the basis that developers of retirement properties incur additional costs, as a result of the communal spaces that are characteristics of these kinds of developments.

However, having reviewed this in further detail, we concluded that arguments in favour of an exception did not outweigh the desirability of ensuring that those who purchase retirement homes are able to benefit from the same reform as other future leaseholders. Therefore, we decided to capture retirement properties in the Bill, so that those who live in retirement housing are protected from exploitation in the same way as other leaseholders. We announced this in January this year, and it is effectively a change in the Government’s position. I am sure all noble Lords agree that, as a basic matter of fairness, those buying retirement properties should also benefit from these reforms.

As a result of this change, we have consulted closely with the retirement sector and continue to do so. As such, we have decided to grant a transition period in recognition. As a result of their initial exemption, this new transition period will allow developers of retirement properties time to adapt to the forthcoming changes. We believe this transition period has been fairly granted, in balancing the needs of developers and fairness to leaseholders. It will be sufficient to allow the retirement sector to adapt to the changes. The Government do not wish to extend the period at the expense of leaseholders. I give that undertaking; we believe we have got it right.

As it stands, the commencement date for retirement properties is no earlier than 1 April 2023. We have no reason to believe that the commencement date will be any later than this. Given the sector was first informed in January this year, this commencement date has given them over two years’ notice.

This issue has been carefully considered and we believe we have struck the right balance for both lease- holders and developers. Indeed, in Committee, we had a competing amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Best, which would have extended this transition period. I am sure noble Lords agree that our proposals are a pragmatic and fair compromise between these two positions. I beg to move that the noble Lord withdraws Amendment 44.

Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will briefly comment on the position that has been arrived at on retirement properties. Initially, there was to be an exception for retirement properties; then it was decided that there would not be. That was from 1 April this year, giving two years’ notice. The main argument of the noble Lord, Lord Best, was that this would cause price rises, as it would falsely inflate the market from people not receiving ground rent and prices would therefore go up. That may have had some justification, but was not part of the Government’s assessment of what would happen to retirement properties. I am happy to withdraw the amendment, but we need to look closely at the impact this has on retirement property leaseholders.

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
45: The Schedule, page 16, line 37, leave out “First-tier Tribunal” and insert “appropriate tribunal”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, with Lord Greenhalgh’s amendment to Clause 17, page 11, line 17, requires an appeal against action taken by an enforcement authority in relation to a lease of premises in Wales to be made to a leasehold valuation tribunal (instead of the First-tier Tribunal).

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [HL]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
3rd reading
Tuesday 14th September 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-R-I Marshalled list for Report - (15 Jul 2021)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill, have consented to place their interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, before we progress with Third Reading, I will make a very brief statement and update on legislative consent in respect of the Bill. As the UK Government have made clear throughout the earlier stages of the Bill, we are committed to working closely with the Welsh Government on this legislation in order for it to be of the greatest benefit to leaseholders in both England and Wales. While the law of property is a restricted matter under the Government of Wales Act 2006, we have worked closely with our colleagues in the Welsh Government and taken note of their views in a spirit of collaboration and joint working. This has led to a series of amendments to ensure that the Bill works in the best possible way for the benefit of leaseholders wherever they live.

In summary, these amendments transfer executive competence to Welsh Ministers, meaning that the Bill now engages with the legislative consent process in the Senedd Cymru. The Welsh Government laid a legislative consent memorandum for the Bill before the Senedd in May this year, and we have had continued correspondence with Ministers advising that they share the same policy ambitions as the UK Government in this area. Senedd Cymru has not yet considered its position on legislative consent at this relatively early stage in the Bill’s passage through Parliament. However, I assure noble Lords that we are intent on securing legislative consent for this Bill and will continue to work with the Welsh Government in order to realise this ambition.

Motion

Moved by
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I start by thanking noble Lords from all sides of the House for the constructive approach that they have taken to this important legislation. The Bill leaves your Lordships’ House as better legislation than when it arrived, and I thank noble Lords for their engagement with me both here and elsewhere. Leasehold legislation can be incredibly complex, but we are lucky in this place to have the benefit of a vast amount of knowledge and experience on these matters. I express my gratitude in particular to my noble friends Lord Hammond of Runnymede and Lord Young of Cookham, and to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for the time they have given to me and my officials in sharing their knowledge and expertise, which has led directly to amendments that have improved the Bill.

I am pleased to say that there has been recognition across the House of the importance of getting this Bill on the statute book. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, and, before him, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, on the Benches opposite, for the constructive nature of the conversations that we have had on this legislation. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, for her work on the Bill, particularly on the vital issue of transparency.

There were, of course, other issues raised with the Bill. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Stunell, the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for their engagement on the issues of the retirement sector and the transition period that the Government have proposed. Noble Lords who have been carefully watching the Bill’s progress will know that there have been competing views on the length and, indeed, existence of this transition period, including how it should apply to developments that are part-sold. While I remain convinced that our proposal strikes the right balance between the sector and consumers, I have appreciated debating the issue with noble Lords.

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for their scrutiny of the Bill; both have made valuable contributions to the debate. My thanks also go to the officials who have worked so hard to get us to this position: the Bill team of Jo Cagney, Rosie Gray, Tom Sedgwick, Sema Ashami, Isabel Hendy, Jenny Frew, Ian Martin, Harriet Fisher, Elly-Marie Connolly and David Gethin, my own private office, Sam Loxton, the Whips, Senedd officials, the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and clerks in this place.

Finally, I will take the opportunity to thank the Competition and Markets Authority for its work on behalf of existing leaseholders who have found themselves at the sharp end of unfair practices in the leasehold sector. The CMA’s ongoing investigation is playing a vital role in reforming and improving the sector, and I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to its efforts. The Bill will provide transparency and fairness to a new generation of leaseholders. It is a vital first step towards realising our vision of a reformed and improved leasehold system free from the unfair practices that have been the experience for far too many homeowners. I beg to move.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I join the Minister in thanking Members on all sides of the House for their contributions and expertise in working to get the Bill to where it is today. I also thank the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for his courtesy in his dealings with my noble friend Lord Lennie and myself. We appreciate that very much. I also thank all the officials and his Bill team for their work with us. I place on record my thanks to Ben Wood and the office of the Leader of the Opposition for the work that they did.

My involvement was in the Second Reading of the Bill. I then became the Chief Whip, so I departed the scene, leaving it all to my noble friend Lord Lennie. I have come back to make these final remarks as my noble friend cannot be here today. I thank him in particular for all the work he did in taking up the Bill very much at short notice. I think we have made the Bill better than it was when it first came to this House. This is the first stage in leasehold reform; there is very much more to be done. We look forward to the work of the Law Commission and to a Bill that will address other leaseholder problems—but this is a good first stage and I am very happy with where we have got to so far.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I too offer my thanks to those who have contributed to the improvement of the Bill and, in particular, to say that the Minister has been exceptionally helpful and generous with his time in proceeding with it through Committee and at the intermediate stages. My noble friend Lady Grender would have liked to be here, but I am speaking in her place on this occasion.

