Renters (Reform) Bill

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the Property Ombudsman. I warmly welcome the Bill. I am sure the Minister is well aware of the large number of organisations from which we have all had briefings. The Bill has taken a long time to get here, and expectations are riding high.

That is not surprising. Since 2001, the number of families forced to rent privately has doubled. High housing costs both cause and worsen poverty. The number of family homes available to social rent has reduced dramatically. For households on low incomes, this has significantly worsened living standards. The Bill needs to be seen in that context. We must not miss the opportunity to tackle long-standing issues of unfair eviction, rent increases and access to dispute resolution.

A number of issues will be raised in this debate from organisations such as Shelter, Crisis, Marie Curie and others, which I hope to be able to support in Committee. Today I will say a few words about Section 21 —in effect, the centrepiece of this legislation. I will then look briefly at some points that affect social housing providers and the property portal, the front door that will be crucial to enabling enforcement, then focus my main attention on the new PRS landlord ombudsman.

There is now some real doubt about when Section 21 evictions will actually be abolished. This part of the Bill has near-universal support, and tenants and landlords need certainty. The Government have said that it would be wrong to introduce it before the courts are ready, but have not defined what ready means or how we—or they—will know. It is five years since the Government made this commitment, yet there is still no progress. I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to give the House, as well as landlords and tenants, the certainty they need, by providing a plan for court reform and a timetable for when the abolition will come into effect.

The Bill largely concentrates on the private rented sector, but it will also have an impact on social housing providers, particularly where they use assured tenancies. The Government responded to some of these points on Commons Report and introduced amendments, but these themselves are likely to have unintended consequences, which I hope the Minister will be ready to consider. I refer to the new rent-to-buy ground 1B, introduced in the Commons as Amendment 158, and ground 6. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, has given the House the details of these and I will not repeat them, but this has been raised by the National Housing Federation and I am sure it would welcome a meeting with the Minister to discuss the technical detail.

Next, I would like to mention the new portal. The Government have recognised the need for local authorities to have information about PRS properties in their area, for landlords to be clear about their responsibilities, and for tenants to know where to go for help if their landlord fails to put right a problem. The TDS Charitable Foundation’s survey work raises serious concerns about the ability of tenants to enforce the new rights that the Bill will give them. It is developing a new “My Housing Issue” gateway or portal, to which the noble Lord, Lord Best, referred, which will act as a signposting service. I understand that it will identify for tenants the correct route to solve their problems, encourage an early resolution of disputes and provide relevant information about housing rights and options. I certainly encourage the Minister to look at this in relation to the new portal; it may be very helpful.

I now turn to my main concern: the way the new PRS ombudsman will be selected. The new ombudsman will play a vital role in delivering the Government’s objectives to improve experience in the sector for tenants and landlords alike. I declared my interest as chair of the board with responsibility for the Property Ombudsman. TPO deals with complaints and requests for assistance from private sector tenants of the 39,000 property agents who subscribe to this service. The new ombudsman will provide that service for PRS tenants whose landlords do not use an agent. This has been a huge gap in redress, as my ombudsman knows all too well from the thousands of requests for help that we have to refer elsewhere or to the courts.

We should not underestimate the scale of the new regulatory role proposed. The latest data from HMRC states that there are almost 2.4 million incorporated private landlords in England, with almost half owning only one property. Moreover, local authorities, which are responsible for investigating poor housing standards and taking enforcement action against rogue landlords, are overstretched, as we know. At the same time, many tenants struggle to enforce their rights through the courts, not least because, as the Law Society notes, 44% of people in England and Wales do not have access to housing legal aid providers in their local authority area.

The scale of, and challenges for, an ombudsman for this part of the private rented sector will be completely different from those presented, for example, in the social housing sector. Given the size of the task, it seems right that the Government have said they have yet to decide how the new position will be filled and supported. Clearly, this requires an open competition among the existing bodies in this field, to determine which might provide the best service.

However, the Minister made clear today that their preference is for the Housing Ombudsman, which covers the social rented sector, to have its remit extended to cover private sector landlords. I find that quite confusing because, although the decision about who should operate the service looks like a foregone conclusion, the Government have been at great pains to explain that no decisions have yet been made about whom to appoint to run the service. Indeed, the Housing Ombudsman has indicated that he is undertaking preparatory work, funded by the Government, to investigate how the PRS ombudsman could work and how it should be funded.

