Property Guardians Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Wales Office

Property Guardians

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Excerpts
Monday 15th October 2018

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, very much for bringing forward this issue, which I take seriously and do not dismiss as others may have in the past. It is an issue of significance, and I welcome the work done by the London Assembly and the University of York. I assure her that I am looking at it closely. Perhaps I may deal first with the contributions made and then outline my proposals, which noble Lords have probably kindly suggested that I do anyway, for the new association, which I also welcome.

First, the noble Baroness was very balanced and fair and said that this is often something that we should embrace and can work very well. Without really thinking about it, much as Monsieur Jourdain spoke prose without realising it, I suddenly thought, “I have been a property guardian in my past before these things were fashionable”, looking after a house for family friends who were overseas for a period. Such informal arrangements often—indeed, almost invariably—work well, and I am sure that is the case now.

There are worlds apart: this covers a wide area of activity, as I think noble Lords would agree. Some of it is clearly not the sort of thing that we should be legislating for; some of it is where, if not legislating—legislative time at the moment is precious, and there may be a need to move more quickly—we should be looking at what we can do. I am certainly keen to do that.

Again, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing the issue forward. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, was, as always, very fair. He said that the scenario had changed. Over time, I am sure that that is what has happened. Like the noble Baroness, the noble Lord, and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, I welcome the new organisation, of which Graham Sievers is the acting chairman. It has not yet had its first official meeting or launch. As I understand it, that will happen on Thursday in Birmingham—perhaps we have had the same email. I am keen to meet Graham Sievers, and we have already taken steps to ensure that that happens to see exactly what is being done to promote best practice and safety among the organisation’s members. I think the organisation includes seven of the United Kingdom’s leading property guardian companies, and I shall discuss with ministerial colleagues how we take that forward. I shall endeavour to meet Graham Sievers as quickly as feasibly possible, if he becomes the chair, as this suggests he will, to see what the organisation proposes and report back.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked me to comment on the Bristol judgment, which was really a question about whether that arrangement was a tenancy or a licence. The significance of that and other decisions is that what the agreement says is not necessarily definitive of the position. It can say that it is a tenancy but be a licence and vice versa. It is about weighing up all the circumstances, and each case, as lawyers say, will turn on its own particular facts. That is probably not incredibly helpful to the noble Lord, but it indicates that it is about the nature of the agreement, rather than what it is called.

In the normal course of events, if someone is a licensee rather than a tenant, they still have rights, of course. In all but a few excluded licence cases, there would, for example, be protection under the Protection from Eviction Act of 28 days’ notice. That base right would exist. The housing, health and safety rating system would apply, as would electrical safety hazards protection, in so far as this is a dwelling. There may be issues about whether a particular arrangement is a dwelling. Normally, if someone is resident on premises, it makes it a dwelling, but I appreciate—and would want to probe this a little further—that that is not necessarily conclusive. Similarly, the rules on gas safety, smoke, carbon monoxide arrangements and so on would apply under a licence as well as a tenancy. I appreciate that it is a lesser level of protection, but it is not that there is no protection at all.

Options that I want to probe certainly involve best practice and disseminating it. That may mean working with this new organisation and certainly with the GLA. I am very happy to correspond with it on this issue, which I have not done as yet. Improving enforcement guidance seems to me quite important, because, as I say, there are rights at the moment, and maybe they are not always enforced or known. There is work to be done supporting occupants and raising awareness, and I agree the outline we have about the factsheet is not, of itself, sufficient. We need to make it more widely available, disseminate best practice and look at enforcement guidance. These are things I intend to carry forward and report back on. I am very happy to meet the noble Baroness in the interim. As soon as I have spoken to the nascent organisation, I will seek her out for an informal word about how we can carry this forward before writing to the Peers who have participated in this debate and putting a copy in the Library.

In short, this is an issue worthy of attention; I certainly do not dismiss it as having no merit. I will discuss it with colleagues in the department and report back. Once again, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing this forward and noble Lords who have participated in this debate.