I have given notice to the Minister that I believe there is one aspect of this that still requires a word of clarification, which I hope he will be able to give as we move on. It is clearly very important that this Bill makes rapid progress, and even more important that the second Bill, long promised, follows close on its heels. The issue relates to retirement homes and those blocks that are partially occupied at the time that the changes instigated by this Bill come into force. There is a serious risk of a two-tier market in those blocks if this is introduced wholesale across every part of the same block. I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify the Government’s intent and the effect of this legislation, so that those who have made representations to me can have some understanding of the direction in which this legislation will now proceed. With those few words, I am very happy to see the Bill pass into law.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, for giving me advance notice of his question. I have pushed to give him a clear answer on that. It is clear that there is a transition period until 1 April 2023. The Government propose not to exclude part-occupied developments from that cut-off period once the legislation takes effect, which will obviously be later than for all other areas. That is the balance that we are trying to strike, in the interests of consumers but also of the sector.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [Lords]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
2nd reading
Monday 29th November 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-R-I Marshalled list for Report - (15 Jul 2021)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Eddie Hughes Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Eddie Hughes)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As hon. Members may know, I have long championed a root and branch comprehensive reform of our leasehold system. It has been a long journey to get here from my private Member’s Bill—Ground Rents (Leasehold Properties) Bill—to try to overhaul the regulations on ground rents. It is particularly gratifying to be standing here today as the Minister responsible for this hugely important legislation.

The Bill will make home ownership fairer and more transparent for future generations of leaseholders. We will do this by reducing the ground rent on new residential long leases where a premium is paid to a peppercorn. I am sure that this change, which will benefit thousands of future leaseholders, will be welcomed right across the House.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I lobbied for an exemption for the retirement living industry, which was granted and then withdrawn in January this year. Why was that?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate my right hon. Friend’s strong lobbying on this matter. I think the Government decided that it was appropriate to treat all leaseholders the same and therefore we made that change, although we did allow an extension in the introduction of that to April 2023.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The bit I do not understand is why we have leasehold at all. It is just preposterous nonsense, is it not? It is a feudal relic. Would it not make far more sense to have some kind of commonhold situation for flats, which is what they have in nearly every other country in the world and, I think I am right in saying, also in Scotland? Does that not make far more sense? We can then just get rid of leasehold completely.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I wonder why, in the brief periods when Labour has been in control, it has not done so itself. I guess English law is pretty complex, so it would not be so straightforward to simply withdraw it on the basis that he suggests. Perhaps when Labour is in power again at some point in the distant future, it will be able to return to this matter.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is being generous in giving way. He may not wish to be as radical as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is suggesting, but does he share my concern at some of the greedier developers, which are insisting on a year-by-year, annual increase? For example, ground rents are going up and up in New River Village in Hornsey. I have to name the Berkeley Group, because it really should know better. It has done very well, including throughout coronavirus, given all the leg-ups that it has had from the Government through various coronavirus packages, and it really should not be demanding multiples every year from my poor old leaseholders.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I largely agree with the hon. Lady, not least because the ten-minute rule Bill to which I referred, which I brought to the House when I was a Back Bencher, completely endorsed her points. It is unfortunate that some people include such egregious terms in ground rents.

Mark Tami Portrait Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that this issue is about not only ground rents, but the admin fees that are often associated with any minor changes that the owner of the property wants to make? A lot of these properties are also linked with extra charges for management fees for the land and other things. The levels of charges placed on leaseholders are becoming totally unacceptable.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not want to jump forward several pages in my speech, but the right hon. Gentleman is predicting—or at least pointing to—the fact that we have identified this problem and have ensured that when we reduce ground rents to a peppercorn, people will not be able to cheat by introducing associated management fees and other charges. If he is looking for further changes, the second part of our seminal legislation, when it comes in due course, will no doubt satisfy his needs.

The starting point for this legislation has to be our shared recognition that for many people, to be a leaseholder is also to be a homeowner, and we are clear that homes that have been bought should be theirs to live in and enjoy, not be treated as cash cows for third-party investors. This Government are on the side of homeowners, which is why in our manifesto we committed to introduce this important legislation.

Hon. Members will be well aware of the problems that many leaseholders have faced in recent years, including, as pointed out by Opposition Members, spiralling ground rents and onerous conditions that have turned the dream of home ownership into a nightmare for some leaseholders. This Bill is the first of our seminal two-part legislation to reform and improve the leasehold system. Further legislation will follow later in this Parliament to continue to address the historic imbalances in the leasehold system.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I pay tribute to the Minister for the work that he has done so far. He may know that constituents on Steinbeck Grange in Warrington South have been calling for changes for almost 10 years. Will he give an update on the current Competition and Markets Authority investigation, which is vital to people living in Warrington?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The work of the CMA has been pivotal so far in already changing the behaviour of a number of significant developers. I have spoken to it recently; further work is ongoing and I hope that it will have further successes in the future. My hon. Friend is completely right to raise that point.

Both this Bill and the wider leasehold reform programme have been informed by consultation. I thank those present here today, including the Opposition Front Benchers, who have taken the time to discuss the issue. I look forward to further discussions over the coming weeks and months.

The Bill has a specific focus: the ground rent in future long residential leases. Some existing leaseholders face substantial difficulties, including costly enfranchisement, a lack of transparency and burdensome lease terms. Escalating ground rents in particular can reach unaffordable levels and make some properties difficult to sell. That is not right, which is why we have asked the Competition and Markets Authority to conduct a thorough investigation into potential mis-selling and unfair terms in the leasehold sector.

Mark Tami Portrait Mark Tami
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have met many people who were told by the company that sold them their property that they would be able to buy the lease, only to find out, when they inquire to buy it, that it has been sold on to some financial institution. Does the Minister accept that point?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Once again the right hon. Gentleman points out an egregious and unfortunate practice that hopefully we will be finding ways to address in future.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That prompts the question of what proposals the Minister may have to enable leaseholders to enforce the purchase of freeholds from such companies. Does he have plans for that?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As my right hon. Friend will know, unfortunately I am not the Secretary of State, much as I would like to be. [Interruption] Not yet, anyway. It is best to leave the fine detail of the formation of future legislation to the Secretary of State to decide. However, I look forward to discussing the matter further with my right hon. Friend as we progress.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) and others. The Minister is waiting for the Competition and Markets Authority report, but is he prepared to say, even before that report has concluded, that on the basis of all the evidence we are hearing from right across the House, what we are seeing is nothing more than a financial scam from a bunch of greedy speculators?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not sure I can go so far as to agree, but, as a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have pointed out, it is an unfortunate practice that we will be seeking to address in future legislation.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is being very generous with his time; he remembers well what it is like to be on the Back Benches. Does he agree that many of the points under discussion will be good for future generations, but it is all a bit “jam tomorrow” if we cannot help our constituents today?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would say that we are doing a very important thing with today’s legislation, which effectively draws a line in the sand to prevent future onerous ground rent clauses. Once we have done so, we will then have the opportunity to work, hopefully quickly, to deal with the existing ground rent problem.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have been known to swim against the tide once or twice with regard to this particular debate. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am a leaseholder, not a freeholder, in this context. Nevertheless, it is not right to think that effectively scrapping leasehold and moving to commonhold is a panacea. For evidence of that, hon. Members should look at the system in Scotland, which moved to a commonhold system. Some 80% of buildings require maintenance and there is a £2 billion unfunded maintenance backlog. We should step forward very carefully. Leasehold does need reform, but I am very concerned that if we effectively scrap it altogether, we will create ourselves a new problem.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend, who is incredibly knowledgeable in this area. I remember discussing my ten-minute rule Bill with him at the time. I completely assure him that we will proceed with caution and seek advice from experts both across the House and outside the House. I look forward to discussing this with him again in the future. I also take this opportunity to thank the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick)—I am delighted to see him in his place—for all the work that he put in in driving forward this agenda. Back in January, he announced measures to make buying a freehold or extending a lease cheaper and easier for many leaseholders.