In a Written Question I put to the Minister some weeks ago, asking for the extent of the support provided to the Housing Ombudsman and the terms under which it was provided, the Government declined to provide that information. I can tell her that the gossip in the sector is that it is about half a million pounds. That does not bode very well for fair, open and transparent processes. Given what the Minister said about the Government’s preferred option, has she considered that TPO has uniquely detailed knowledge and experience in the private rented sector and is certainly well placed to be considered to deal with complaints for the landlord part of the sector?

This is my main point: in making important appointments for this role, it is imperative that the Government follow a clear and transparent procurement exercise, not least to ensure the best value for the taxpayer. Given that, can the Minister confirm that the Government will publish clear criteria setting out how they expect the new PRS ombudsman to operate and ensure that they fully consider all potential providers of the service? I reiterate that I broadly welcome the Bill as a chance to empower tenants to call out bad practice in the private rented sector, while supporting the vast majority of private landlords who do the right thing.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank noble Lords.

Some noble Lords were concerned that the Bill restricts landlords’ ability to charge a market rent. I will be very clear: this Government do not believe in rent controls, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. Nothing in this Bill prevents landlords increasing rents to the market rate each year or dictates what rent they can charge at the start of a tenancy. Tenants can appeal above-market-rate increases to the First-tier Tribunal, which will make an objective assessment and determine whether to raise, or indeed lower, the proposed rent. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, referred to the First-tier Tribunal—I think he wanted it to go. We are working closely with the Ministry of Justice and the judiciary to assess the impact on the First-tier Tribunal of this new Bill. We anticipate that the reforms will lead to an increase in cases, but we will ensure that the tribunal has the capacity to deal with these cases.

Regarding overall supply, noble Lords asked what measures in the Bill will mean for supply in the private rental sector. I will try to reassure noble Lords—if not today, maybe as we go through the Bill—including the noble Lords, Lord Frost and Lord Carrington, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, that there is no evidence to suggest that a fairer private rental sector for tenants and landlords will lead to a reduction in supply. The statistics I have from the department suggest that the sector doubled in size from 2004, peaking in 2016, and has remained roughly stable since then; we will continue to monitor the impacts. New costs to landlords are expected to amount to a tiny fraction of average annual rents, at approximately £10 per landlord in England. We are by no means complacent and recognise the vital role that good landlords play in providing homes for millions of people across the country. That is why the Bill requires the department to provide an annual update to Parliament on the state of the private rented sector, to include stock, size and location of properties.

With regards to social housing supply, noble Lords have heard me talk at this Dispatch Box, on a number of occasions, about the affordable homes programme of £11.5 billion. I will not rehearse those arguments today in the interests of time, but they underpin the supply part of the equation. Since 2010, there have been an additional 482,000 affordable homes for rent, of which 172,600 are for social rent.

On retired clergy, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford raised concerns that the Church of England Pensions Board will no longer be able to evict existing tenants to house retired clergy. The way this has been achieved until now is through the use of Section 21, which we are abolishing. Ground 5 allows landlords to evict tenants from properties which are usually held to allow ministers of religion to perform their duties when needed again for that purpose. She is therefore correct that the ground will not apply in situations where they wish to house retired clergy. We have carefully considered the needs of tenants and religious organisations when reviewing the grounds for possession, and we believe that the ground balances the unique needs of the sector—ensuring that religious ministers can occupy properties where needed to carry out their duties—with the rights of existing tenants.

I will write to the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Warwick, about the ground 1B impact on social landlords and how we will select the administrator for the PRS ombudsman. I bow to the experience of ombudsmen of the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, which is much greater than mine, but I can tell her that the Bill allows for government either to select a scheme through an open competition or to appoint a provider to deliver a designated scheme. To reiterate, we have not made a final decision on what is happening, and we are not ruling out the possibility of delivering this through alternative provision. Our priority is choosing a provider that offers a high-quality, value-for-money service. I will seek the clarification that she has asked for and will revert with more detail on the process being used as discussions continue on the Bill.

On the cost of the ombudsman, which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, raised, it is right that the landlords pay for this scheme. It is in line with common practice for funding other redress schemes, including for social landlords, who pay some £5.75 per unit for membership of the Housing Ombudsman scheme. We will ensure that the fee for private rental is proportionate and good value.

On portal offences, local authorities will have a duty to enforce where landlords fail to comply with their portal obligations. Tenants who become aware that a landlord is, for example, not registered on the portal or has provided inaccurate information can contact their local authority so that they can take the appropriate enforcement action.

I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, that we recognise the importance of having a healthy supply of private rented homes at affordable prices in all parts of the country, which is why we are taking decisive steps to stop short-term lets undermining the supply of long-term homes for local people. This includes abolishing the furnished holiday lettings tax regime, introducing a national mandatory register of short-term lets, and introducing a new planning use class for short-term lets.

On the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that we should introduce a specialist housing court, we do not think that this is the best way to improve the court process for possession. This view is shared by the judiciary, which responded to our call for evidence. A new housing court would not address the concerns raised by landlords, such as the timeliness and complexity of the processes. We are committed to reforming the court system instead. Indeed, the majority of tenancies end without ever going to court. For those that do, where court reform is necessary, we will make sure that the system is working. The new system will have great new training for the analogue system to do the immediate new contracts, followed by digitisation. I am a lot more optimistic that new, large digitisation projects can now be delivered on time, and I am confident that we will be able to scope and deliver this as quickly as needed.

If it is okay with the House, I will continue, as there is not much left. On the portal duplicating the work of selective licensing, unlike the property portal, selective licensing schemes aim to target specific local issues by enabling more intensive, proactive enforcement strategies. The two are therefore complementary and do not prevent each other from working.

The question from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, was very detailed and, I am sure, very precise. I will write to him on it once my department’s legal experts have had time to consider his points—otherwise, I am in danger of stepping into waters that I cannot.

With regard to the comments on guarantors, we recognise that some tenants have difficulties in meeting such requirements. The use of guarantors and upfront rent can give landlords confidence to rent to individuals they might otherwise not choose to, but we will continue to carefully monitor both practices, to ensure that they are not having an adverse effect on the market. We have already committed to limiting upfront rent through the Tenant Fees Act if necessary.

With regard to the death of a tenant, we are extending the period for ground 7 to be used. The Government are aware that tenants who have been living in a property for a while may reasonably believe that they have a right to remain living there, which is why we have introduced an extension from 12 to 24 months to help resolve cases where disputes might arise, particularly for grieving tenants.

With regard to legal aid, which was mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornhill and Lady Lister, the Ministry of Justice is investing an additional £10 million a year in housing legal aid through the non-means-tested Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service—HLPAS—to give people the best chance of keeping their home when they fall into difficult financial times. Through this scheme, tenants can receive free, non-means-tested advice as soon as they receive written notice that their landlord is seeking possession of their home. The MoJ is funding a panel of specialist legal advisors to provide grant funding for the recruitment of trainee solicitors to support that endeavour. Free on-the-day legal help will continue to be available when a tenant is facing the loss of their home at a possession hearing in the county court.

It is true that private landlords must meet existing minimum efficiency standards—the MEES regulations—which are set at EPC E. Although we will not tighten that requirement, as we have in the social sector, we will work with landlords. We are currently investing some £6 billion this Parliament and a further £6 billion to 2028 on making buildings cleaner and warmer; this is in addition to the £5 billion that will be delivered through the energy company obligation, ECO4, and the Great British insulation scheme up until March 2026. Landlords can and should participate in these schemes to upgrade their properties.

In conclusion, I thank all noble Lords—

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I do not wish to prolong this. In relation to the comments that the Minister made on ongoing discussions about the role of the landlord ombudsman, could she undertake to ensure that the following is taken into account? The Cabinet Office guidance makes clear the importance of avoiding

“multiple redress schemes within individual industry sectors”,

and goes on to note that this is best achieved

“by utilising existing Ombudsman schemes”.

I hope she will take that into account, or ensure that it is taken into account.

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will take that into account, but I also extend an invitation to the noble Baroness to meet my team to discuss this in more detail.