I now turn to the specifics of the Bill. Ground rent is usually paid annually by leaseholders to their freeholder or landlord, but, crucially, no tangible service is provided in return. The industry is also familiar with the term, “peppercorn rent”, to describe a token or nominal rent used as a payment in forming a contract, which typically is not actually collected in practice. Historically, ground rents were generally very low. The past two decades have seen a surge in properties sold with significant and escalating ground rent. At its worst, this practice can lead to properties becoming unsellable. These unfair practices have caused real misery for those affected and, in turn, have undermined the reputation of the leasehold system. Regardless of whether the ground rent is a nominal peppercorn or thousands of pounds, the fundamental issue is that no meaningful service is provided in return. We want to end this for new leases, and that is why we are legislating so that new residential long leases will have no financial demand for ground rent. Instead, nothing more than an actual peppercorn can be collected from the leaseholder.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister acknowledge that the situation is slightly different in relation to retirement housing, where the practice has been for ground rents to more or less fund the shared spaces, and ground rents have been part of making retirement housing viable? Will he take care to ensure that the Bill does not have unintended consequences for retirement housing?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The reason why we extended the timeframe for the introduction of this legislation for those properties is to allow people time to adjust their business models, so that they can cope with the change in legislation. To avert the risk of possible future shortages of peppercorns, and to ensure that our meals continue to be well seasoned, I should clarify that we do not expect any landlord to require the actual payment of a physical peppercorn each year. In reality, the new genuine peppercorn rent for future leaseholders means that they will not pay the rent.

The specifics of the Bill apply to residential long leases in England and Wales of over 21 years for which a premium is paid. The inclusion of the requirement for a premium clarifies that normal and legitimate practices relating to rack rents can continue. For leases regulated under the Bill, the rent demanded will not be any more than literally one peppercorn a year.

Following much careful deliberation, we have arrived at a broad and flexible definition of “rent”, using the real-world meaning, and therefore including anything in the conventional nature of rent. The Government are clear that landlords should retain the ability to collect legitimate charges. The definition will ensure that landlords can still collect legitimate charges where the market reserves them as rent, such as charges for services, including building maintenance. The broad definition will deter freeholders or landlords from trying to circumvent the new system by disguising ground rent as a different charge. It will also enable appropriate tribunals to make sound judgments on whether a leaseholder has in fact been charged a prohibited rent.

We plan to leave no loopholes for unscrupulous individuals, so we are also banning the charging of an admin fee for collecting peppercorn rent. Where a prohibited rent or administrative charge is paid, leaseholders will have the right to apply to the first-tier tribunal in England or the leasehold valuation tribunal in Wales. Provided that the tribunal deems the payment inappropriate, the relevant authority can then order the amount to be repaid. In the case of prohibited rent, that must be within 28 days and potentially also with interest.

There are a limited number of exceptions from the provisions of the Bill. The first is leases used purely for a business purpose. The intention behind the Bill has never been to reduce business leases to a peppercorn rent, so through careful consideration, we have excepted business leases that include the use of a dwelling in any way that protects the interest of residential leaseholders and commercial landlords. For mixed-use properties, such as a flat above a shop, the exception will apply only if the residential use significantly contributes to the business purpose of the lease.

Community-led housing may have few other feasible funding schemes that they can use to continue to grow developments that benefit the community, rather than secure profits. To maintain this growth, we have excepted community-led housing schemes. Home finance plan leases are also excepted. That includes regulated home reversion plans, such as equity release and rent-to-buy agreements, where the consumer purchases the freehold at the end of the term. We will also allow shared ownership landlords to continue to collect a market rent on their share of the property. That practice is integral to the shared ownership model.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is setting out a list of exemptions. Are complex developments included in that—for example, a tube station with a cinema or shopping centre attached, and a block of flats above it, all in effect part of the same development? Who will manage the complexity of that development? If I was a long leaseholder in that block of flats, I would not be keen to manage all the mechanical and electrical systems stuff in that development.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not sure that I completely understand my hon. Friend’s point. The Bill will not change the management of that building’s operation; it will just prevent ground rent from being charged. If a leaseholder feels that they are being charged ground rent inappropriately, they will have a right of appeal, and the issue will be determined by the ways and means authority.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry; I should clarify my point. The Minister is quite right that a management company could look after the whole entity, but things such as common areas and insurance of the whole building —among many other issues—affect the whole building, and they require somebody to have an overarching view of the entire development. I not sure how that is provided for. In fact, in 2019, when I was a member of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, it looked into that and said there should be an exemption for complex developments on that basis. However, that does not appear in the Bill, despite having been referred to in debates in the Lords.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I said, the Government’s intention is to ensure that, for fairness, the provision applies in as many circumstances as possible. I am happy to pick that up with my hon. Friend for further discussion after the debate, to which I hope he will contribute.

Statutory lease extensions are the subject of existing legislation and so are not covered by the Bill. The peppercorn limit will apply to the extended portion of any lease extended through the voluntary process.

I should note that there is no longer an exception for the retirement sector. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), we believe that all new leaseholders should benefit from the reforms. The measures for retirement properties will apply no earlier than 1 April 2023. Hon. Members, some of whom are in the Chamber, have raised that as a concern in correspondence, and it has been debated at some length in the other place. We feel that the transition period strikes the right balance between the sector and consumers.

The Government recognise that these provisions require a robust and effective enforcement regime. Freeholders and landlords who abuse the system and deliberately seek to charge a non-peppercorn ground rent on leases in contravention of the Bill will be subject to steep fines of up to £30,000. After listening to and considering carefully the view expressed in the other place, we concluded that the level of fines should be higher. The new maximum fine of £30,000 is in line with other housing penalties, including those in the Tenant Fees Act 2019. Fines can be even steeper for more egregious abuses of the system. For example, if a freeholder breaks the law by charging unfair rents at multiple locations, such as in a block of flats, they will pay a penalty per lease. It does not stop there; penalties can be supplemented by the repayment of all prohibited rent collected. Enforcement will be the responsibility of local trading standards authorities, which already do an excellent job of enforcing similar housing regulations. District councils in England will also have the power to take enforcement action if they choose.

We recognise that enforcement will require additional resourcing. That is why authorities can retain any penalties imposed, and put them towards the costs incurred in enforcement of residential leasehold property rules. Taken together, the enforcement regime will act as an effective deterrent, while giving authorities the flexibility that they need to ensure that any enforcement action taken is proportionate.

The Government’s vision for a reformed and improved leasehold system is one anchored in fairness and transparency. For too long, too many leaseholders have been let down by institutional inertia and a ground rent system that has not worked in their interests. The system has been dogged by opaque rules and left many people in the dark. This legislation is targeted on exactly what it should target. By reducing future ground rents to a peppercorn, we will deliver a tangible and meaningful improvement to home ownership for future generations. We have engaged extensively to get to this point, and this process is by no means over. We are clear-eyed about the challenges ahead, and know that there is more to do, but today is a significant step towards fixing our broken leasehold system for good. I commend this Bill to the House.

--- Later in debate ---
Christopher Pincher Portrait The Minister for Housing (Christopher Pincher)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Front Benchers from the official Opposition for their support for the Bill. I am grateful to them, as is the whole House. It is a pleasure to see them still in their places. We know there is an Opposition reshuffle going on. It must feel to them that it is taking as long for the Leader of the Opposition to conduct his reshuffle as it is to reform leasehold. We trust that we can get on a little bit quicker than he can.