Affordable Housing: Supply

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Thursday 25th April 2024

(1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Chandos for tabling this debate. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, on a powerful and, if I may say so, very feisty speech. I was moved at the sheer amount of responsibility she has had to take on at so young an age, and I look forward very much to hearing more such contributions.

Two events this week highlighted the timeliness and importance of this debate. In the upper waiting-room above Central Lobby, there is an exhibition of photographs of families living in temporary accommodation in the Manchester area. A mum with three kids said, “After I was evicted … the first temporary accommodation was for two years. It is a long time. The school was three miles away. If I was late or the kids could not get there, it looked bad for school reports and stuff”. Another mum said, “When you look at other children, they are able to eat proper meals and things like that. My son has had infection after infection. Since we have moved after the hotels, I have been to A&E just under 15 times”.

The exhibition is well worth seeing. It was organised by the APPG on homelessness. In opening it, Dame Siobhain McDonagh MP urged the need for a long-term solution that crossed social divides and party-politics. That plea was echoed in the second of the two events I referred to, the launch of the Church of England’s report, Homes for All: A Vision for England’s Housing System, which was referred to by my noble friend and by the noble Lord, Lord Best. Echoing the conclusions of other reports, notably from the National Housing Federation and Shelter, the report identified that the housing crisis continues to escalate, perpetuated by a lack of policy stability, ambition and urgency across successive Governments, and a failure to connect the issues through a systematic and co-ordinated approach. The Minister and my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage both spoke eloquently at the event.

It is clear that a change in approach is needed. There are currently over 8 million people in England who cannot access the housing they need. For 4.2 million of these—around 1.6 million households—social rented housing would be the most appropriate tenure to address that need. Our failure to deliver the homes we need is breaking down our communities. It is driving families and key workers into financial hardship, and away from work, schools and support networks.

Some groups of people are feeling this crisis even more acutely. Black, Asian and minority ethnic households, and disabled people, are more likely to experience homelessness or live in poor-quality, unsuitable or overcrowded homes. Women’s Aid points to the lack of affordable housing as a primary barrier to those escaping abuse.

Yet, despite our severe housing emergency, the supply of genuinely affordable housing is falling. Last year, 29,000 social homes were sold or demolished, and fewer than 7,000 were built. Many households are now forced to live in expensive, insecure and often poor-quality homes in the private rented sector.

Most damning of all is the impact of this crisis on children. A record number of children are homeless and are forced to live in inadequate temporary accommodation, including bed and breakfasts. This disrupts their education, affects their life chances and puts huge pressure on families, as the exhibition I referred to so graphically illustrates. Some 138,000 children are currently living in temporary accommodation, and this is estimated to rise to 310,000 by 2045 without government action. These figures are a stark illustration that a radical change in approach is urgently needed.

I hope the Minister will not respond to this debate simply by asserting the work that the Government are doing, a lot of it good, and the number of homes currently being built. Whatever that number, it simply is not enough. I urge the Minister to focus on the key question in her response: how do we increase supply?

For those at the sharp end of the housing crisis, we need to build 90,000 new social homes every year to keep up with demand. In 2010, the amount of grant funding available for new social housing was cut by 63%. The consequences of this decision have been dire. Does the Minister agree that we need a new, long-term and substantial grant programme that can be used more flexibly to deliver new social homes, regenerate and refurbish existing homes and acquire more existing homes where appropriate?

Does the Minister agree that we need bold planning reforms to deliver the highest possible level of affordable housing, incorporating new, large, mixed-tenure communities? My party recently announced proposals to allow grey-belt development, which includes 50% affordable housing. This is a welcome step in the right direction.

Does the Minister agree that government funding and fiscal rules need to be reviewed to incentivise long-term public investment in social housing? I must also ask the Minister to comment on the need to invest in a skilled workforce if this ambition is to be realised. Does she agree that the Government must ensure that there is resilience within the supply chain and workforce while unlocking innovation in the construction industry, which could include exploring new technology and supporting new methods of delivery?

There are huge economic benefits to be gained. We need to move away from the outdated idea that social housing is a drag on the public purse. In fact, it is a long-term driver of sustainable growth. Every £1 invested in social housing delivers at least double that of wider economic benefits. Recent research from the National Housing Federation and Shelter, carried out by Cebr, showed the positive economic impact of building social housing. These include savings on housing benefit, reduced homelessness, increased employment and improved healthcare.