It has been a real pleasure to listen to the debate unfold. We have had a valuable and considered set of speeches. One of the ornamentations, one might say, of our Standing Orders is that they allow right hon. and hon. Members to range freely across the terrain in a Second Reading debate, and that is what has happened tonight. As the House will know, the Bill is narrowly focused on leasehold ground rent reform, but the debate has allowed the House to debate more freely the wider question of leasehold reform, retrospection and other matters. We will be addressing them in future, but let me say, before I make some further and more detailed points, that I am grateful to the hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) for his very thoughtful contribution. It sounds to me as though he is going to write me and the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), a very long letter. We look forward to working with him to resolve the issues he raised.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friends the Members for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), and my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) for raising the issue of retirement sector ground rent reform. As the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North, said, we have made it absolutely clear that the retirement sector has had an exemption of a further 12 months to get its business model in order. We believe that that is a right and proper amount of time, because there are a number of business models that the sector can use to effectively and appropriately levy reasonable charges that are transparent and fair on residents. It sounds as though my right hon. and hon. Friends may be interested in amendments. They know the process by which to pursue those, if they so wish. However, there will always be disparities between one set of buildings and another and between new buildings to which ground rents will not apply and older buildings to which ground rents will apply. I suspect that those differences will be factored into market calculations or will have little effect on the actual challenges that face residents.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The case for an amendment—I thank the Minister for his guidance in that respect—on the retirement sector is that it was clearly given an exemption and was assured throughout last year that that exemption would hold, but that exemption was suddenly withdrawn in January this year. Given the time that it takes to change the model and to sell such properties, this is crying out for amendment.

Christopher Pincher Portrait Christopher Pincher
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend; he is not so much an ornament as an energetic battery in this House. We look forward to seeing what further proposals he has in due course.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) put his finger on it when he described how complicated the matter of wider leasehold reform is. He asked whether the Solicitors Regulation Authority and conveyancers will be engaged; whether tighter definitions will be employed; what happens in more complex developments to repair charges; and what the interaction is with the Building Safety Bill. That is why the Bill is so narrowly defined, as the Law Society advised—so that we can get on and deal with the most egregious offences on ground rents and then move on to the more complicated matter of wider leasehold reform.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) said in what I thought was a very eloquent and forceful speech, making it clear without saying a word how integral he has been to the advancement of these reforms, they are really quite challenging. We know that leasehold is woven into the tapestry of our law and our tort. We know that in parts of the country, particularly the north-west—I think you know it as well as anybody, Mr Deputy Speaker—businessfolk of yesteryear, factory owners, would buy land in order to build houses and tie workers to those factories. Unpicking those sorts of complicated arrangements needs to be thought through carefully. With an all-you-can-eat feast, as the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) knows full well, if someone stuffs themselves rather too quickly and rather too much, there may be unfortunate consequences down the line. We want to avoid those sorts of challenges with this Bill.

A great deal of thought has gone into the definition of rent to avoid the sort of loopholes that the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) mentioned. We want to ensure that we close loopholes that would allow freeholders or landlords to collect ground rent. We considered a closely defined meaning for “ground rent”, but at the end of the day, we came to the conclusion that that would be something of a fixed target, because experience teaches us that clever operators with clever lawyers often find loopholes in such circumstances. A flexible definition of rent will help us to ensure that the tribunal will have the flexibility to consider what actually represents a prohibited rent, even if it is not explicitly called “ground rent”—the sorts of prohibitive and prohibited charges to which she referred.

We have made it absolutely clear that we will introduce legislation to ban leasehold houses; we have made that manifesto commitment and will introduce legislation as soon as we are able. We will also ensure that the second part of our legislative reform addresses the challenges with respect to existing leaseholders and retrospection, because we are committed to addressing the historic imbalance in the system.

Meanwhile, I am grateful for the work that the CMA has done, which I hope the whole House will welcome. We want to make sure that the CMA moves as quickly as possible to tighten up on egregious practices; we look forward to its report and to the next steps that we will then undertake. I assure the House that we will move as rapidly as possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Ian Levy) is not in his place, but he has certainly raised with me the issue of ground rent in future long leases. In January, we announced that we would legislate to change the way in which the cost of buying a freehold or extending a lease is calculated to make it cheaper and easier for leaseholders. I hope that that gives my hon. Friend some reassurance.

The Bill is the beginning of a process that we, the Conservative Government, have started and that others, for too long, have shirked. It will ensure fairness and transparency in our leasehold system. I look forward to working with right hon. and hon. Members across the House in the coming weeks to get this vital legislation on the statute book and working for leaseholders. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [Lords] (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [Lords]:

Committal

(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 9 December 2021.

(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Craig Whittaker.)

Question agreed to.

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [Lords] (Money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [Lords], it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Craig Whittaker.)

Question agreed to.

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [ Lords ] (First sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage
Tuesday 7th December 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 7 December 2021 - (7 Dec 2021)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Copies of written evidence that the Committee receives will be made available in the room and will be circulated to Members by email.

We now begin line-by-line consideration of the Bill. The selection list for today’s sitting is available in the room and shows how the selected amendments have been grouped for debate. Grouped amendments are generally on the same or a similar issue. Please note that decisions on amendments take place not in the order in which they are debated, but in the order in which they appear on the amendment paper. The selection and grouping list shows the order of debates. Decisions on each amendment are taken when we come to the clause to which the amendment relates.

A Member who has put their name to the lead amendment in a group is called first. Other Members are then free to catch my eye to speak to all or any of the amendments in that group. A Member may speak more than once in a single debate. At the end of a debate on a group of amendments, I shall call the Member who moved the lead amendment again. Before they sit down, they will need to indicate whether they wish to withdraw the amendment or seek a decision. If any Member wishes to press any other amendment in a group to a vote, they need to let me know.

Clause 1

Regulated leases

Eddie Hughes Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Eddie Hughes)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 9, at end insert—

“(but see subsection (5)).”.

This amendment inserts a reference to the new subsection inserted by Amendment 2.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment 2.

Clause stand part.

New clause 1—Ground rent for existing long leases

“Within 30 days of the day on which this Act comes into force, the Secretary of State must publish draft legislation to restrict ground rents on all existing long residential leases to a peppercorn.”

This new clause aims to ensure that the Government introduces further legislation to remove ground rent for all leaseholders, whereas the Act currently only applies to newly established leases.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to see the hon. Member for Weaver Vale still in his place following recent moves.

Government amendments 1 and 2, and Government amendments 3 to 5, which we will come to later, relate to the process known as a deemed surrender and regrant. For the benefit of those who are not experts in property law, me included, when the extent of the demise is changed—for example, where an extension is made to a property or to correct an error, or where there is an extension to the term of a lease—the lease is deemed to be surrendered and regranted to the leaseholder.

Government amendments 1 and 2 provide further protection for leaseholders in situations where that happens. Taken together, the two amendments disapply the requirement for a premium to be paid when a regulated lease or a lease granted before the Bill’s commencement day has been surrendered and regranted. In other words, a lease can have a peppercorn rent under this legislation after it has been regranted even if no new premium is paid.

Without these amendments, there is a significant risk that a previously regulated lease could cease to be regulated, leaving leaseholders to pay a potentially significant premium for a simple change, such as correcting an error within the lease, or leaving them to pay a ground rent. It might be helpful if I provided an example of such a situation. If a future leaseholder were to seek the correction of an error in their regulated lease and there was no premium charge for that correction, the Bill, as currently drafted, means that the lease would no longer be considered a regulated lease and therefore the peppercorn requirement would not be applicable to that newly corrected lease.

Amendments 1 and 2 will remove the requirement for a premium to have been paid for regulated and pre-commencement leases subject to a surrender and regrant, in order for the peppercorn rent to be applied. These amendments and the clarifications in amendments 3, 4 and 5 ensure that the Bill does not have unintended consequences when there is a deemed surrender and regrant and that there is fairness in the system for leaseholders and freeholders.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Hollobone, and to respond to the Minister. We have spent considerable time over the last few weeks, in Committee and at Second Reading, discussing vital issues of building safety and leasehold reform. These technical and tidying amendments make perfect sense. They address the potential of leasees paying a premium if this was not put in place, so the Opposition certainly welcome this.

I have one question on the potential for informal lease arrangements to sit outside the scope of the Bill. What reassurance can we give those still caught in the leasehold feudal system that there is provision to tackle this element of the industry?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for his support and for that question. My understanding is that the process through which leases will be regulated as part of the Bill would afford the opportunity for clarification of the informal leases to which he refers.

--- Later in debate ---
Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to you, Mr Hollobone. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. It is early in the morning, and therefore perfectly possible that I was wrong about my hon. Friend’s intention. Can the Minister clarify that the main intent of these provisions is to prevent those who perhaps used to be able to charge ground rent on new leases but who, following the enactment of the Bill, will only be able to charge a peppercorn if they wish to collect it, having a not very realistic, false way of getting around the Bill by deemed surrender and then reissue? Is that the main intent of these provisions? Obviously, if he had thought about this kind of trick being played when the Bill was originally drafted, he would have included something in that drafting, but it is always good to think again about the way in which people may seek to get around provisions. Have I got it right? Is that the main intent of these provisions?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can completely confirm that that is absolutely the main intent.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Amendment made: 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—

“(5) Where there is a deemed surrender and regrant by virtue of the variation of a lease which is—

(a) a regulated lease, or

(b) a lease granted before the relevant commencement day,

subsection (1) applies as if paragraph (b) were omitted.”.—(Eddie Hughes.)

This amendment provides that where there is a deemed surrender and regrant of a regulated lease or a pre-commencement lease, the new lease may be a regulated lease even if it is not granted for a premium.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2

Excepted leases

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Hollobone—[Interruption.]

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

The Minister is now speaking to clause 2 stand part.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you. I was. I appreciate that it is not my job to be concerned on behalf of the Opposition, but I felt that there could have been some early morning settling into the rhythm of the Committee. The hon. Member for Weaver Vale may have missed the opportunity to speak to new clause 1—[Interruption.]

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Order. I actually asked the hon. Gentleman quite clearly whether he wished to speak to new clause 1, and he decided that he did not. We are now debating clause 2 stand part.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Because that particular opportunity was missed, we will ungroup—very kindly, on the Clerk’s advice—new clause 1 from that first group. When we come back to new clause 1 later in proceedings, the hon. Gentleman will have a chance to speak to it. His opportunity will come; it just has not come when we thought it would. We are now debating clause 2 stand part.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

You are very kind, Mr Hollobone. Clause 2 will be of significant interest as it sets out those leases not regulated by the Bill. We have taken care to tightly define these, as we are aware that any loopholes might lead to abuse of the system and a monetary ground rent being charged where we had not intended it. I will consider each of the exceptions in turn.

First, subsections (1) to (3) detail how business leases will be excepted. It is important that a commercial lease that contains a dwelling, such as for a shop or other business, can continue to operate as now, and that landlords of such buildings are not disadvantaged. Businesses are also likely to prefer to pay some form of rent rather than a premium for the use of the property. However, we also need to protect residential leaseholders from any argument by a landlord that a ground rent is payable because of the possibility of a business use. For that reason, subsection (1)(a) states that the lease must expressly permit the premises under the lease to be used for business purposes without further consent from the landlord.

In our response to the technical consultation on ground rent, published in June 2019, we committed that mixed-use leases would not be subject to a peppercorn rent. The example given was a flat above a shop, where these are both on the same lease. In such instances, it would be important that a commercial rent can continue to be paid, to reflect the business use of part of the building. However, we wish to ensure that the Bill does not result in a plethora of mixed-use leases that are to all intents dwellings but where the tenant pays a monetary ground rent. For this reason, subsection (1)(b) requires that, for such leases, the use of the premises as a dwelling must significantly contribute to the business purposes.

The Bill also includes provision to make sure that both parties intend and are aware of this business-use component of the lease. Subsection (1)(c) achieves this by requiring that the landlord and tenant exchange written notices at or before the lease is granted confirming the intention to use and continue to use the premises for the business purposes set out in the lease. The form of this notice will be prescribed in forthcoming regulations. Subsection (3) defines business as including a trade, profession or employment, but not a home business as under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954.

Statutory lease extensions for flats are already required to be at a peppercorn rent, so we have excepted them from the requirements of the Bill in order to avoid duplication. We will come to so-called voluntary lease extensions for flats when we consider clause 6. Statutory lease extensions for houses are required by legislation to be for 50 years for payment of no premium, but for a modern ground rent, which is typically higher than a peppercorn. Were the Bill to require that rent to be only a peppercorn, we would deprive the landlord of income for the granting of the lease extension. For that reason, those extensions are exempted from the Bill. However, we intend to return to the wider question of enfranchisement in future legislation. Our changes to the enfranchisement valuation process, including abolishing marriage value and prescribing rates, will result in substantial savings for some leaseholders, particularly those with less than 80 years left on their lease. The length of a statutory lease extension will increase to 990 years, from 90 years for flats and 50 years for houses.

I will turn now to community housing leases and other specialist products that we do not want to compromise. Community housing schemes promote the supply of new housing to meet local need where residents contribute towards the cost of shared community services. The use of ground rent in those cases is very different from ground rent for long residential leases where no clear service is provided in return. As we have done throughout clause 2, we have taken care to tightly define community housing leases to ensure that that exception applies only where intended. It covers long leases where the landlord is a community land trust, or the lease is a dwelling in a building that is controlled or managed by a co-operative society. We expect that to cover all deserving dwellings. We have also made provision, should it be needed, to add further conditions to those definitions in order to close a loophole should one be identified in future.

The clause also exempts certain financial products in cases where a form of rent is needed for the product to operate as intended. Subsection (9) defines them as regulated home reversion plans and homes bought using a rent to buy arrangement. It is important that those specialist financial products can continue, maximising choice for homeowners over how they finance their property purchase.

Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think that many people who get involved in rent to buy perhaps do not understand that they may be excluded from that provision. I notice that the Minister is securing for himself some capacity to make regulations in future in relation to those particular types of leases. Could he give the Committee an indication of what kinds of regulations he anticipates will be made under the power that the Bill will grant him in respect of those particular kinds of rent to buy leases?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am embarrassed to say that I cannot, and the reason is that we do not know what the loopholes might be. We have a clever bunch of people who seek to avoid legislation. It will be helpful for the Government to be able to make such changes as might be necessary depending on the inventiveness of the people we deal with in future.

Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister; it is remarkably honest of him to say that he does not know. One does not always hear that from Ministers, but am I getting the sense that the intent is to ensure that there is not some kind of workaround to the regulations and to the law, and that the intention is to protect those who have taken out rent to buy plans from oppressive provisions by landlords to charge some kind of ground rent, which the Bill is seeking to get rid of generally?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the intent, there are some financial products that we have exempted because the structure of their operation is dependent on the continuation of rent payments, but the opportunity is to make regulation in the future should people, for example, pretend to be something they are not, or try to do so. If we have the opportunity to close that down, I think that will be the intention. I feel that the hon. Lady could be building a case for future interventions—we will see. I think she is gathering evidence.