I have said before in other debates that building social homes that meet local need can offer stability in people’s lives. This helps people to get and keep work, and reduces the long-term scarring effect that being homeless or in temporary housing can have on employment prospects. It also supports children’s education and the mental and physical health of families.

I support the Archbishop of Canterbury’s report in its call for an end to “short-termism” in housing policy and its advocacy for decent homes across England. As the report states, everyone should have a home that is comfortable and safe. Sadly, and to our shame, decades of piecemeal and short-term policy have left us with a failing housing system that is affecting our health and well-being and costing our country billions. It is also holding back our economy and making communities unsustainable.

The housing crisis is a complex problem. It will take long-term political commitment, investment and collaboration across government and with partners across the country. I echo the call from the noble Lord, Lord Best, reflected in the Church of England’s report, for a housing strategy committee, modelled on the Climate Change Committee or the Low Pay Commission, which will hold the Government to account.

Does the Minister agree that, to meet the scale of the challenge we face, there needs to be a comprehensive and policy-led long-term national plan, agreed in its fundamentals across political parties, with the Government in partnership with local authorities and the social housing sector? Perhaps then we can begin to solve this worsening housing crisis.

Property Agents: Regulation

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Thursday 18th April 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand the frustration. I believe that all of us in this House and in our wider communities would like to see more professional-quality work being done in this sector and that we all want to drive up service standards for buyers, sellers and renters—whoever they may be—interacting with the system. It is important that we get it right; measures are coming up in the leasehold and freehold Bill and certainly in the private renters Bill, both of which will be before this House over the next few weeks. Therefore, there are opportunities for us to put forward specific measures that we felt were a priority in the leaseholder space and the private rental space.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Property Ombudsman. The ombudsman has been producing codes of practice for several decades, and that skill was utilised by the RoPA steering group, particularly the steering group chaired by my noble friend Lady Hayter. A new code was produced which has been received very positively. It stands ready to be implemented, and I urge His Majesty’s Government to give serious consideration to how it could be achieved in the absence of a regulator.

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government welcome the work undertaken by the independent steering group chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, on the codes of practice for property agents. That is an important development towards making sure all consumers are treated fairly and all agents work to the same high standards. The Government have approved two codes for managing agents, which set out good practice and are to be taken into account in cases before courts or the tribunal. We will consider other codes as they are brought forward.

Social Housing: Right-to-buy Sales

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Thursday 18th April 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my noble friend for that question. We have been monitoring this for some time. All measures to increase the rate of housebuilding for the provision of affordable homes are being considered, including the preferential borrowing rate for councils, and housebuilding from the Public Works Loan Board, which has been extended to June 2025. Indeed, that 100% temporary measure for the right-to-buy receipts for the last couple of years was to increase the capital buffer to allow the speeding up of housebuilding and acquisition in the sector. The abolition of the housing revenue asset borrowing cap also helps, alongside the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme. We believe that local authorities and housing associations are being supported to maximise delivery at pace, and we strongly urge them to utilise the flexibility to build these new homes.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, whatever the data we are bandying around here, there is no doubt that right to buy and demolitions mean that we are losing social housing every year. As has already been said, large numbers of households are now forced to live in expensive and insecure homes in the private rented sector due to the lack of social homes. What plans do the Government have, recognising the point the noble Baroness is making, to further increase the supply of social housing to prevent right to buy eating into this crucial asset?

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I return to the fact that the main programme we have is the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme, of which a large amount has been allocated for social and affordable housing. When we look at the numbers, the right to buy, and local authorities’ delivery through that mechanism, represents 14% of the overall affordable housing delivery—the highest recorded number of local authority completions in a decade. It is making progress, and the reality is that the rest of that budget is being spent in other ways and being delivered as we speak.

Private Rented Sector Ombudsman

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Thursday 18th January 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Asked by
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe
- View Speech - Hansard - -

To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in designing and tendering for the new Private Rented Sector Ombudsman Service.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare an interest as the chair of the Property Ombudsman for tenants and those in the PRS whose landlords use agents.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Scott of Bybrook) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Renters (Reform) Bill allows the Government to select a scheme through open competition or to appoint a provider to deliver a designated scheme. In Commons Committee, we announced our preference to deliver through the Housing Ombudsman service, which provides social housing redress. However, no final decision has been made, and our priority is choosing a provider that offers the high-quality and value-for-money service we require.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

I thank the Minister for her reply. I very much support what the Government are doing to establish a landlord ombudsman for the private rented sector; it is long overdue. Given that the new ombudsman will cover the whole of the rental sector—the one for social landlords has been indicated as the preferred option—can the Minister confirm that the Government will consult existing ombudsmen in the sector on the rationalisation, and can she explain how they will fit into the new landscape? Can she confirm that the Government’s final decision in selecting an organisation to provide a unitary ombudsman service for the combined social and private rented sectors will follow the formal public procurement process? What will the timescale be?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness asked a number of questions. First, we have sought extensive procurement and legal advice on this, and we are confident that the approach we are taking is in line with procurement regulations. I can only reiterate that this work is still in its very early stages, and no decisions have been made. Of course, we will talk to stakeholders throughout the whole of the process. If the noble Baroness or any other noble Lord would like to meet me and my team, I am happy to do so as we go forward.

Secondly, the question on the interaction between schemes is very interesting. We envisage that, where a complaint covers both landlords and letting agents, the separate schemes will work together to triage the complaint effectively and, if necessary, have a joint investigation. Importantly, we want to make sure that, where it is not clear which scheme a tenant should complain to, there is no wrong access point. We will work together to make sure that the tenant gets the service that they require.

Social Housing: Mould

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Wednesday 10th January 2024

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My noble friend is right; this is all about communication, to make sure that tenants know what to do if they have an issue with their property. We have had a number of communications and marketing campaigns, such as Make Things Right, and the latest one is just being completed. That makes sure that all tenants know that, first, they should go to their social landlord, and if they do not get the right answer—or any answer, as sadly happens in some cases —they must go to the ombudsman. The social housing regulator will deal not with individuals but with bigger issues relating to individual housing associations.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, the Minister’s response focused on social homes. Housing associations are very keen to do more to regenerate existing social housing but are unable to do so—at least, not very effectively—without improved access to government funding. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will look to maximise the use of existing funding through the affordable homes programme to support housing association-led regeneration?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes. I think we already said in the levelling-up Act that the £11.5 billion in the affordable homes programme can be used for social housing, as it has in the past. It is important that social landlords understand that and use that money.

New Homes

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Tuesday 12th September 2023

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, there is, my Lords. The 16,500 figure is annual, while the 100,000 figure is between now and 2030. The Government have put in place a package of mitigation that will allow us to deal with nutrient neutrality not as a sticking plaster, stopping housing being built, but by dealing with the issues at source. If the noble Earl reads the mitigation circumstances, he will see what we are doing and how much we are investing in that.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I found the Minister’s reply rather disappointing. I appreciate the ambition, but it is the implementation that is the major problem. Drastic cuts of funding to social housing have resulted in many households in need being trapped in the private rented sector, and the number of affordable homes is just not meeting that need. Current conditions have meant that private sector building has flatlined, but social housing builders can be countercyclical and, with the right investment, could do so much more. The Government will reach their target only by investing massively in social homes. Do the Government and the Minister agree with that? If not, can she please explain how that target will be met?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Government are committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing, which is why, through our £11.5 billion Affordable Homes Programme, we will deliver tens of thousands of affordable homes for sale or rent across the country. The levelling up White Paper committed to increasing the supply of social rented homes, and a large number of the new homes delivered through our Affordable Homes Programme will be for social rent.

Housebuilding

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Wednesday 7th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is in fact the turn of the Labour Benches.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, following on from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, the recent proposal by the Labour Party to remove hope value would allow social landlords more easily to develop the affordable homes our country so badly needs. Fewer than 7,000 were built last year but we need 90,000 every year, so it is not surprising that these proposed reforms are supported by a wide range of organisations, including the National Housing Federation and Shelter. What assessment have the Government made of the impact of high land values on our ability to deliver new social housing?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness has been involved in some of the Committee sessions of the levelling-up Bill, and she will know that we are looking at hope value and land prices. The Government particularly recognise the need for homes for social rent. That is why social rent homes were brought into the scope of the affordable homes programme, for example, in 2018. As I say, the levelling-up White Paper committed to looking at ways to increase the supply of social rented homes.