Subsection (9)(a) is clear that in order to benefit from this exemption, home reversion plan products must be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Subsection (10) defines a rent to buy arrangement, ensuring that arrangements such as Sharia mortgages are able to continue. It is important that the Bill enables legitimate activities that require payment of a rent to continue, which clause 2 does in a carefully considered way that has been informed by detailed consultation. The clause is drafted to enable such activities but with tight definitions, ensuring that the clause is not used by landlords to charge a ground rent by the back door.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his explanation. I understand the exemptions and I am pleased that they are limited in scope. What reassurance can he give that there will be no unintended consequences in community housing, for example? He referred to ground rent as a means of recovering service charges. That has been a problem for the industry over a considerable number of years.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is important to point out that the Bill does not cover service charges. In the other areas that we are talking about, ground rent is paid for no discernible benefit in return, but in a community land trust there is the benefit of a shared endeavour to create high-quality community housing, so I do not think the hon. Gentleman’s concern applies.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Prohibited rent

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 3 prohibits a landlord from requiring a leaseholder to make a payment of a prohibited rent. Subsection (2) defines that as making a request that the leaseholder make the payment, and/or having received a payment of prohibited rent, failing to return it within 28 days. To ensure that landlords are held accountable for their actions, we have made a conscious decision to include current and former landlords in the Bill. That will ensure that our enforcement measures, which are detailed later in the Bill, can be used in circumstances where a landlord has sold their interest in the property.

Having focused on landlords, I now turn to those we are seeking to protect. I am sure that the Committee will agree that the protective reach of the Bill should extend beyond current leaseholders who remain leaseholders when the wrongful payment is identified. A leaseholder who has sold the lease, for example, should none the less be able to seek redress if they subsequently realise that their former lease contained a prohibited rent. That is why subsection (3) ensures that the protections afforded to leaseholders also apply to previous leaseholders, a person acting on behalf of a leaseholder, and a leaseholder’s guarantor.

Clause 3 is the foundation for restricting unjustifiable rents for future regulated leases.

Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What limitations will there be on the provisions? Are we talking about the limitation in contract law? How long would a former landlord be under obligation to repay a prohibited payment that he had required, and how long would the former tenant be able to recover it? It is unusual to see a provision stating that

“references to a landlord include a person who has ceased to be a landlord”,

but there is usually some limitation to the liability. Does the Minister have an answer for that?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am worried that my candid responses to questions are going to get me in trouble, but the honest answer is that I do not know what the limitation is. I will write to the hon. Lady to let her know.

Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I strongly suspect, however, that the very clever team behind me will provide the answer, and that I will be able to inform the hon. Lady during discussions on a subsequent clause.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Please copy in the whole Committee to that correspondence if it is necessary.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Permitted rent: general rule

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 4 introduces the general rule for regulated leases that the permitted rent is an annual rent of one peppercorn. The effect of that is that no monetary rent will be payable in respect of most leases regulated by the Bill.

Clause 4(1) provides that this general rule is subject to clauses 5 and 6, which set out special rules on permitted rent applicable to shared ownership properties and replacement leases respectively. Use of a peppercorn rent is common practice; for example, it is used in statutory lease extensions for flats. A peppercorn is simply a token or nominal rent that in practice is not collected. The purpose of clause 4 is to protect leaseholders from being charged inappropriate rents by landlords.

Jill Mortimer Portrait Jill Mortimer (Hartlepool) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill will help my constituents who have suffered in recent years from rising and excessive ground rents, and will help to prevent people from falling into the leasehold tenancy trap that we have also seen in recent years?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Bill will help to ensure that new long leases granted subsequent to the Bill’s coming into force are set at a peppercorn rate—so, with no financial value associated with them.

Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister accept that none the less the Bill, welcome as it is, does not help existing tenants who have already signed leases for which ground rent is payable?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady is quite right. The intended purpose of the Bill, very tightly drafted as it is, is to ensure that we draw a line in the sand by ensuring that new leases in the future have a peppercorn rate. I commend the clause to the Committee.

--- Later in debate ---
Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member for Garston and Halewood referred to my previous interest in this subject as a Back-Bench MP. It is an incredible privilege to have championed changes in this area and now to be the Minister responsible for it. I can assure her that my enthusiasm for greater reform is not diminished in any way by my having the opportunity to, at least, begin the legislative process now.

I have a huge degree of sympathy with the cases that have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the room. It is incumbent upon us, as a Government, to ensure that we do not rest on our laurels, but continue to push and be bold with legislation in the future. Certainly, that has been the case with regard to things that have been said by our previous and current Secretaries of State. The current Secretary of State is determined to be bold and ambitious in all things for which he has responsibility, and I would like to think that we will have further discussions about this subject early in the new year.

Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am glad to hear it. Does the Minister expect more legislation in this Session?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is above my pay grade to make those sorts of decisions, but I will be working very closely—

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Perhaps one day they will make me Secretary of State and I will be able to make those decisions myself, Mr Hollobone—don’t laugh. As I said, it is our intention to come forward with proposals, so we will be talking again in the new year and discussing this in detail.

--- Later in debate ---
Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of clarity, will the legislation apply to properties that are currently being built, whether they are in Birmingham, Westminster or Manchester? Will the narrow scope of the one peppercorn policy apply to properties that are being built, but are not yet completed?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I referred to in the discussions about previous clauses, I believe that the legislation will apply once it has been enacted following Royal Assent, so it will apply to new contracts that come into force once the Act is in force. It would not necessarily apply to a property that is being bought today. It will apply only once the law has been enacted. We will have Royal Assent, legislation will be provided and then it will be enacted.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Minister, you have the floor and you decide who you give way to.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sorry, Mr Hollobone. I thought you had already decided that you were going to call my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) next.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

As the Chair, it is not for me to call people but for the person who has the floor to decide who they will give way to.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I defer to you in all things, Mr Hollobone, and I feel better educated. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border.

Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Hudson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I welcome the Minister’s comments and the Bill, as well as the constructive comments from the Opposition. We are all on the same page and think that this constructive Bill is a small step towards correcting future injustices.

I take on board the complexities for people in the existing system, but in respect of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster, does the Minister agree that if we can get the Bill through, it will shine a spotlight on developers that have existing leaseholders and they may well reflect, so this Bill for new leaseholders might create some retrospective good will? It is a start, and I welcome the comment from the Minister that we can try to address things moving forward. I very much welcome the Bill, and I hope that it will start to address some of the retrospective issues indirectly.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government are signalling strong intent by virtue of introducing the Bill, which backs up the suggestions we have made previously about our intent. With regards to other pronouncements that the Government have made, I think people will rightly expect that legislation will follow in due course. My hon. Friend is completely right.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wish to follow up on the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood. Clearly, the Bill will apply only from the date that it receives Royal Assent. Is the Minister concerned that some developers that have acted in unscrupulous ways that the Bill is designed to prevent will see the deadline of Royal Assent as an opportunity to place more people in the position that has been outlined by my hon. Friends and Government Members? Developers might try to get in before the deadline of Royal Assent, rather than taking the message that these sorts of leaseholds should not be offered and are inappropriate. What discussions has the Minister had with developers, and what sense does he have of whether people will act opportunistically?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution but, fortunately, the evidence does not back up the concern she has voiced. We saw a prevalence of this type of construction. That has peaked, and now its popularity is decreasing, so we already see that developers understand that, effectively, the game is up and the world has moved on. I would like to think that, thanks to the efforts of hon. Members in this room, we are publicising the Bill and our constituents will become better informed as a result of our contributions to the debate. Hopefully, that will serve to protect them.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Some developers have responded to the change in landscape and enforcement action with strong encouragement, but others out there have not done so. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South is correct to say that this is another opportunity to get developments erected as soon as possible. We need only look at the skylines across our cities to see that happening, and some developers will want to continue with that cash cow at the expense of leaseholders. It is a real fear, and I would certainly welcome a Government assessment of the impact in that transitional period.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I said in answer to the previous question, we can already see—not just now, but over the previous few years—that there has been a rapid decrease in the number of properties being constructed and subsequently sold in this way, so the hon. Gentleman should feel reassured that the Government’s intended legislation is already having an incredibly positive effect.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Following the previous point, does the Minister agree that the conduct of house builders such as Countryside Properties, which has voluntarily agreed to remove the doubling of ground rents from its leasehold contracts, is a step forward? The Home Builders Federation or another trade body should be working with its members to take that forward, as Countryside Properties and others have done, but too many house builders are still not doing so. Perhaps the CMA review will help, but perhaps the Bill will send a clear message to house builders that, actually, they should be looking at their own practices before they are made to do so by the legislation.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can say nothing other than that I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s comments.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will give way, but I think we need to make progress.

Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have to have proper scrutiny. There has been a general hope expressed by the hon. Members for Penrith and The Border and for Cities of London and Westminster that this legislation, rather than highlighting the difficulties existing leaseholders have and putting them in a more difficult position, may promote better behaviour towards existing leaseholders from those who are in a position to exploit them. We hope that that will be the case. Do the Government collect any figures that they might publish to enable us to see whether there is the positive impact hoped for by Conservative Members? Does the Minister have any figures that show that is the case—or are we just crossing our fingers and hoping?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The figures are already publicly available.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5

Permitted rent: shared ownership leases

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 11, in clause 5, page 4, line 7, at end insert “, unless subsection (2A) applies”.

This is a paving amendment for Amendment 13

--- Later in debate ---
Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The amendments were tabled to raise the issue of the often sky-high service charges in shared ownership property—often with little given back in return. I could list any number of examples and am confident that other Members in the room could as well. The Minister will have heard, as I did, the many stories about the extortionate costs faced by shared owners, other leaseholders and social housing residents. The errors are often only exposed when residents, facing costs they cannot afford, lobby hard for information and transparency.

We have heard it all: service charges for shared owners in Kent tripling in one year; leaseholders in Essex being charged £4,275, plus VAT, per year for ground maintenance, when a local landscaping company quoted £660 per year for the same work—something that I discussed with my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood only this morning; and leaseholders in south London being charged over 400% more for their cleaning costs than they were in 2013. I know that inflation is increasing at the moment but—my God—not by that level. To get in the Christmas spirit, a rather festive example stood out to me in the Financial Times, which published an article over the summer about residents in central London being charged £200,000 for Christmas lights, without being consulted in advance.

Those costs impact on leaseholders, and some social housing tenants as well. For shared owners, a particular concern is being charged 100% of the service costs while only owning a small portion of the property. We have seen that up and down the country through the building safety scandal and historical remediation costs. The Opposition welcome the narrow scope of the Bill on peppercorn ground rents, but the fear is that there will be other means or opportunities to rake in the money, and to continue treating leaseholders as a cash cow.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 5 is essential if the Bill is to avoid creating unintended consequences for future shared ownership leases. It will protect leaseholders by ensuring that they pay only a peppercorn rent on their share of the property, but it will also allow landlords to collect a monetary rent on their own share. Without the clause, landlords could not collect a monetary rent on the share of the property that is rented.

Clause 5 applies to qualifying shared ownership leases. Subsection (4) defines a qualifying shared ownership lease as one in which the tenant’s share of the premises is less than 100%. Subsection (7) clarifies that, in a situation in which a shared ownership lease does not distinguish between rent on the tenant’s share and rent on the landlord’s share, any rent payable under the lease is to be treated as payable in respect of the landlord’s share. Subsection (8) means that the clause no longer applies if clause 6 applies. For example, if the leaseholder undertakes a so-called voluntary lease extension in regard to a shared ownership lease, where the leaseholder chooses to enter into a new lease that replaces an existing lease outside the statutory lease extension process, the treatment of that is dealt with under clause 6. We will consider clause 6 shortly.

Clause 5 ensures that the shared ownership model can continue to operate for new leases.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Order. The Minister is meant to be speaking about the amendment rather than the clause. Does he have any more comments about the amendment?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was about to continue my contribution.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

About the clause or the amendments?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

About the amendments, Mr Hollobone. Amendments 11 and 13, tabled by the hon. Member for Weaver Vale, seek to reduce the payment of rent on a shared ownership property. Shared owners are leaseholders of a share of their property. Most shared ownership properties fall within the terms of the Government’s shared ownership scheme, and the providers will be registered with the Regulator of Social Housing. In the Government’s existing shared ownership scheme, owners have a full repairing lease and are financially responsible for all maintenance charges and outgoings in the same way that any other homeowner is.

On 1 April, the Government confirmed the new model for shared ownership, which introduces a 10-year period during which the landlord will support the cost of repairs and maintenance on new build homes. Under the shared ownership model, landlords can collect rent on their share of the property, and I reiterate that the Bill will allow them to continue to do so. The payment of rent reflects the fact that the shared owner has purchased a share of their home, and pays rent on the remaining share, which is owned by their landlord. The rent paid is not the same as the service charge paid for repairs and maintenance previously described.

The effect of amendments 11 and 13 would be to remove the ability of a landlord to receive the rent that they are rightly due on the share of the property that the leaseholder rents in cases in which the service charge is more than £100 per month. The law is clear that service charges must be reasonable and that, where costs relate to work or services, the work or services must be of a reasonable standard.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I just wish to mention service charges in central London, as the hon. Member for Weaver Vale did. I am very aware of extortionate service charges in central London, particularly for private blocks. Service charges of £100,000 are not unknown, but the properties in those cases are worth around £35 million; I suggest that, if someone can afford to buy a £35 million flat, they may be able to afford a £100,000 service charge. However, the hon. Member for Weaver Vale makes an important point, and I would like the Minister to consider it. We must not put all service charges into the same pot. We have to ensure that homes within the community—rent to buy, social housing and community housing—are different from very expensive properties. We cannot put them all into the same position. We must give landlords the ability to charge a fair service charge that is in keeping with the value of the home. There has to be a balance. There is a big difference between a £35 million flat and a rent-to-buy property.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I completely understand my hon. Friend’s point, and I appreciate the extenuating circumstances that might apply to some of the properties in her constituency. We certainly do not experience that in Walsall North.

The amendments proposed by the hon. Member for Weaver Vale would be unfair to shared ownership landlords and would therefore undermine confidence in the sector. I urge the hon. Member to withdraw his amendment.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The evidence out there grows by the week. There is a genuine fear that landlords, freeholders and developers will look for other opportunities in response to the legislation. We already see those service charges up and down the country. I know it is a particular issue in London and the south-east, but every city across the country has seen some interesting non-transparent service charges—that includes estates and houses.

--- Later in debate ---
Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. This is about historical remediation costs, but it is a good point to raise. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Amendments 12 and 14, proposed by the hon. Member for Weaver Vale, seek to reduce the payment of rent on a shared ownership property in different circumstances. As I have said, in the Government’s existing shared ownership scheme, owners have a full repairing lease and pay rent on the landlord’s share of the property. The role of ensuring that the fabric of the building is maintained and safe for residents is an essential part of the relationship between landlord, leaseholder and, in some cases, a managing agent. Reasonable service charges remain the proper and accountable way through which landlords should recover costs for maintaining a building and provision of services.

I reiterate that the Bill is focused entirely on the issue of ground rents, so remediation costs are outside its scope. The Building Safety Bill is the appropriate legislative mechanism for addressing remediation, as it contains the appropriately detailed legislation for a complex issue of this nature. I ask the hon. Member to withdraw the amendment.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We will put this to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division 1

Ayes: 7


Labour: 7

Noes: 9


Conservative: 9

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Permitted rent: leases replacing pre-commencement leases
Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 3, in clause 6, page 4, line 30, after first ‘of’ insert ‘premises which consist of, or include,’.