Lord Mawson Portrait Lord Mawson (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Ravensdale’s Amendment 504GG, which is practical and puts some real drive into our town centres.

I want to quote a colleague of mine from the north-west of England about her town centre, the fragmentation that she feels is going on and the opportunity being missed. She said:

“When I look at the 7”


connecting levelling-up schemes,

“what I feel is missing is the coherent and comprehensive consideration of the Old Town as a ‘place’. One ‘place’. A place where people live and have their businesses, not just somewhere people stop by to solely pop into the new health and education hub for an X-ray, or the new Buddhist temple for meditation or the new youth and arts provision or the upgraded theatre to watch a play. What I fear may happen is some lovely new buildings going up in amongst some really run down streets, which will surely only be made to look even worse. I get that the money available isn’t an endless pot. I get that a number of the properties have private landlords, but what I didn’t get is the approach and ambition of aiming to elevate the place as a whole. Many of the shops are vacant and the Council must be taking empty business rates from the landlords. I wonder if there is a strategy to bring those landlords into the debate about”

reconnecting the town,

“so that the 7 schemes aren’t just 7 pieces of a bigger jigsaw where”

the real opportunity

“has been lost!”

As I say, this amendment puts real drive and economic practicality into our town centres. I work a lot across the north of England and see a lot of fragmentation. Individual little schemes will not make a difference. There need to be real practical drivers, and what my noble friend Lord Ravensdale is suggesting is possibly one of them.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 491 in the name of my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage. Currently, most government funding for affordable housing focuses on net additionality of new homes. This is much needed but it can lead to a loss of development potential and a lack of investment in the physical quality of existing communities. Without housing-specific regeneration funding streams, regeneration is virtually impossible to fund in lower-value areas, where there is little scope for cross subsidy from market scaling.

Last week, Homes England published its strategic plan, emphasising a renewed focus on regeneration. It was welcome to see this plan recognise the key role that housing associations should play in place-making, as well as the importance of sustainability in new communities. However, there is a lack of clarity about whether this would be accompanied by new regeneration funding or a flexibility around the use of AHP funds to deliver regeneration. This amendment, which also seeks clarity over the Government’s regeneration proposals, would be a step in the right direction. At present, there is a lack of strategic direction in the Government’s plans to deliver housing-led regeneration, yet regeneration is crucial if the Government are serious about delivering their economic and skills agenda while also helping to deliver quality and sustainable affordable homes across the country.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope noble Lords will bear with me because there was some confusion over the position of this group in the list. Some of us had an earlier list, where it appeared much later.

I have tabled Amendment 504GJH, about the state of schools and hospitals. At the heart of levelling up is the need to provide good-quality education to young people across the country and that means good-quality buildings in which children can go to school. Where schools are in disrepair and cannot be used appropriately, children are at a disadvantage, particularly, say, in secondary education with science blocks that are out of date so that children will not be able to do modern science experiments.

The quality of school buildings in this country is very important and a department report from December 2022 highlighted the critical level of disrepair in many of our school buildings across the country. This prompted me to lay this amendment to this part of the Bill. The annual report said that officials have raised the risk level of school buildings collapsing to “very likely” after an increase in serious structural issues being reported, especially in blocks built in the post-war years, 1945 to 1970.

The type of structure used has led to the quite rapid deterioration of those buildings. I said earlier that I was a school governor for a number of years. The school had a science block built in the early 1970s that was condemned for these very reasons, so I know how accurate this is.

If we are talking about levelling up and regeneration, at its heart should be public services, school buildings and the quality of the education delivered within them. It is school buildings that I am pointing to today. The report said that the risk level for school buildings had been escalated, as I said, from “critical” to “very likely”.