This amendment clarifies that clause 6 can apply to a replacement lease which includes some premises not demised by the pre-commencement lease.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment 4.

Government amendment 5.

Clause stand part.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Earlier, we considered amendments 1 and 2, which relate to disapplying the premium requirement for a lease where there is deemed surrender and regrant. This set of amendments is also connected to the deemed surrender and regrant process, but more specifically, they clarify the matter raised by Lord Etherton with regard to a lease variation.

As currently drafted, it was not clear, where there was a pre-commencement lease where a demise was changed, whether such leases would be captured by clause 6. It was raised in the other place that, if not, any existing ground rent in those leases would be reduced to a peppercorn. We recognise that that might make some landlords reluctant to agree to such changes, thereby disadvantaging their leaseholders, which is not the Bill’s intention. The amendments make clear that the demise of a lease can be changed and the resulting surrender and regrant will not reduce the ground rent on the balance of the term of the pre-commencement lease to a peppercorn.

Any extension to the term of the pre-commencement lease will be required to be a peppercorn, in the same way as for voluntary lease extension. By clarifying that ground rent in pre-commencement leases can continue in this way, the amendment ensures that freeholders need not withhold consent for a lease variation unnecessarily. It also ensures that there is a consistent approach towards existing leaseholders throughout the Bill. As with amendments 1 and 2, the amendments are designed to avoid unintended consequences.

Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I just want a little clarity from the Minister about the circumstances in which this extensive clause would apply. Is the amendment seeking to exclude just the issue of a voluntary lease variation? One might argue, quite plausibly, that any kind of leasehold is entirely voluntary, because the parties to the lease voluntarily sign it—caveat emptor and all that. One can say that any signature of a lease is voluntary in that sense.

--- Later in debate ---
I hope the Minister understands the minor point I am trying to make. I am very anxious that we do not inadvertently create broader loopholes in the Bill as a consequence of this. When one uses “voluntary” in relation to signing a lease, one can easily argue that any signature of any variation or lease is voluntary.
Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am incredibly concerned that the hon. Lady has me at a disadvantage with regard to her legal expertise. However, I think we understand and accept the distinction between voluntary and statutory when it comes to lease extensions. This principle is well understood within the legal profession. I understand the concern she raises, but I feel it is misplaced, or at least should be assuaged. The intention of the measures is to close a loophole so that people are not deterred in any way from granting a lease extension because they feel they will be disadvantaged as a result.

I beg your indulgence, Chair, to say that, on the hon. Lady’s previous concern about how far back people could go when making a claim if a leasehold has been sold, my understanding is that the statute of limitations will apply, which is generally within six years.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To pick up on the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood on “voluntary”, a freeholder might offer a seemingly reasonable deal to voluntarily and formally extend a lease, but there is a real risk that elements of that could have a premium applied and ground rent could continue. What reassurance is there that that cannot happen? We have seen lots of examples of that. The mis-selling of leasehold properties was mentioned, which the Competition and Markets Authority has investigated and seen evidence of, and which we are all familiar with from constituents. If there is any possibility of a loophole here to do that, unfortunately there are people in this field who will do it, so again it is about that reassurance that the measure closes down those potential loopholes.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the hon. Member should be reassured. However, to ensure that that is the case, the Government will communicate regularly and frequently with professional legal bodies to ensure that they understand the case completely. No matter what legislation we introduce, it will not be possible to get away from the fact that, in seeking to enter into a legal contract, members of the public should engage good, independent legal advice. Unfortunately, some people will not and will be disadvantaged as a result.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That goes back to the point that, at the end, people seemed to seek legal advice, which they thought was independent and objective, but clearly it was not. This is about that reassurance. On behalf of our constituents, many of whom are trapped in that situation and still somewhat nervous, I seek that reassurance.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I feel that the clause strikes the right balance between, first, ensuring that the loophole is closed and, secondly, landlords feeling reassured that they will not be disadvantaged in any way by granting a lease extension. I think that both the points that the hon. Gentleman made are covered.

Amendment 3 agreed to.

Amendments made: 4, in clause 6, page 4, line 39, after “period” insert “(if any)”.

This amendment clarifies that clause 6 can apply to a replacement lease for a term that does not extend beyond the end of the term of the pre-commencement lease.

Amendment 5, in clause 6, page 5, line 7, after first “of” insert—

“premises which consist of, or include,”.—(Eddie Hughes.)

This amendment clarifies that clause 6(5) can apply to a new lease which includes some premises not demised by the lease to which subsection (2) applied.

Clause 6, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7

Term reserving prohibited rent treated as reserving permitted rent

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

None Portrait The Chair
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With this it will be convenient to consider clause 16 stand part.

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Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
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Clause 7 will apply if a regulated lease includes a prohibited rent. Should a lease include such a rent, the effect of the clause is that the term in the lease is in effect replaced by the correct rent term under clauses 4, 5 or 6 of the Bill.

The clause means that, should a lease include a prohibited rent, there is no requirement on the leaseholder to pay that rent. Any requirement in the lease to pay a prohibited rent has effect as if it were a requirement to pay the relevant permitted rent as established under the Bill.

Later in the Bill, with clause 16—in a moment—we will come to the provision in the Bill that enables a leaseholder to seek a declaration from the first-tier tribunal as to the effect of clause 7 on their lease. Clause 7 is important because it has the effect of immediately rectifying, in law, any lease that includes a prohibited rent.

Clause 16 is an important measure to ensure that parties to a lease can seek clarity as to whether a term in the lease is a prohibited rent and, if so, what the permitted rent is. Clause 7, as the Committee will recall, sets out the rent that should apply in cases where a lease reserves a prohibited rent. We expect that in most cases the effect of the clause will be clear, and that the landlord will accept that a prohibited rent is not enforceable. However, where that is not the case, clause 16 means that a leaseholder, or landlord, can apply to the appropriate tribunal for a declaration. If the tribunal is satisfied that the lease includes a prohibited rent, it must make a declaration as to the effect of clause 7 on the lease. In other words, the tribunal must also clarify what rent is payable.

Under clause 16(3), where there are two or more leases with the same landlord, it will be possible for a single application to be made. That may be made either by the landlord or by one of the leaseholders with the consent of the others. That will mean that if there are several properties in the same block, or perhaps in different blocks but with the same landlord, it will not be necessary for a separate application to be made in respect of each lease.

Clause 16 also states that where the lease is registered in the leaseholder’s name with the Land Registry, the tribunal may direct the landlord to apply to the Chief Land Registrar—the Land Registry—for the declaration to be entered on the registered title. The landlord must also pay the appropriate fee of about £40 for that. This will ensure that there is a record of the declaration for any successor in title to the lease. It will also mean that if the leaseholder wishes to sell, the true position will be clear to their purchaser’s conveyancer.

In the case that the tribunal does not direct the landlord to apply to the Land Registry, the leaseholder may do so themselves. That will involve the payment of a modest fee of around £40. I hope that we can agree that it is important that a leaseholder does not encounter difficulties when selling and that future leaseholders clearly benefit from the actions taken to address the prohibited rent included in their lease. The clause achieves that by ensuring that the correct position in relation to ground rent under their lease can be made clear on the register of title.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury
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I thank the Minister for his explanation. If we look at the evidence provided by the National Leasehold Campaign and the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, and take our mind back to the Select Committee call for evidence, I think in 2018, which I know he had a keen interest in at the time, there was a real concern about access to tribunals. Decisions seemed to be weighted against leaseholders. On the worry about access to, and supported provided to, tribunals, what reassurance can he give that the situation