The difficulty is that, because so many school buildings were built in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s with this sort of metal structure, there is a huge call on government funding. It is called a light frame system, I think; it is a steel structure anyway. Every one of us will have buildings like that where we live. I want this Bill to focus on doing something about school buildings and hospitals that we know about. The Government have committed to 40 new hospitals—five more have just been added—because they are falling down. That is not right. We are talking about regeneration and levelling up. Having school buildings and hospitals collapsing shows the level of investment that will be needed if we are genuinely going to try to level up across this country.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I should like to speak to Amendment 331 on behalf of my noble friend Lady Pinnock. It an extremely important amendment and I will be very interested to hear what the Minister says in reply. In that sense, this is, at this stage, a probing amendment. It would enable infrastructure levy-charging authorities to require a developer to pay their full IL liability, or infrastructure funded by IL associated with the development to be built before development may commence, and would enable developers to be required at the request of the authority to provide money for remedial work. Under current systems, of which across this Chamber there is huge amount of experience, there are constant delays in the delivery of infrastructure and remediation and failures to deliver the affordable housing needed in an area, and it takes ages to negotiate and renegotiate the terms of the community infrastructure levy or Section 106.

An amendment of this kind, which would require payment of the infrastructure levy up front, would speed up development because it would concentrate the minds of the developers and bring clarity to the contractual status of the infrastructure levy, and it would, in our view, have a positive impact on the development process. Of course, it would not be compulsory to charge it up front, but it would be possible to do so if a local planning authority felt that it was the right approach. That is the proposal in Amendment 331.

I have long felt that we spend far too much time trying to cope with negotiations where developers seek to make changes to the promises that they have made. I look forward to the Minister’s reply to see whether the Government think that there is some mileage in a proposal of this kind that would get payment made up front rather than later, however staged that process may be through a development being put on to the ground.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 335 in this group. Each amendment in this group deals with the impact of the proposed infrastructure levy on different aspects of social infrastructure. The levy is one of the most consequential aspect of the Bill, which proposes a new infrastructure levy largely to replace the current system for developer contributions. Developer contributions currently play a vital role in delivering affordable and social housing. Section 106 agreements alone accounted for 47.3% of all affordable homes in 2021-22, a figure that represents 12% of all new homes delivered annually. Section 106 is not a perfect process, but while there is clear scope to reform and improve the existing system for developer contributions, it is none the less responsible for a huge proportion of new affordable and social homes. As its proposed replacement, the infrastructure levy represents a radical shift in how this housing will be funded and delivered.

There are 4.2 million people currently in need of social housing in England. This means one in five children is living in an overcrowded, unaffordable or unsuitable home. Research published last week by the National Housing Federation found that more than 310,000 children in England are forced to share beds with other family members—I have already put down a Question on that issue. That means that one in every six children is being forced to live in cramped conditions because their family cannot access a suitable and affordable home. This equates to 2 million children from 746,000 families.

Against this backdrop of acute housing need, changes to the planning system must, at minimum, protect current levels of new affordable housing. It is with this principle in mind that I tabled four amendments to Schedule 11. Each of those amendments seeks to strengthen protections for affordable housing in this legislation and ensure that the infrastructure levy does not lead to a net loss of affordable housing. I am pleased to have received support for these amendments from the Labour and Liberal Democrat Front Benches and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford.

I now turn to my amendment in this group. A key threat to the supply of affordable housing via the infra- structure levy is its potential to result in the diversion of developer contributions away from affordable housing and towards other unspecified forms of infrastructure unconnected to development. As long as there are clear affordable housing needs, it is essential that local authorities’ use of developer contributions for purposes other than affordable housing is strictly limited. My amendment seeks to prevent levy receipts being spent on unspecified items “other than infrastructure”. In its current form, the new infrastructure levy could lead to the diversion of developer contributions away from affordable housing. By contrast, a high proportion of developer contributions currently obtained via Section 106 agreements is spent on affordable housing. According to research commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in 2020, 78% of Section 106 funds were spent on affordable housing in 2018-19.

I support Amendment 350 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Best, which is in a later group, which seeks to ring- fence 75% of levy receipts for affordable housing based on the current proportional figure for Section 106 funds.

My amendment attempts to remove the risk of future regulations which would permit the diversion of funds away from affordable housing or infrastructure and towards unspecified items provided by a local authority. I hope the Minister will acknowledge the real and present danger inherent in this part of the Bill and explain how the Government propose to mitigate it.